After completing my Cuddlist training online in May, I flew to Denver, Colorado to have an approval session in July, which involved a mock Cuddlist client screening and cuddle session. My evaluator, Kassandra Brown, played the role of a client and challenged my ability to spot potential incompatibilities, sensitivities, and pushing of boundaries. She evaluated my communication, boundary-setting and holding, consent, and cuddling techniques. She evaluated not just my natural cuddling style, but how well I cuddled the client the way she wanted to be held and touched; for example, my natural inclination is to stroke or squeeze, but she asked for stillness of my hand on hers, which required me to deny my natural impulses and prioritize her comfort.
After the approval session, I got really useful feedback from both my evaluator and Madelon Guinazzo, the cofounder of Cuddlist, during my finalization call. After that video call, Madelon awarded me the Cuddlist Certified credential, which is now reflected in my Cuddlist profile. I should also mention that certification included a criminal background check.
I must say I was more nervous going into this certification exam than any I’ve ever taken — and I’ve taken several interpreting certification exams! I can think of various reasons for this:
- Before I took an interpreting exam, I took two years of American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting courses, and these courses had been around long before I took them, whereas I studied cuddling formally for only two months, and the course I took had only existed for six years before I tested.
- The ASL/English interpreting field had professionalized thirty years before I became an interpreter, whereas the cuddling industry had professionalized only about six years before I became a cuddler.
- The interpreting exams had required me to interpret either in front of a panel of examiners or in front of a video camera, whereas the cuddling exam was an intimate verbal and physical interaction with one person.
- The interpreting exams had required me to answer hypothetical ethical dilemmas, whereas the cuddling exam required me to respond in situ to challenges during a role-play. It wasn’t a matter of “if this happened, I would…” but rather of speaking and behaving interactively as if these things were really happening— which, in the role play, they were!
- The cuddling exam evaluated me on a very personal level, including how I smelled, how I held, how I touched, and how I responded physically and verbally to touch. It was about as intimate as it gets with one’s clothes on!
- Another element I almost forgot to mention — though this is critical! — is that women routinely experience verbal oppression and unwanted touch from men, and this requires me to be extra careful about how I speak to and touch a woman. In the ASL/English interpreting field, interpreters have to be sensitive to the oppression (a.k.a. audism) Deaf people face from hearing people on a daily basis, but there is a real demand for male interpreters for male Deaf clients in this female-dominated profession. There is less of a demand for male cuddlers, though one does exist, and a market is still being created for this.
The reason I put certification before professional practice was because this field is unregulated, so a professional cuddler who is uncertified could easily be an unprofessional person charging money and doing harm. I want to do no harm, to be therapeutic, and to uphold the kind of standards that will move myself and this profession toward credibility. (Note: this is not to diminish the wonderful work of true professional cuddlers who have not yet pursued formal training or certification.)
One of my goals is to work with medical and mental health professionals whose own ethical practices are on the line when it comes to partnering with other providers; for this reason I want to be seen as a colleague who is as serious about patient care as they are.
Certification is only the beginning. I have a challenging road ahead of me since there is currently very little demand for male cuddlers, and there are not even many female cuddlers who make a living doing this. Luckily, I already have an established career doing something I love and have no desire to stop doing. I did not get into professional cuddling for the money or as a career replacement; I did it to add to what I do, vary what I do, and do yet another thing I’m passionate about.