Quackery Exposed: Nordic Cuddle Therapy

How Cuddle Therapy Caught My Attention

This morning I received this message:

I’m reaching out from Nordic Cuddle, a cuddle therapy company and training provider. Nordic Cuddle has developed a brand new dual-accredited cuddle therapy course with leading touch researchers and medical experts, including the autism expert, Dr. Liliya T.B Wheatcraft, MD, MSc (Cantab), DCH, MRCPsych. We believe our course would be of great interest to your group’s members, as it would complement their existing knowledge about touch and autism. We know from experience that many autistic clients benefit from our cuddle sessions, one example can be seen in an interview we did with Sky News:

. We also wrote more about touch and autism for a blog post on Dr. Wheatcraft’s autism website:

. We’d therefore like to enquire whether it would be possible to advertise our course to your group members at Parents of Autistic and Special Needs Children? Kind regards, Rebekka

I decided to look farther into this.

What is Cuddle Therapy?

Nordic Cuddle is a cuddle therapy that is based in London. Nordic Cuddle does train new practitioners and provide a platform that connects all trained in this protocol. It is a touch based therapy which involves hugs, gentle arm rubs and stroking. They do say that this therepy is not a replacement for psychotherapy or counseling. They claim it his a wider approach to improving wellbeing. 

Claimed benefits:

  • lowered stress levels
  • reduced blood pressure
  • imune system boost
  • increased serotonin levels
  • higher self esteem
Nordic Cuddle is currently building a medical and wellness advisory board to increase awareness about the benefits of touch. 
“After oxytocin inhalation, patients exhibited stronger interactions with most socially cooperative partner and reported enhanced feelings of trust and preference . . . Oxytocin selectively increased patients gazing time on the socially informative region of the face, namely the eyes. Thus, under oxytocin, patients respond more strongly to others and exibit more appropriate social behavior and affect, suggesting a therapeutic potential of oxytocin through its action on a cure dimension of autism.”
They even offer consultation with one of their specialists.
They claim in autistic children when conducting a study they do not cite: 
  • touch aversion went down for both the touch therapy and touch control group
  • off task behavior went down overall and significantly more for the touch therapy group
  • orienting to irrelevent sounds and noises went down overall significantly more for the touch therapy group
  • sterotypical behaviors went down overall and significantly more for the touch therapy group
In other words, they strive for the same results as ABA. 

What the Science Says

It is true that Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Oxytocin is thought to be released during hugging, touching and orgasm in all genders. In the brain, oxytocin is involved in social recognition and bonding. It may be involved in the formation of trust between people and generosity. The greater the oxytocin level the more relaxed a person is. 
This is true for neurotypical people. This has not been studied in autistic people. 
Autistic people do show neural signs of anxiety when they see social touch and report unpleasant feelings about social touch by comparison to people who are neurotypical. According to a study conducted at the University of Haifa,”Until now, it was clear that many people with ASD dislike touch. This study enables us to understand that they actual experience touch in a similar way to anxiety.”
70-80% of autistic people have a hypersensitivity or under sensitivity to neural stimulation through various senses. This includes sight, touch, taste and hearing. Parents of children participating in this study report that children stiffen when touched, try to avoid touch, and prefer to be touched on their own terms. 
The results of the study show that autistic people reported unpleasant sensation when they watch social touching compared to neurotypical people. When their brain were examined, their brain waves showed when they watched this interaction including touch, the neural signs in their brain were indicative of anxiety. 
“The results of this study improve our understanding of people diagnosed with ASD. Social touch is an integral part of our lives in both happy and sad events, and now we can understand why for some people on the autistic spectrum all these events arouse anxiety in a similar manner to therapy for phobias, whether by means of psychotherapy or medication.”

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