Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Stress Management Health Center

Font Size

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.

For Emotional Healing: Body Psychotherapy

What it is: This form of therapy combines touch, movement, breathing techniques, and exercises to raise your awareness of sensations in your body, which can help you identify and resolve damaging emotional issues. Research by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., an expert in posttraumatic stress and trauma treatment, helped confirm that traumatic memories get stored in nonverbal parts of the brain as sensory, motor, and emotional fragments. “So no matter how much verbal therapy you do, you may never get to the core of it,” says psychologist Virginia Dennehy, Ph.D., president of the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy.

Today on WebMD

Hands breaking pencil in frustration
Quiz
stethoscope and dollars
Article
 
Woman with stressed, fatigue
Article
fatigued woman
Article
 
hand gripping green rubber ball
Article
family counseling
Video
 
stress at work
Article
frayed rope
Quiz
 

WebMD Special Sections