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Features Research
An issue of ethics: Fall 2002

Human touch is the most intimate form of communication and the most powerful healing modality we possess. Since the first century A.D. and the laying on of hands, we have known and experienced the healing power of the touch of life. In what does the power, or perhaps even as some have suggested the miracle of touch, consist?


September 15, 2009
By Cidalia Paiva

Topics

Human touch is the most intimate form of communication and the most powerful healing modality we possess. Since the first century A.D. and the laying on of hands, we have known and experienced the healing power of the touch of life. In what does the power, or perhaps even as some have suggested the miracle of touch, consist?

The power of touch rests in the very nature of touch itself as a life source and force. Touch is vital to human beings in much the same way food and hydration are vital to the physical sustenance of life. Touch is a giver of life and a reminder that we as human beings do not subsist by the proverbial “bread alone.”

As human beings we need nurturance, we need to be cared for, affirmed, recognized and loved in other words, to be touched.

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A lonely elderly woman who has outlived all her family and friends needs the healing power of touch.

The young man in a palliative care facility dying an excruciating death from a ravaging disease needs touch. A newborn crying out in a crib in a hospital needs touch.

A car accident victim suffering from a painful and debilitating whiplash injury needs touch. You
and I, overwhelmed by the burdens and stress of daily life, need touch.

Yet surely someone could argue that not all touch is life affirming. Some touch – violent touch, abusive touch, malicious or manipulative touch, are all good examples of life-affirming touch being subverted and sometimes accomplishing the opposite – life negation.

What does life-affirming touch look like? In a sentence, life-affirming touch can be found wherever and whenever we find integrity in touch. What do we mean by integrity? By integrity we mean the pure, conscious and conscientious intention to facilitate, support and care for the well-being of another.

When there is integrity in touch, we experience and know a presence so real and true and good that the giver of touch and the recipient, are able to meet in a place of wholeness of being, relationship and connection. In this wholeness of being, artificial barriers of history, social conditioning, and social status are transcended. We experience ourselves as one whole person reaching out to another.

Who is that “other”? Often another whole person reaching out in a place of deep vulnerability to us, asking us to meet them in that place with hands and soul to know them deeply, to feel them tenderly, to cherish the skin and flesh that is itself the vehicle or medium of their being. When we meet that “other” in this place he or she will come forth in trust, in hope, and in expectation that we will honour that humanity because integrity in touch does not lie.

In everyday communication we often find a disparity between people’s words and their actions. Someone can say I love you with words – strong, clear, powerful, even passionate, but sometimes still we sense that these are just words and that the intention behind these words is really very different.

What we are looking and hoping to find is a sincere intention from which we can relate authentically as Emerson once wrote of true friendship, “as one chemical molecule meets another.” In this sincerity we term integrity, we find truth, connection and relationship with another.

How do we discern this sincere intention, how will we know it?

As St. Exupery states in The Little Prince, “We can see clearly only with the heart. Everything that is essential is invisible to the eyes.”

Touch with integrity is a miracle because it is the sincere intent and expression of the heart. When we go out in service to our patients with integrity in touch we affirm our common humanity, acknowledge that we are all human after all, and that massage therapists are both health care providers and recipients of health care. This awe-inspiring awareness came to me several years ago when I was hospitalized for a debilitating and potentially fatal illness, and I met another patient in our common vulnerability. She was a young woman in her late twenties, diagnosed with uterine cancer. She was alone, literally and figuratively. Her family and friends were back in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The diagnosis, which left her in a flood of tears, and sobs I imagined felt like a death sentence. In a human moment of empathy and compassion, I pulled the iron curtain rod that separated us and embraced her with integrity in touch.

No words were ever spoken and it never happened again, but in that moment we experienced the miracle of touch, we shared our common humanity and the medium we utilized was integrity in touch.

As human beings, illness, adversity, disease, and hurt are part of our human condition. In a random
universe, “but for the grace of God,” we are all vulnerable.

Our strength, our beauty, the exquisite tenderness of the human heart is found precisely because of and in this vulnerability. A tear, a pain, a sorrow, a smaller or elderly hand needing ours and we meet our vulnerability and our humanity.

Prior to September 11, 2001, most of us in the western world did not spend too much time thinking about our vulnerability. How many blockbuster multi-million dollar movies have we seen about vulnerability
in the past year?

Confronted with the reality of September 11, and with the realization that some senseless act of hate and anger can render all of us vulnerable, fearfully our eyes and our hearts turned to each other. We came to know poignantly that to be human is to be vulnerable, and that at a deeper and more meaningful sense we are all connected and related because we are all universal citizens of a larger community called human life.

In health care ethics respecting the vulnerability of the patients we serve is an essential theme and issue. In fact the most sacrosanct principle of healthcare ethics requires us to protect the sanctity of human life and it is directly connected to the realization that human beings are vulnerable and that human life is a fragile blessing that must be cherished and honoured in each and every individual person we meet and serve.

It is important to note here the usage of the term patient as opposed to client. In the modern patients’ and
consumers’ rights movement “patients” became “clients,” in other words, informed people who contracted health care services from practitioners. Much of the language of contemporary allopathic and complementary health care is fraught with this language and the implicit belief that patients are consumers of health care, in much the same way by analogy that they contract for other services, such as purchasing a car, a house, etc.

The problem with this notion is that it omits the critical reality that patients are very often vulnerable people; i.e., people whose condition or circumstances may warrant special and extraordinary care and diligence.

As a victim of a car accident suffering from a painful whiplash injury, in contracting for the services of a massage therapist I am considerably more vulnerable than when I contract as a consumer to buy a car or a house.

In the former instance, I am contracting for a service that will affect the most valuable thing I possess, my health and well-being. In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a health professional entails a recognition that health professionals must first and foremost respect the vulnerability of the clients we serve.

To argue that health care professionals are experts with advanced education and a prescribed knowledge base, is to merely scratch the surface of what it means to be a health care professional. At the heart of this critical concept, what many have termed, “the professional commitment” of the health care profession, is the steadfast, time-honoured requirement to respect the vulnerability of patients and to serve their direct benefit.

As professional health care providers, massage therapists are the keepers of integrity in touch; bound by a professional promise to respect the vulnerability of our patients and to put their best interests first and foremost.

In the poetry of serving with integrity in touch, we place again our heart in our hands and deliver the touch of life that reminds us of the miracle and the majesty of serving with integrity in touch.


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