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NHS Should Consider Nude Therapy to Replace Sedatives

July 18th, 2010

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Wellcome Trust entitled

‘Ordinary heroes: how nakedness can be used to enlighten, empower and entertain.’ How many of us are comfortable enough in our own skins to feel free of any sense of embarrassment about our bodies? Despite the religious, legal and cultural restrictions that surround its display, nakedness has been used creatively by mystics, political protestors and artists for centuries. Today it is also being used by ‘ordinary people’ to break free from feelings of ‘body shame’ and from the tyranny of stereotypical ideas about beauty.’

In this and following posts I will summarize (and sometimes expand) on what I said:

I once had to wade across a river in flood in New Zealand. When I got to the other side I was about to put my clothes back on my wet skin, when I asked myself “Why?” I was in the middle of nowhere, on a trek in the bush, and so I carried on walking naked and it was a revelation to me. No need for those heavy walking boots and socks – luckily the ground wasn’t rough – and no need for clothes! I felt like a wild animal – innocent and at one with my environment. I could skinny-dip in pools, feel the breeze on my skin and it was as if the trees and animals of the forest were greeting me as one of their own. I meditated under a tree and allowed the joy of simply being alive to flow through me.

Was I mad? Am I unique in having such an experience? Of course not. How many of us have had the experience of being naked in a way that has generated positive feelings of freedom and joy? It’s easy to pass over any experience we might have had of skinny-dipping or sunbathing naked that made us feel really good, but I believe it is important for us to pause and analyse these feelings – if only because joy and freedom are two of the most important motivators and goals of human endeavour. They are the preoccupations of psychotherapy and religion.

Horace Walpole wrote: ‘When I cast off my clothes, I cast off my cares!’  When I asked how many of the participants at the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Skin: Exposed’ event in London in July 2010 had felt the same way as Walpole, about 80% of the 140-strong audience raised their hands. This is remarkable: a great deal of research goes into working out how to relieve people of cares. Perhaps the National Health Service could save vast amounts of money by prescribing nude therapy rather than prozac, and instead of seeing thousands of people walking around under sedation, we could see them strolling our parks and sunbathing without a care – or at least without pants (as people do in the Englischer Garten in Munich).

Nakedness can, of course, provoke negative feelings and be used to inflict cruelty: to embarrass or humiliate. But our focus here is the positive feelings that it can engender and, concomitantly, the positive uses to which it can be applied.

If we begin to unpack these positive feelings we discover a remarkable range of experiences and inspirations to action that flow from these, which fall broadly into three categories, those of Religion and Personal Development; Politics and Activism; Art and Culture.

The feelings of freedom, joy, closeness to nature, and increased authenticity reported by many people who enjoy nakedness relate to our spiritual and psychological lives. Feelings of authenticity and innocence give rise to a sense of empowerment and the desire to challenge the status quo – hence the power of nakedness to fuel rebellion and protest. Associations with honesty, with ‘the naked truth’, mean that nakedness has also been used on the other side of the political fence, to promote the careers of politicians.

And in our third category, we know that skin tickles: that the body provides us with important ingredients of good entertainment: shock, excitement and amusement. In sum, nakedness can be used to enlighten, empower and entertain. Let’s look at each of these abilities in more detail (in the posts which will follow).

Note added 15 April 2011. I’m sorry the posts don’t follow. I got busy. But you can read in detail the ideas I would have posted in my book A Brief History of Nakedness.

10 Responses to “NHS Should Consider Nude Therapy to Replace Sedatives”

  1. A friend in Lewes, Adrienne Campbell, wrote this in her blog 100 Monkeys: “My pleasure in nakedness has certainly increased with age. When I was younger there was always the real fear of being leered at by the male predator types. Now there is no chance of that, particularly since I now only have one breast, and that freedom from fear of being pounced on is liberating. When I had the operation last year I was grieving never being able to skinny dip again, but a friend pointed out that that was a ridiculous thought. Many women have lost a breast to cancer, and being relaxed about it would do us all a service. In some ways, being seen and accepted, scar and all, has been part of my healing journey and I wonder whether it’s not just being naked but being seen naked that is healing for others too.

    I’m finding my favourite place to be naked is in deep nature, especially, this summer, in rivers. I’ve swum in the chocolate brown waters of the River Dart, under the cool, mossy oaks. I’ve dived into the muddy waters of the Ouse at the turning of the tide. And last week I swam at dawn every day in a Gloucestershire river that meandered through fields and woods. Feeling the smooth flow of cool water, standing in the hot sunshine with a gentle breeze, lying in the soft grass, unclothed, is, to me, a hugely sensory experience, one that’s available to anyone of any age or body shape. Being naked in wild places can be hugely empowering, literally: at times I start to vibrate as I feel the earth’s energy flowing through me. At the same time, it can remind me of my vulnerability, as though, as we strip off clothes we strip off the layers of pretense and protection with which we clad ourselves in the ‘civilised’ world. That’s perhaps why the naked bike ride and other naked protests are so popular, since they give people a feeling of power and freedom within vulnerability.”
    Read the whole post here:

  2. I find Adrienne’s words really inspiring. Her point about the healing impact of nakedness actually being a great deal about being seen naked by others, is so true. It’s not about exhibitionism (although I guess it could be for some) but more about the yearning for acceptance and connection. The sensitivity of our skin to the sensations of the world beyond includes not only the tangible pleasures of the sun, breeze or water upon us – all those things that physically and literally touch us – it is also about the less tangible ‘touch’ of another’s gaze. I really believe that as the interface between our inner and outer lives, our skin can feel and respond to that gaze from another (have you ever had that tickly, bristly feeling on your skin, only to turn and find that someone is staring at you?) and the impact of that registers on all levels too, emotionally and physically. We are most aware of this when we feel the gaze of someone we love and whom loves us; our skin responds to the pleasure or comfort of it – we feel loved and accepted. To feel this from those who we don’t know as well or who are strangers can be a very unifying and powerful thing.

    In our culture, nakedness is so often something that is objectified: we as clothed and veiled beings gaze at someone who is naked – our advertising, pornogrpahy etc. are all about this unequal exchange of that gaze. The power of shared nakedness is that we equally ‘see’ each other, and I think this, combined with our skin’s sensitivity to another’s sight upon it, creates a flow of intimacy that you just don’t get when clothed. And as Adrienne rightly says, the more we share our own nakedness with each other, the more accepting of ourselves we become. The revealing and sharing of our naked vulnerability not only leads to freedom and empowerment but also to compassion and empathy.

    Going back to your point Philip about nakedness as a prescription for well-being, I think it would work wonders! To feel at home within ourselves; to feel connected to nature and others; to not fear that flow of intimacy; to simply love and accept ourselves would go a long way to keeping us all healthier and happier. I guess the first hurdle is the hardest: finding the courage to reveal.

  3. i agree totally with the comments above, but on a more basic level and as someone who has worked in psychiatry in the NHS for 26 years, the thought of the staff wandering about naked (and i have known some of them a long time) would certainly reduce the drug budget if laughter is one of the best medicines.

  4. Sorry, this is completely nuts. Free range nudity is the domain of naturists, exhibitionists and eccentrics. It’s revolting and there isn’t a shred of evidence of its efficacy. Some people with think of any excuse to flash off their genitalia to complete strangers, so I suppose saying “it’s good for you” is as good as anything.

    In our culture, nudity is associated with intimacy. You know what – I like our culture!

    • What is really “completely nuts” is the response above. The aversion to nudity has no logical or rational basis. “Our culture” changes constantly. The sexualization of nudity is promoted in television ads and magazines. Naturists do not experience this sexualization. (That is not to say that Naturists are not sexual beings, but we do not spend our nude time leering at one another.)

      In the 1970s I provided, after training with Hartman and Fithian, nude group therapy. It had the very positive effects cited in this blog and most of the comments. But it was also therapeutic in helping people become aware of their own dysfunctional emotions and then work to make positive changes.

      Unfortunately the 1980s brought the conservatism of “our culture” to the fore in social/political/cultural arena. The “therapy industry” likewise began to sexualize nudity and thus put an end to a useful tool.

      Stu is welcome to prefer prudishness. No one wishes to force him to be nude. But social and familial nudity has been researched and demonstrated (Okami, Storey, etc.) to have too many positive results to be abandoned.

  5. @stu2630: exhibitionists and eccentrics always have the potential to ruin anyone’s fun, no matter what we’re talking about. The point isn’t to have “free-range nudity” or impose one’s nudity upon other people, it’s about getting over your own needless fear. There are many ways of doing this, but going nude is a pretty direct route. In this regard, your attitude of nudity as “revolting” and outright rejection of it as being therapeutic (JSTOR will point you in the direction of plenty of research on that front) is fairly indicative of an unwillingness to acknowledge one of your own limitations.

  6. I uphold nudity as part of an ascetic lifestyle – to renounce all worldly concerns and false values as far as is possible. To make being nude at home the norm rather than the exception is an ever-present reminder of rejection of the obscene materialism of the world. It is a private conviction.The more we practice self-control in what we eat and drink and do the closer we get to bliss or happiness. This is completely non-religious (agnostic) and non-sexual. It is a return to the purity of simply being alive with no man-made status indicated by clothing. In India nudity is accepted as a normal lifestyle for religious ascetics and the public accept this. I advocate non-religious asceticism that includes nudity, and can only wish that I could live in India. Renounce materialism and the evils that capitalism brings. Make yourself aware of this by living naked.

    • Hi Adam, I think you’ve highlighted a really important approach to nakedness. It’s so easy (and trite) for people to associate nakedness simply with hedonism, but the point you’ve made (and that my book talks about too) is that it can represent an ethical and political statement too.

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