Jessica O’Neill, 34, was working as a massage therapist and holistic counsellor when she heard about “cuddle therapy” four years ago. JESSICA O’Nei
Jessica O’Neill, 34, was working as a massage therapist and holistic counsellor when she heard about “cuddle therapy” four years ago.
JESSICA O’Neill’s job is literally a labour of love – she’s a professional cuddler.
The Gold Coast mother-of-three runs her own cuddle business, giving loving embraces to those in need for $80 an hour ($150 for two hours, plus coffee).
“I loved the idea but everyone else thought it was crazy,” she said.
“I started looking into research about hugging and touch, and found that many scientific studies have discovered tangible health benefits, ranging from reduced blood pressure and eased stress levels to increased secretion of the happy hormone serotonin.”
Ms O’Neil discovered cuddle therapy was a ‘bona fide career option’ and after completing an online diploma, she and partner Jason, set up a business called The Connection Cure.
She said she expected most of her clients would be “middle-aged men”, but women from 18 to 85 and people who are disabled, mentally ill or just lonely are calling in for a cuddle.
“Sometimes, first-timers are nervous, but once we cuddle, they relax,” she said.
“And those who are sceptical quickly realise that what’s going on is quite powerful.”
When she tells people she’s a paid cuddler, Ms O’Neill said “most do a double-take”.
But I see cuddling as instant meditation … to ease stress, pain and tension as well as a way to make people feel cared for,” she said.
Gold Coast psychologist and honorary fellow of the Australian Psychological Society Dr Bob Montgomery said human touch in relationships was important and potent, and should start early in life.
“If you get enough … you go into life feeling confident about relationships,” he said.
But he raised concerns about physical contact in therapy, saying people should think twice before they engage with a cuddle therapist.
“You’ll find the codes of ethics – certainly for psychologists, and … for most other health professions – say you should not be having physical contact because it can be misinterpreted,” he said.