I’ve been thinking of various job titles for what I do as a professional cuddler. I have seen many others call themselves therapeutic touch practitioners, and that is what we are, but so are massage therapists and others who practice various tactile modalities. What sets professional cuddlers apart is that we invite our clients to touch us platonically as well as to be touched by us platonically. That’s why I like putting the word interactive in the job title.
Personally, I would love to just tell everyone I’m a professional cuddler — I mean, there you go, I just did — but I understand that a lot of people think of the word cuddle as something not professional, or they don’t see the therapeutic value of it. That’s why I’m thinking of other ways to tell people what I do in this profession.
What do you think? If you are a professional cuddler, does the job title interactive therapeutic touch practitioner resonate with you? If you are not a professional cuddler, how does the job title strike you?
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.
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.
Yesterday morning, I listened to a story on NPR called “For a More Orderly Life, Organize Like a Chef,” which talked about applying the French culinary concept of mise–en–place (literally, “put in place”) in everyday life. One chef told how he uses mise–en–place for his daily “list.” He said:
What I used to do is, let’s say I had 23 items of mise-en-place I had to do every day. So I’d take a pad and I’d write them all down on the way home. And then I would crumple the list up and throw it out.…On my way to work I’d write the list again. And you become one with your list. You and the list are the same, because the list is scorched into your head.
–Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of New York restaurants wd~50 and Alder, as quoted by Dan Charnas, NPR.
I’m all over the place
This got me to thinking about my schedule. As a freelance interpreter, I work for several different agencies and drive to many venues to interpret for classes, consultations, and conferences. In a hectic week, I often can’t remember where I’m going from one job to the next without looking at my calendar. I use GPS to get places; I look at my phone once I’ve arrived at an address to see what suite I need to get to, and even what the name of the venue is; I look at my phone again when I get to a venue before I can tell the front desk the client’s name.
Putting myself en place
I’d rather be like a chef who knows where everything is and how he’s going to get from one thing to another than a rock star who can’t remember what city he’s playing. I need to mise-en-place my schedule. Case in point: I recently had a morning job that I knew was medical and far away. I left in time to get there early. Fine. However, I did not remember the name of the patient, the medical office, or even what kind of specialty it was. I also didn’t realize I was scheduled to come back the next morning. I had taken the jobs separately and not seen the connection. When I showed up, another interpreter was there because the office accidentally booked two interpreters for the job. I just figured I would let her do it because she got there first. What I failed to consider was that I was scheduled for the follow-up as well, and it would have been better for me to stay so I could provide continuity to the clients.
If I had it to do again:
I should look at my schedule for the week and note that I was scheduled to interpret for the same patient at the same doctor’s office two mornings in a row– this would remind me of the patient’s needs and preferences and alert me to the repetition; I should look at the name of the venue and note the specialty– this will help me find the venue when I arrive at the building or complex and I can spot the name on the outside, and it should help me prepare myself mentally for interpreting in that specialized setting; I should note the suite number– this should help me locate the venue either from outside the building or inside. I should call the venue the day before or the morning of, the latest, to confirm the appointment– this would have either alerted me to the double-booking, saved the clients the change in interpreters, and saved one of us the drive.
Mise–en–place = Me at work
There’s another big reason to mise–en–place my schedule: so I can get more work! The way I get jobs is the agencies I work for send out mass emails with the dates, times, and locations of jobs they need to fill. I have to have my smartphone with me at all times to get the mass-emails the agencies send out, and I have to respond instantly or the jobs will be snatched up by those who respond faster. There have been many times I have responded in two minutes only to get the reply “covered, thanks” a minute later. I have spoken with many interpreters in the area who report the same experience, so there might be more to covering these jobs than speed-of-response; still, to speed up my response time, it would help if I had my schedule memorized. See, it takes me a minute or two just to switch to my calendar app and see whether I’m available before I can even reply. If put my schedule in my head, I might put myself in the job.
Memorize my schedule, including:
Day (so I know what I’m doing “next Tuesday”)
Venue geographical area
Venue suite or room
Client names (have I worked with them before? how do I work best with them?)
Specialized setting (environmental goals, tone, mood, protocol, barriers to communication)
Pattern (does this job repeat? how often? how many times? have I done this job in the past?)
How to get there (routes, alternate routes, time to location, security or other hurdles to cross before getting to where I need to be on time)
Confirm the job with both the agency and the requestor (call or email to make sure it’s still on, and let them know I will be there — this would save double-booked interpreter hassles and pointless drives)
Check my phone and email before I leave for a job to see if I’ve received a cancellation (this could save a lot of pointless drives too)
Keep the ringer on whenever I can
Listen for notifications
Check my smartphone at every break
Always check my email before anything else (like Facebook, which can be a distraction from getting jobs)
Inform interpreting agencies of my schedule as often as possible
Call or email interpreting agencies to see what I can do for them
Let agencies know if there is to be a follow-up appointment and let them know I am available for it (if I am)
I could probably go on, but it would be a start if I could just memorize my schedule for each day, let alone each week. I think I might try what the chef did and see if I can write my schedule by hand without looking at my calendar. Even if I could just have the details of a single job memorized before I get to it, that would help.
I believe in sharing my failures and successes, problems and solutions, and I write about them so others might learn from my experience. I would love to learn from others’ experience, too. Please comment if you have any mise–en–place practices you find helpful in your daily life.