In the latest episode of Psychiatria, we tell a story of touch. I talk with a dear friend and massage therapist, Sarah Klingenberg, LMT at The Joyful Vitality about her journey with atopic dermatitis and into becoming a massage therapist. Her story has much to teach us about the connection between our skin and the outside world, the ways in which our bodies talk, and the importance of deep listening. It is beautiful on its own, and I don’t want to spoil it here. Instead, I’d like to add to this story with my own reflections on touch and the things I learned in this episode.

Most of the time, I love being touched. I love hugs and handshakes and snuggles and human contact that feels warm and safe. I love soft clothes and blankets and being cozy. I love massages and chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture. I find a kind touch to be so incredibly soothing, and the research shows this is true for most people. As I say in this episode, “It feels so good to be able to trust somebody with my skin, and with my body.”

I’m not alone in this. Humans need touch. Maybe we feel this need to different degrees and we have different ways of fulfilling it, but it’s still true. When we don’t get the physical contact we need, we can find ourselves in a state of touch deprivation which most of us got some first-hand experience with in 2020. It’s important that we exercise this part of our humanness. We can do it in all sorts of ways from hugging our dogs to high-fiving our neighbors. We all find the ways that work for us.

What I found most fascinating about my conversation with Sarah was the immense role our skin has to play in all of this. It’s the real MVP. Our skin is the organ that allows us to experience touch (and is also our body’s largest organ). It is the thing that lays between us and the rest of the world. It is the place where our selves meet the environment and the other beings around us. It acts as a protective barrier to all the important happenings inside our bodies, but it’s a selectively permeable barrier. Some things, like the comfort of a friendly hug, can pass through.

Our skin senses when and how we are being touched. It is full of specialized sensory receptors that work together to gather information on whether something is hot or cold, hard or soft, safe or dangerous. Our skin even tells us what might be going on inside the body (Ever heard of the gut-skin axis?). Skin symptoms can show up as a result of so many conditions, like Celiac disease, immune system dysfunction, thyroid disease, or even liver issues. 

Our skin does a whole heck of a lot of communicating. It receives information from the environment and sends it to the brain, and it also showcases important information from inside the body. Touch is really a mode of communication between ourselves and the outside world. Expressions with touch and our skin are vital to the body’s language. Even more than that, touch is our way of connecting ourselves with everything else out there. Sarah said it so well in conversation: “Our bodies can act as our connection to everything else that is out there, everything else that we are.”

Find Sarah on Instagram (@TheJoyfulVitality) and on her website: https://thejoyfulvitality.com/

Now that you’ve read my ponderings, are you excited to hear Sarah’s story? Be sure to take a listen! You can find this episode of Psychiatria and all the others on your podcatcher of choice, embedded below, or at the links HERE. If you’ve already listened – What did you think? Do you have questions or feedback on something that could be improved? Ideas for future episodes? Send ‘em to me at [email protected]. Want to keep up with the show and get a heads up on new episodes? Find me on Instagram (@PsychiatriaPodcast). I can’t wait to hear from you! Stay curious, dear listeners.

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