Growing up in London, Dan Oudshoorn had a bit of a rough childhood, but it's his experiences since that he credits with making him the man he is today.
“I had people around me who really rallied and supported me . . . and I really felt loved,” he said. “It was a really transformational time for me in my life . . . and to really experience yourself as someone who is beloved really shifted my whole way of thinking.”
It was a feeling he knew he wanted to share with everyone else.
After heading to school in Toronto, Oudshoorn worked in the city for five years with homeless and street-involved youth before heading west to Vancouver to continue school and work, this time in his own neighbourhood.
“I moved into the downtown eastside with a couple of friends and started a community house down there,” he explained. “We would welcome people into our home and offer community meals twice a week. If they want- ed to have a place to come and eat, we’d invite them to come back with us. Where we
lived was a reflection of the best and worst of the area. Yes, there was violence there, but at the same time there were so many people who really cared about one another, and we were trying to be a part of that.”
It was during this time Oudshoorn found himself in a situation that would lead him in a whole new direction.
“I would walk the alleyways looking for youth I worked with and trying to be a good friend to others I knew in the community,” he said. “One day I happened to run into some gang- affiliated young men I knew from my work and while I’m talking with them, another guy I know from their crew showed up, visibly upset.”
The man was angry and looking for a fight, ranting and exclaiming to the group that someone was going to get hurt.
Needless to say, at that time everyone took a big step back. Everyone, that is, except Oudshoorn.
“I was just listening to him express these feelings, so I said his name and asked him if he wanted a hug,” he remembered with a smile. “It was like wave passed over him. His head came down and his shoulders came down and his chin fell to his chest, and he said yes. And then I hugged him.”
Not one of the other gang members laughed, or said anything for that matter.
“Everyone was visibly lifted after that experience,” said Oudshoorn. “What I was able to communicate with that hug was more than I ever could’ve communicated in an office. He got it, he experienced it and even if he didn’t believe he was loved, his body could feel it.”
These days, the father of two is hoping to instil that same sort of feeling in the people of the Forest City with his new venture, London Snuggle Therapy.
An idea that may seem outrageous to some has actually been going on in cities all over the world for some time now.
According to Oudshoorn, the inspiration behind the phenomenon is the power affectionate touch. It’s the snuggling itself, he said, that’s therapeutic, and people may talk as little or as much as they want during a session.
While some folks may want to spoon on the couch, say nothing and just watch a movie, others may want to lie face-to-face in bed together and talk about life.
“With something like snuggle therapy, it’s about creating for people a space that’s really safe,” he said. “Kindness is so underrated, so many people are walking around with this hurt and feeling misunderstood. I wanted to have a space that really breaks us out of that cycle.”