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The Touch That Could Change the World

By:  Susan Cotta, MSPT, CST


The results are in – Children who apply compassionate touch to playmates to help relieve pain strengthen self-esteem and positive behaviors, according to research conducted by The Upledger Foundation based inPalm Beach Gardens,FL.


The four-month Compassionate Touch (CT) study was carried out at schools inOhio,Texas,Florida,Michigan,Wisconsin,MinnesotaandCalifornia. Conducted with 560 children in grades K-2, the program centered on a simple hands-on technique called “Direction of Energy” that allows children to help classmates who sustain minor injuries. The results show statistically significant increases in pro-social behaviors, and equally significant decreases in aggressive and hostile behaviors.


Before and after each program, teachers assessed the children using the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS), a 57-item inventory of social skills, problem behaviors and academic competence designed for grades K-6. At the conclusion of the study, students demonstrated statistically significant increases in social skills, including cooperation, assertion and self-control. They also exhibited statistically significant decreases in problem behaviors, such as externalizing and hyperactivity.


For the children followed for two years, the results continued to be significant. “They were also consistent from class to class, school to school and state to state,” Dr. Upledger adds. “So the benefits clearly apply to children across the board.” While the formal research study has concluded, plans are in place to implement the program in schools across the country.


As a physical therapist doing CranioSacral therapy, I’m a big fan of CT. Yet, in our society, children have been taught for years to not touch. While that’s understandable from a safety standpoint, we also know that touch is essential for our well-being. Study after study on both humans and animals have demonstrated that we need touch to survive. The skin is our largest sensory organ. By denying the potential for touch with our children in our schools, and in our homes where parents are absent, we affect them in a profoundly negative way.


There are safe ways to implement CT and I illustrate these in my book, “I Can Show You I Care: Compassionate Touch for Children” (North Atlantic Books and UI Enterprises, 2003). I wrote this book specifically to introduce the importance of compassionate touch to children, teachers and parents.