Portland’s Professional Cuddler Is Figuring Out How to Connect With Clients in the Era of Social Distancing

Some patients still insist on in-person visits. Until recently, Samantha Hess was willing to oblige—with some adjustments.

Professional cuddler Samantha Hess doesn’t need to spoon her clients to help them.

Samantha Hess isn't letting a pandemic stop her from getting close
to her clients.

As a professional cuddler, physical contact is a significant part of her business. It's not the entire business, she emphasizes—yes, many of the people she sees are recovering from trauma, and the nonsexual touching she specializes in provides a sense of comfort, but the actual cuddling is secondary to opening lines of communication and forging connections.

But even in this time of social distancing, some patients still insist on in-person visits. Until Monday's shelter in place order, Hess, owner of Cuddle Up to Me in Northeast Portland, was willing to oblige—with some adjustments.

"I had a person in crisis, who was upset about all the things going on, which makes sense," she says. "He put a T-shirt over his face, and I have a tube scarf that I wear, and we stayed 6 feet apart.

"After about 20 minutes," she continues, "we learned the thing he's really missing is touch."

A spooning or hugging session wouldn't have been appropriate. Hess' solution? She and the client removed their shoes, reclined on opposite ends of the session bed, and pressed their sock-covered feet together.

"It was adorable," she says.

With the city's shelter in place order now in effect, Hess will have to shut her studio down. But she isn't going to stop seeing clients. She's already checking in using the Marco Polo app, leaving messages, jokes and "confirmations"—"neutral affirmations," such as "Do you know you have two thumbs?" meant to help with dissociation. She also hopes to eventually host group party games via video chat.

"The whole point is to create things," she says, "to help us remember that we're all still together."

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