Platonic touch therapy can help people going through mental health problems, or even those experiencing loneliness
By day, Natasha Wicks is a cognitive behavioural therapist, helping people to cope with mental health problems.
However, when she goes home her job doesn’t end as she slips into her role as a ‘professional cuddler’, or as it’s formally known, a Platonic Touch Therapist.
For Natasha, 40, it’s the best and most rewarding job she’s ever had.
She said: “If you can give someone a bit of your time to make them happier then that’s got to be a good thing.”
This is a role Natasha has been practicing for three years. She charges £55 per hour, offering a free 10 minute ‘settling in period’ for the first session, but says monetary gain isn’t the goal.
She explained: “During my time as CBT councillor I have often found myself in a situation where I have felt my client would benefit from a hug. However, this has obviously been too unethical to do.
“Cuddle therapy allows both of us to disregard this constraint, with extremely rewarding results.”
She’ll offer clients water, giving them the option to read through some books about the therapy, before moving into the ‘cuddle space’ in the living room.
She will ask: “So why have you come to see me?”, to which she’ll receive mixed reactions; some will cry, others might feel embarrassed, but almost all will confide in Natasha like she is a close friend instead of a stranger.
“Not everyone can be a professional cuddler”
There’s more to platonic touch therapy than just giving someone a cuddle. Natasha is a certified professional cuddler and had to undergo training in order to embark on the career path.
According to Cuddle Professional International, the first organisation to offer an accredited course in cuddle therapy, training can take up to 30 hours and can usually be completed in around one month.
The course consists of 15 modules, with assignments and interactive quizzes to complete; there’s also a video of popular cuddling positions to view.
Natasha can see a clear difference between her ‘regular’ job and platonic touch therapy. The two therapeutic environments are very different; the office where she provides CBT is more clinical. Instead, cuddle therapy in her living room is “just somewhere they can feel good enough instead of being told ‘let’s change this about you”.
According to Natasha, putting people at ease and fully allowing them to relax takes a certain skill.
She said: “I can feel someone’s anxiety, especially if we’re cuddling, I can feel their heartbeat. I regulate my breathing and my heartbeat so theirs matches mine.
“For some people it’s a fix when they’re sad, for some people this becomes their happy place… some people come for the best nap of their lives”.
She remarked that sometimes people are so relaxed by the experience that “some people literally float out of here like they’re drunk”!
There are a lot of different cuddling positions for people to try, but Natasha says one is more popular than the rest.
“Most people want to spoon,” Natasha said. “They can choose to be a big spoon or a little spoon… but there are also a lot of other positions in the ‘Cuddle Sutra’ (touch therapy book)”.
Cuddling might be a wholesome activity but Natasha takes her safety very seriously.
Instead of just letting a stranger into her house, they undergoes a rigorous back and forth discussion where she explains the process.
“If I have a new client I’ll text my partner ‘If you haven’t heard from me in a few hours, assume I’m dead'”, she joked.
She also has their passport details stored away if there’s an emergency.
Acceptance and belonging
According to Kitty Mansfield, owner and founder of Cuddle Professionals International, touch therapy is still very new to the UK and is “sadly, viewed with suspicion”.
She said: “Our society is both touch-phobic and touch-deprived. We live in a technologically advanced but increasingly disconnected society, leading to skin hunger and a primal urge to feel closer to ourselves and to others.
“By craving platonic touching we’re admitting we’re human… we all need to feel compassion, emotional safety, self-worth, acceptance and belonging, and cuddle therapy facilitates this”.
Some people might thing that touch therapy is a sexual experience but this is a misconception that Natasha always clarifies.
Instead, Natasha describes the therapeutic experience as as “non-sexual intimacy.”
“Our rule is – anywhere that’s appropriate to touch a child is appropriate for us to touch during the sessions; I say this from the beginning, and I say this in subsequent emails. This filters out all the time wasters and people that are looking for something different.”
From Natasha’s regular clients, it’s clear that there’s a place for cuddle therapy in society but until the stigma surrounding it is broken, it’s going to be harder to integrate it into the mainstream.
She said: “It’s something people aren’t talking about… but people are touch starved.”
She also remarked how people are scared about asking for physical contact at the risk of sounding creepy. People have even told her that they get massages just so they feel the touch of another person.
Who needs a hug?
Natasha receives around 20 clients a month, some of whom are regulars. She even has clients from around the world who come to her for cuddle therapy whenever they’re in the UK.
“There’s not one type of person who is more attracted to this.”
She sees people as young as 18 but also has regulars who are in their 80s.
Some are unemployed, others lead a busy working life; she’s seen nurses, other therapists, widowers and every person in between.
Natasha even said that surprisingly, most people that come to see her are already in a relationship but aren’t getting the level of contact and communication that they want from their partner.
However, through her experience there’s one “touch starved” community that stands out to Natasha and that’s the older generation.
She said: “Older people lack touch and they are a very neglected part of society. Certain factors might make them feel ‘less worthy’ of physical contact.
“They don’t want to be a burden to family, they might be widowers, they might not be as groomed.”
According to Age UK, loneliness is one of the largest health concerns we face and loneliness in over 50s is set to reach two million by 2025/6 – an estimated 49% increase in ten years.
Natasha’s oldest client is in his 80s; he gets little respite at home and acts as a carer to his wife.
She said: “This is the place where he can be the little spoon. He’s not the one always taking care of everyone.”
Some of the people Natasha treats truly rely on touch therapy for their mental health.
One said: “She immediately puts you at ease and is a very calming personality. She has helped me a lot and I am very thankful for her influence”.
Another said: “Although medication and CBT are a great help, depression and Anxiety causes me to feel isolated despite being surrounded by loving people.
“The trauma of several negative events in my past caught up with me and after being strong for so long, I crashed and felt weak and hopeless. Then I found cuddle therapy.
“For the time I’m with her I feel more present, alive, hopeful and more myself through great cuddles, laughter, conversation and support.”
Let’s talk about male mental health
While she sees people of all genders, Natasha says the majority are male.
The mental health of men continues to be a problem. According to the Mental Health Foundation, out of the 6,507 suicides in 2018, men accounted for 75% of them.
One in eight men had common mental disorder symptoms, compared with one in five women.
Natasha believes it’s because men have to be the strong ones, particularly in the older generation.
She said: “It’s a societal problem… our current generation understands that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’; older men might not be surrounded with this mindset.”
“It’s brave for grown-ups to come and ask a stranger to hug them and shouldn’t be seen as shameful or embarrassing.”
Downsides to the job
One thing’s for certain, life as a ‘cuddle therapist’ is rarely dull. Natasha recalled a time where she accidentally tickled a person and the session ended in laughing fits.
She also recalled a time when she was wearing the exact same cuddling outfit as her visitor, which they both found humorous .
However, this type of career does have its downsides.
“I never switch off. I take my work home because it’s in my home,” said Natasha.
“I’m a natural empath. I genuinely care which does mean that people are always on your mind.”
She recalls a time at Christmas where she chose to respond to a client’s email when she was meant to be watching a movie with her family.
Natasha said she understands how hard the Christmas season can be for some people, so it wasn’t an issue for her.
She added: “It was just ten minutes of my life but that can make a complete difference to someone else’s.”
Despite the negatives, Natasha hopes she’ll still be a pro cuddler for years to come.
She said: “I’m not a wealthy person but I don’t need a lot of money. If I can sustain a living by making people feel better then that’s something she’s proud of.”
She hopes that more people can learn about platonic touch therapy and break the stigma attached to it.
She said: “It’s not as weird as you might think it is. Don’t be afraid to reach out, theres nothing wrong with admitting you need something in your life. In fact, It’s incredibly brave to ask for it. Why struggle on if you don’t need to?”
To learn more about platonic touch therapy or even get in touch with a therapist yourself, click here to find out more.