Midwest Cuddler Talks About the Importance of Hugging
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. As only one of two professional Cuddlers in Michigan, she has a lot of territory to cover. But that doesn’t daunt Michelle Curtis, who says she loves what she does and and feels a personal sense of mission about her profession.
Curtis, who grew up on a farm in West Michigan and who is also Director of Cuddlist Care , says when she works with clients, her goal is to give them a sense of unconditional acceptance.
“On a very basic level, I hope my clients find themselves feeling a real sense of acceptance when they are in a session with me. They don’t need to be anything they aren’t. I want them to feel safe and seen and heard,” she said. “Many don’t get to experience that in every day life. If I can make them feel that for an hour, I’ve done my job.”
For those unfamiliar with the practice, Professional Cuddling is therapeutic, non-sexual form of touching that also builds communication skills because clients are taught to ask for what they need. The Cuddlist, which offers certfication and rigorous training for its practitioners, makes its clients also sign a Code of Conduct to ensure proper personal physical and emotional boundaries are respected.
Curtis says one of her goals is getting the word out to the World that there is nothing to be ashamed of with having a need for this kind of contact. “One of the biggest challenge,” she says, “is educating the community about what I do and why it’s important work and nothing to be ashamed of needing. We all need touch and connection. It’s important to ask for it.”
Dr. Daniel Yadegar, who is head of the Cuddlist’s scientific board, as well as being a cardiologist and internist at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC, says practitioners perform an essential function in society.
“There is something transcendent about cuddling, as it has the power to take energy from the outer world-human touch and intimacy — and influence our inner world, down to the molecular level. Cuddling can improve immunity, enhance mood and serve as an energetic elixir for all patients, especially for those with chronic medical conditions,” he said on the Cuddlist website. . “I recommend everyone get their daily dose!”
Curtis, who also works in San Diego as a Cuddler and hosts Cuddle Parties, says she was drawn to this kind of work after her 18 year marriage ended.
“I was a stay-at-home Mom during my marriage and also helped run our family business,” she recalls. “When we parted, I had to decide what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up.’ I was drawn to sex education. Being a Cuddlist certified practiioner isn’t exactly sex education but I like to think of it as the foundation of sexual satisfaction.”
Learning to Say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’
A typical cuddling session begins with her greeting clients with a smile and a warm hug, she said. “I want them to feel at ease with me and I think that starts by me modeling that I am at ease with them. I want them to know that I want them to be there, in my home. Then we usually sit together, usually holding hands and I tell them that I will let them know if at any time I am emotionally or physically uncomfortable and I ask if they can do the same for me.
When they agree, we start to talk about what they would like in their session,” she says. “I ask them what kind of touch feels good? How would they like to cuddle? I make sure they know this is their session and I want them to ask for what they want, assuring them that I will never say ‘yes’ to anything that I am not a wholehearted ‘yes’ to. ”
From there, she says, “it can look like anything. Typically, we end up laying together, many times with my head on their chest and we talk. Or, we might not talk at all. Towards the end of the session, I let them know that I will check with them in a day or two, to see how they are feeling. When the session is done, I offer them a hug goodbye.”
While some might balk at allowing strangers to come into their home and initiate this kind of intimacy, Curtis says she has never felt afraid. “I’ve never felt myself to be in danger,” she says. “I’ve welcomed a lot of strangers into my home and never once had a problem. I always have safety protocols in place but never need to utilize them. I believe most people are good people. They are more worried about me being uncomfortable than anything else.”
And she said, doing this kind of work has helped her grow enormously.
“I think the growth is mostly from the amazing colleagues around me. uddlist really attracts wonderful people who have knowledge that wows me at times,” she says. “The questions that arise from session questions really push me to look at myself around questions like shame, as an example.The more emotionally healthy I am, the better I can be for clients.”
She finds inspiration with both her clients and with the Cuddlist community. When talking with her colleagues, she says, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by “when there isn’t some ah-ha moments, or when someone doesn’t share something very profound. These are great people who love what they do,” she said. “Cuddlist has made community a real priority.”