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Rethinking Touch: How Then Does It Heal?

Rethinking Touch: How Then Does It Heal?

(p.42) 3 Rethinking Touch: How Then Does It Heal?
The Distressed Body
Drew Leder
University of Chicago Press

This chapter investigates the healer’s touch in contemporary medical practice, with attention to both allopathic and alternative modalities. Healing is understood as the recovery of an integrated relationship between the self and its body, others, and the surrounding world—relationships that illness has rendered problematic. In this context, touch can play a crucial role in the clinical encounter. Unlike other modes of sensory apprehension, which tend to involve distance and/or objectification, touch unfolds through an impactful, expressive, reci­procity between the toucher and the touched. For the ill person this can serve to re-establish human connection and facilitate healing changes at the pre-linguistic level. The healer’s touch involves a blending of attention, compassion, and skill. The clinical efficacy of touch is also dependent upon the patient’s active receptivity, characteristics of which are explored. All too often modern medical practice is characterized predominately by the “objectifying touch” of the physical exam, or the “absent touch” wherein technological mediation replaces embodied contact altogether. This chapter explores the unique properties of sensitive touch that can make it healing within the diagnostic and therapeutic process.

Keywords:   touch, healing, illness, objectification, medical practice, embodiment

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