Senses of Touch: The Absence and Presence of Touch in Health Care Encounters of Patients with Mental Illness

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Touch is a fundamental sense and the most unexplored of the five senses, despite its significance for everything we do in relation to ourselves and others. Studies have shown that touch generates trust, care and comfort and is essential for constituting the body. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this study explores the absence and presence of touch in interactions between people with mental illness and professionals, in health care encounters with general practitioners, neurologists and physiotherapists, as well as masseurs. We found that touch and physical examination of patients with mental illness is absent in health care encounters, leaving the patients with feelings of being out of place, misunderstood, less socially approved and less worthy of trust. Drawing on Honneth and Guenther, we conclude that touch and being touched is an essential dimension of recognition—both of the patients’ bodily sensations and symptoms and of them as human beings, detached from the psychiatric label—as well as contributing to the constitution of self and personhood. These findings confirm that touch works as an existential hinge that affirms a connection between the patient, the body and others and gives a sense of time, space and existence
Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture, Medicine, and Psychiatry
Pages (from-to)402-421
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 300694205