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Stress Management Health Center

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The Healing Power of Touch

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Andrea Cooper
Redbook Magazine Logo

These four hands-on therapies can ease your stress, anxiety, pain, and more. Read on to find the best remedy for you.

Several years ago, Mike, my psychologist, urged me to see someone else for help in dealing with my stress. But he wasn’t referring me to another talk therapist. He thought I should try some sessions with Dana, a massage therapist specially trained to treat trauma victims. I had been abused as a child, and Mike thought that Dana might help me through the resulting physical and emotional challenges I was suffering in a way that talk alone couldn’t. He was right: I ended up seeing Dana for several years, and our work — which involved what’s known as body psychotherapy techniques — changed my life, giving me the ability to handle conflicts without dissolving in fear. Dana is part of a growing movement in which practitioners use the power of touch to diagnose, treat, and prevent both physical and emotional problems.

Emerging research suggests that touch therapy works: In one landmark study, 16 happily married women were subjected to the threat of a mild electric shock; touching their husbands’ hands brought immediate relief from the resulting anxiety. Even a stranger’s touch was somewhat calming. “We know that anxiety decreases immune function and makes you get sick more often,” says study author Jim Coan, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia. “If touch can help you be less anxious, you’re more likely to stay well.”

And that’s only the start — there are plenty of ways you can put touch to work for your good health. Massage therapy, for instance, may make you more alert and lessen symptoms of depression such as fatigue and irritability, according to the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “The healing power of touch extends across the life span,” says the Institute’s Tiffany Field, Ph.D., “from helping babies grow and children concentrate at school to decreasing chronic illnesses and disease.” Find out how these four popular hands-on therapies can help you feel better.

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