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Doug's Case Study 

1. Doug (not his real name) is a 58 yo white male. He has a bachelor’s degree in technical training and is employed full-time with benefits as a help desk agent. He is divorced with no children and currently lives alone.

 

2. Doug presented with an issue of having acted on a craving for human touch by going to the only place he knew of to get it, a “massage parlor” where massage with genital stimulation is available. The client felt a subsequent painful sense of emptiness and self-recrimination. It triggered a fear of returning to self-destructive behavior patterns that had been held in check, but from which he had previously relapsed. His trauma therapist suggested Cuddlist as an alternative. She knew nurturing safe touch is what Doug was seeking. The therapist made the initial contact. Based on my response, she felt confident recommending that her client contact a fellow Cuddlist to set up a session. Given her recommendation, the client felt comfortable having an initial session with me.

 

3. Doug has been receiving one-hour Cuddlist sessions every week or two for one year. He initially started therapy at Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault then followed his therapist when she went into private practice. He’s been seeing her for almost 4 years for 2 sessions weekly. He also attends a weekly AA support group and a weekly men’s survivor group.

Doug’s diagnosis is PTSD. Upon first starting therapy, he exhibited a high degree of dissociation, depression, anxiety, sexual concerns, intrusive experiences, defensive avoidance, and tension reduction behavior per the Trauma Symptom Inventory. Through EMDR and IFS (Internal Family Systems), he has reduced all his TSI symptoms and has been able to become more comfortable with feeling his emotions. Current treatment focuses on EMDR with distressing past abuse memories.

4. Cuddlist sessions do not set goals in the way that therapy does. We do not diagnose so we do not have a formal service plan. The method of operation is to always have the client making choices and identifying how they would like to feel or where they would like to go. We may set intentions with the client that can change from session to session. With Doug the goal is to be present with one another and go at his pace. This is an intention Cuddlist practitioners have with all of their clients. No other goals were necessary.

5. At his first session Doug divulged his history of alcoholism including a relapse in which he attempted to die by suicide by drinking enough to end his life. How the Cuddlist received this information played a crucial role in establishing trust and security to proceed. Over time client revealed a history of childhood sexual abuse. He has felt safe enough to share with me that he was sexually abused by his grandfather over a period of time in which he, his mother, and his older brother were dependent on him. His brother knew of the abuse and also felt powerless to intervene. Additionally, he has suffered physical abuse by his mother, father, and eventual stepfather as well as verbal/emotional abuse by his mother and grandmother on top of other sexual abuse instances by peers when he was in middle school, bullying in high school, and what could be defined as physical and emotional torture by his stepfather and a friend’s father as an older teen. In short, Doug had never experienced safe touch as a child or adolescent.

Telling his spouse about the sexual abuse had led to the end of his marriage. Being able to tell someone in a safe, non-clinical, interpersonal context where it was received with compassion and acceptance over time with secure attachment has contributed to a shift in which he can imagine himself in an intimate partnership, whereas previously he could not.

For the first 9 months or so we had a practice of Doug reporting back the next day in which he would take time to process and realize in hindsight what was happening to him. Being able to identify and communicate it reinforced the sense of being authentic and having it received with safety. Over time that has ebbed away and this practice is no longer needed. He is authentic in real-time with no delayed realizations.

The belief that he is “too much” for others or that he could not share meaningful personal details without an agenda (even unconsciously) to manipulate is one of the things our sessions have been recontextualizing for him. Receiving affection and focused positive attention without expectations or demands has provided an opportunity for him to experience himself in a new way. Doug is more at ease with himself and has a more positive image of who he is as a friend, a confidant, a supportive presence, and an ally. He has a more realistic perspective of the positive impact he has on others and he has less anxiety about having a negative impact. He is more optimistic about his ability to follow through on his intentions. He is feeling more at ease and has a positive self-image about how he contributes to others in his survivor's group and with AA sponsees.

Finally, Doug is gaining more clarity, fluency, and ease around his self-concept as a value-driven male individual who has purposeful assets to offer others. He has pursued a passion to learn more about men’s rights activism and has shared his story (read here) in online forums to encourage other trauma survivors to find the effective help that is available to them and to stay positive in the face of discouragement and even despair.

Shelley Pier, LCSW, SHARES HER EXPERINCES WORKING WITH A PRACTITONER

I am an LCSW specializing in trauma, specifically sexual violence. I’m currently in private practice and have been practicing for over 15 years in various settings relating to serving sexual assault survivors and their significant others. I had known about Cuddlist thanks to an informational video I had watched years ago. I was intrigued, from a personal standpoint, and kept the information in my back pocket for future use should any clients ever need it. An opportunity recently arose which I felt the right client could benefit. What impresses me most about what Cuddlist offers is a safe, consent-based, platonic touch. It’s proven that humans benefit from nurturing touch, however, our society often makes touch into something sexual, or worse, non-consensual. When healing the trauma of sexual abuse, creating a safe, empowering, consent-based environment is imperative. I really appreciate how this is also important to Cuddlist, and is the basis of their work.

One thing sexual violence teaches, especially if the violence occurred at a young age, is that a person’s body isn’t theirs. It’s for others’ pleasure. It’s for the taking. Learning boundaries, asking for healthy touch, being able to consent, and understanding what their feelings are around healthy touch is part of healing. Due to the ethical limitations of my profession, I can only do so much in helping a client in these areas. Actually practicing it with a professional who can engage in touch is much more impactful. In the case of people who have grown up in complex trauma-filled situations (physical, sexual, verbal/emotional abuse as a child), what I see as a benefit of what Cuddlist does is reparation work. What I mean by this is helping heal those younger parts within the self, who have known nothing but hurtful touch. Again, one of my limitations as a therapist is contact. Aside from a possible hug, should a client initiate, it is unethical for me to do things such as hold and rock a client. Cuddlist professionals are able to do this! And I have personally seen the amazing healing that has occurred from my client’s younger parts finally being able to receive kind touch in ways like this.

Lastly, the professional communication between Cuddlist and me has been exceptional. The Cuddlist professional has strived to make sure my client’s therapeutic goals are being met. Should anything come up in either session pertaining to the other’s work, we are in contact. Her care and gentleness with sensitivity to my client’s trauma have been instrumental in continued healing. She has offered my client unconditional positive regard, and been able to build an environment of trust and safety. I know my client is in good hands (no pun intended) and everything concerning the Cuddle sessions is run very professionally.

Honestly, I feel the Cuddlist work really is its own type of therapy. I would say it should be called Contact Therapy. I envision this would be helpful for clients not just healing from trauma, but also dealing with things like body image issues, communication, and relationships. I encourage other therapists to learn more about Cuddlist and how it might be of benefit to clients.

A TRAUMA SURVIVOR'S EXPERINCE WITH
HIS TDCT PRACTIONER

Testimonial from a Client of a Cuddlist, this was shared by Cuddlist Co-Founder and Director of Training:

I am a survivor of early childhood sexual trauma. I’m a 35-year-old man. There have been many other traumatic experiences in my life, but those first ones set the stage for my ability to form attachments with other people.

I’m writing this to the other survivors out there that might come across this blog and the Cuddlists’ services looking for relief. I know you’re out there because I’m one of you and I know what it’s like. If you’re lucky enough to realize that what happened to you has affected you to this day, and you start looking for help… That’s when things get really awful. It feels like there’s no hope, no help and this is just going to be how things are. I won’t bore you with war stories about that, you know what I’m talking about.

I want to tell you about my experiences with my Cuddlist, and why I started working with her.

I’d been in therapy (again) for a few years with someone who, finally, was able to really help me. I was making real progress and the ‘layers’ of my trauma were finally getting peeled away.

But at one point, it seems I hit a spot in the ‘peeling’ that had an unexpected effect. A little background: One aggravating condition of my disability was profound addiction to drugs and alcohol. It was nearly fatal more than once. I won’t describe what that was like, but one component of it was, for lack of a better term, an obsessive ‘craving’ that would hit me like a freight train… Not all the time, but when it did, my focus and thinking pushed everything else but the drink out.

The good news is, this time it wasn’t an obsession to drink or get high. Not at all. I’d already been sober almost 3 years by then. The bad news is, I had been without any sort of physical relationship with anyone for over seven years… My body, mind, and spirit made a demand. They went to the one experience that worked every time. That freight train. When it hit, it dragged me somewhere I didn’t want to be. To a ‘massage parlor’. I’d been to them before, in my heavy drug use and drinking days, but never once sober. It was even worse without being drunk. I’d like to point out here, this was not about sex… Just a blind, unreasoning impulse for human contact. For touch. That’s all.

I discussed the whole event with my therapist, and she did an amazing thing. She smiled, and said ‘I’ve got just the thing for that!’.

I spoke with Cuddlist on the phone a few days later, after she and my therapist discussed my case and what happened. We talked about it, but I had a feeling of anxiety about the idea of actually doing a session. The Cuddlist‘s phone side manner’ was curious and welcoming, but in my case, she was up against a real challenge. She accomplished her mission and made it look easy.

In our first session I tried to explain my anxiety, but as you know if you’re like me, there isn’t much language for it… It just is. Again, she worked her craft of empathy and patience. Made it look easy.

We cuddled. Just a few comfortable, relaxed positions laying close together with gentle touching… And we talked. She’d ask a question or prompt me with a thought about what’s been going on with me. I babbled my head off. It all came out in a flood.

It’s been that way ever since. I want to emphasize this, because the Cuddlist practitioners are, by their training, very consistent and grounded. They really listen. And they will do the work to meet you where you are. For many of us, this is the first experience with that process.

I don’t want to throw a bunch of shade at the therapeutic community, but let’s face it; too many of us have been completely let down by it, and often harmed by it. There are many therapists and even a few psychologists that do great work for us, but I’ve spent hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars being told that my suffering is my problem and my responsibility to fix it. Now, don’t get me wrong… From an incredibly narrow and ham-fisted view, this is a true statement. My mental health IS something only I can be responsible for. And I can certainly say it has been MY problem my whole life. But with the kind of support my Cuddlist and my therapists (plural!) available, I finally had something besides my broken mind and spirit to use… TO FIX MY MIND AND SPIRIT! Going it alone has never worked, and it will never work. For me or anyone else.

If you’ve had bad experiences with therapy, talk to a Cuddlist practitioner. Find out what it’s like to have someone be prepared and trained to accept you as you are, to not only respect your boundaries but to celebrate and honor them. YOUR boundaries, YOUR vulnerabilities. Now, they will show you their boundaries, and the process will begin with an expressed agreement that everyone will be respected and not violated. But if you visit a Cuddlist for the same reason I do, you know it is OUR boundaries that require recognition and repair.

It’s work, I won’t sugar-coat this. My first visit was hard for me. But after what I just went through I knew it was necessary. I knew it was the right thing to do. My Cuddlist never lost sight of my struggle for a second. And yet, she’s been able to reintroduce me to very close, physical contact with another person after YEARS of not having it. And not wanting it. Even though I’m a human being and so my body, my soul and my emotions demand it.

If you struggle with trauma of any kind, if you have boundary issues, if you are ‘neuroatypical’ for any reason, this therapy can and will help you. It takes courage, but it’s worth it. YOU are worth it.

Try a therapeutic touch session at Positive Peer Mentoring with Corinne Pulliam who is a Touch Therapist Practitioner trained by Cuddlist, and see just how much more alive you will feel.

 

She looks forward to embracing you.

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