CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - It's only natural that my interview with Alexis, a certified "Cuddlist," begins with a hug.
It's her version of a handshake: firm, brisk and genuine.
We conduct the interview in her home, the same place she hosts clients for cuddle therapy sessions. They typically last an hour, for which she charges $80/per, though the times and rates vary from Cuddlist to Cuddlist.
She's frank, incredibly knowledgeable about her craft, and dead serious about its benefits for her clients.
"It's really exploring what it is to be human with someone else. The way you do that is in this really nice, safe space of cuddling" she said.
It's natural to be skeptical of a practice that's generally speaking, still in its infancy, and that touts physicality without sexual behavior as its method ... but Alexis is unflinching.
"It is very, very platonic. It is very strictly tough therapy and nothing more than that. That's why we have such stringent guidelines and codes of conduct," she said.
We are the some 150 certified Cuddlists who work for cuddlist.com, the online company that interviews, trains, and checks the backgrounds of everyone who works for it.
Company co-owner Adam Lippin said every single person who applies to be certified has a background check done.
"This is, in fact, the most important part of our entire screening/training process, and at the core of who we are" he said.
After our interview, Alexis took me through the process of a session, from introduction to some poses a client may take with her.
We had a conversation in which we set boundaries about what was acceptable, in which she both asked questions and dictated her own terms.
From there, we sat back to back.
I could feel her presence, but it was comfortable to not be face-to-face.
We sat parallel to one other, like you would when watching television.
She held one of my hands, and we chatted.
"We aren't trained and licensed psychotherapists, so the kind of talk that we're doing — I wouldn't call 'therapy' in that sense," she said.
Still, clients from all walks of life enlist her help to get them through whatever issues they are confronting.
"I've had clients who are widowed. I've had clients who have had traumatic situations, [some] who were really burned out medical professionals," she said.
Certainly, companionship and human touch have been documented to have positive emotional impacts.
There are medical benefits as well.
Alexis is currently enrolled at Case Western Reserve University in a prestigious dual Masters/Doctorate program.
She points to the feel good hormones, Oxytocin and serotonin.
"These are the chemicals that are released into your brain. For example, when you eat chocolate, when you see someone you like and smile, when you eat a good meal, when you get a hug or when you cuddle up with someone," she said.
Additionally, she said, human touch has been proven to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone.
She said she admits, the practice is not for everyone.
She said, however, there are take-homes that everyone can benefit from.
"Even when things are crazy, you can pause for 20 second and you can look at someone and say 'I am here and I see and hear you,'" she said.
Those words can have a powerful and positive impact ... like a good hug.