Touch is another caregiving instrument that involves carefully offered embraces, pats on the back, or arms around the shoulder. Not all people want to be touched. Sometimes it may be too traumatizing and can produce fearful flashbacks for survivors of significant abuse.
The practice of touch varies from culture to culture. In cultures that focus on the individual, touch is often regarded as inappropriate and unprofessional; in other cultures, it is considered normal or routine, and is a strong expression of human connectedness and solidarity. Even in individualistic cultures, touch is still considered to be a positive expression of love toward children and the elderly.
Many professionals and administrators are afraid of any touch in caregiving settings unless it involves physical management. They express deep concerns, such as: “How will an individual learn boundaries when he/she has been sexually traumatized over the years?” Gentle Teaching’s use of touch, such as a hug, is clearly not sexual. That said, caregivers need to proceed with great care in the use of touch, and make sure that these acts are seen as symbols of companionship and community, due to the fact that many individuals in COR have a history filled with abuse and violent physical attacks.
Many people think that Gentle Teaching is all about hugs. Physical contact is a vital aspect of the approach used because it can be a very concrete expression of the feeling “I am safe with you.” Just as importantly, it is employed as a ritual in a culture of gentleness; it becomes a sign and symbol of what COR is all about, namely companionship and community.
In the use of loving physical contact, such as a hug, care must be taken. For example, caregivers can model asking for a hug, by saying “I can sure use a hug!” or “Could you give me a hug?” The use of loving touch gradually takes a new meaning of gentleness, companionship and community. The caregiver’s hands can be concrete expressions of generating a feeling of being safe and loved.