Physical touch in caring

One morning, as I enter the closed ward for people with dementia, I come across an intensely frightened and distressed Clara. Sobbing and searching she wanders down the corridor. Almost instinctively, I take her in my arms, and she calms down.

During my studies to become a spiritual counsellor, emphasis was placed on learning conversation skills. Little attention was paid to the bodily aspects of this work, whereas, in my opinion, physical proximity in the care relationship is very important.

In recent years, I have studied this subject, particularly in relation to ‘touch’. This is because I am a physically oriented person, also where my work is concerned. However, I lacked guidelines. Whom do I touch? When do I touch? And for what purpose? In order to get answers to these questions I searched for literature on the subject of touching in healthcare. My research focused on non-necessary touch. This implies the kind of touching that – strictly speaking – has no function, such as patting someone on the shoulder or holding someone’s hand.

This article describes the possible meanings this kind of touching can have, both positively and negatively, in care settings. First the article examines what is said about non-necessary touch in developmental psychology. Next, research about touch in relational care is discussed. Special attention is given to people with dementia because these are the people I work with, and I have noticed that touching is often more appreciated than talking. The article ends with insights into how to apply touch, taking into account the risks and pitfalls.

Read the article here

About the author: Marieke Schoenmakers

Marieke Schoenmakers

Marieke Schoenmakers (1980) studied Ethics of Care and Policy at Tilburg University (NL). Her thesis concerns touching in spiritual care, particularly with respect to people suffering from dementia, and can be downloaded from: . Marieke works as a spiritual counsellor for care organisation De Riethorst Stromenland.

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