By Rebecca Drew
MEET THE professional cuddler who charges SEVENTY-FIVE-POUNDS per hour for her platonic therapeutic cuddling sessions after breaking free from her former life as a programme developer that left her unfulfilled.
Cuddlist, Clarissa Berkman (49) from Santa Cruz, California, USA, has been providing cuddling as a form of therapy to those who are feeling lost in life thanks to stress, grief or health issues for two years.
Before this, she was a successful programme developer who worked in a national laboratory which afforded her a big house and lawyer husband. From the outside, Clarissa looked like she had the perfect life that society expected of her but inside she felt unhappy and unfulfilled as she wasn’t connected to her heart and let her success be defined by her surroundings, not the happiness in her soul.
Seven years ago, Clarissa quit her job and decided to study tantra, developing skills in meditation, compassionate communication, embodiment and sacred sexuality. It was here when Clarissa learnt about becoming a cuddlist, someone who uses consensual non-sexual touch as a form of therapy to strangers
Since becoming a cuddlist, Clarissa has had hundreds of clients come to her from all walks of life anywhere from the age of 21 up to 85. A session usually lasts around 90 minutes at a cost of £75 ($100) per hour.
Clarissa tailors each session to the individual’s needs and starts each session identifying what her client wants to achieve, this could involve purely talking, guided meditation, or touch and cuddling, no session looks the same.
“I had done all the things one is ‘supposed’ to do, worked my way through college to get a solid science degree in molecular, cellular, developmental biology, built a prestigious career at a national laboratory, bought a big house, married a lawyer, you know, I tried to fit into the mould that my family and people in my community seemed to see me in,” said Clarissa.
“But it wasn’t me, it was a false representation of me. I was living in reaction to the world around me, instead of from the heart within me. I wasn’t deeply connected to my truth, and therefore not to others.
“At the time, success was defined by the world around me. Now, success is about being in alignment with the truth of my soul.
“I ended my unhappy marriage and, at the age of 42, I left my job working in homeland security and decided to finally answer the only calling I’d ever truly felt: mahamudra tantra. I made my inner work and healing a full-time job, and I dove into my tantra studies and did tons of training in related fields.
“I developed lots of experience and skills in meditation, compassionate communication, embodiment, somatic therapies, internal family systems, and sacred sexuality. It was through a friend I had met at a facilitator training who first told me about Cuddlist.
“I researched the field of professional cuddling and was very discerning about choosing to become certified through Cuddlist. I appreciated their vetting process for new cuddlists and was really impressed with how they put together a solid online training program that even includes mentoring.
“I was just amazed at how they took something that seemed riddled with potential pitfalls, and created a clear, consensual path forward to help strangers safely share touch with strangers. I mean, that’s amazing. But they did it, and it really works.
“When a person feels physically relaxed and emotionally safe in connection with another, the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin is released, which leads to a feeling of bliss. The cascading benefits from that are countless – physical, mental, and emotional.
“Think the opposite of the cascading effects of stress hormones: it supports the immune system, reduces stress, and even helps patients with dementia. It can really be summed up in one word: wellbeing.
“I begin each session by having both of us share our intentions for the session, our fears, this is a wonderful ice-breaker that allows everyone to be human, and our boundaries, for example, I prefer not to be touched near my eyes or lips.
“I’ll guide the session according to their intentions, which might be to relax, to feel a sense of connection, to be able to feel sensations or emotions, or to find and express their truth.”
Clarissa now shares a garden cottage with a housemate and is surrounded by lots of friends who support her work.
Clarissa’s sessions are purely non-sexual and there is a code of conduct for cuddling that she and her clients follow, this includes; being free of drugs and alcohol, not to pursue or encourage sexual arousal, maintaining an acceptable personal hygiene level and being able to end a session at any time.
“There’s no wrong way to cuddle – as long as the code of conduct is maintained. Some sessions have lots of talk, some very little. Some have lots of touch and cuddling, and some very little,” she explained.
“We usually begin with just sitting across from each other on cushions. I start with some simple conversation to put them at ease. I review the basics of communication, boundaries and consent, and create a safe container for the session.
“I might do a short guided mediation or invite them to take some deep breaths with me. I might ask if I can hold a hand or put my hand on their shoulder. When they’ve started to relax, I suggest they make themselves comfortable laying down. Then I ask where they want me to be.
“It’s vital to empower them to ask for what they want, because that’s one of the secret gifts of a cuddle session – learning how to identify and speak your wants, and discovering that you’re worth receiving them. If someone asks for something that I’m not a yes to, I lovingly offer an alternative, as a redirection, instead of rejection.
“I want them to achieve what they want. My quintessential task is to earn their trust so they can do that.”
Finally, Clarissa spoke about how she overcame her own apprehension about receiving money to be physically close to a stranger before she accepted that touch is just a basic human need.
“I had my own trepidations going into it. I had to take apart all my lingering beliefs and fears about touch and consent. I mean, getting paid to be physically intimate has some seriously stale cultural attitudes around it, which are really misguided,” she said.
“I had to get really clear that touch is a basic human need, and when it’s done with conscious consent and loving presence, it is deeply therapeutic.
“Every person is worthy. Worthy of love, worthy of connection, worthy of relaxation, worthy of being held and heard, worthy of remembering who they are. To that end, I never let money be a barrier. This is sacred work, and I come to it with the humility it warrants.”
For more information see cuddlist.com/clarissa