Trauma And Massage – Part 6


Trauma And Massage – Part 6

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In this blog post (part 6 of a series) we will look at trauma and massage. This is part of the term paper that I wrote in July 2003.

Please go to part 1 of this series on reclaiming healthy touch to read from the beginning.

Reclaiming Healthy Touch Series

1. Introduction – Reclaiming Healthy Touch

2. Why Reclaiming Healthy Touch Matters

3. How Does Trauma Affect The Brain

4. Body Trauma Signs

5. Trauma Massage Warnings

6. Trauma And Massage

7. Trauma Bodywork Methods

8. Trauma Bodywork Resources

Trauma And Massage – Part 6

One of the best ways we can help survivors is by doing what we do best as massage therapists: giving massages.  Massage will help to enhance a person’s awareness of the body they live in and begin to connect with their body in many ways.  The healing that can occur at the hands of a massage therapist is enormous.  Most often you may not even be aware of what is occurring and often times neither will the client.

It Is A Process

For trauma survivors, it is a process to fully begin feeling the total effects of a massage.  At first, they may be reluctant to even think about getting a massage but as they progress in their healing from the trauma, these opportunities will seem more and more safe to them. 

Once they come to you, they will be struggling with many fears and will be watching you to make sure that you are a safe and trustworthy person. 

A Sixth Sense

Often trauma survivors have a “sixth sense” in that they can see through someone who is not being real.  As a massage therapist, you need to be yourself and take the utmost care to show respect and safety for these clients at all times, and maintain appropriate boundaries with them at all times.  By your example of showing proper respect, safety, and proper boundaries for these clients, you will be helping them as they learn about these things.

For survivors, trauma and massage can seem like two things that don’t go together.

Don Shetterly

Be Creative In The Process

At first, these people may not be able to relax or even fully undress to get a massage.  It may require some special talents on your part to get the person to the point of being completely ready for a full body massage. 

Being creative in what you do, along with excellent communication of what is to take place and what the ground rules are, will go a long way in bringing a trauma survivor from the fear phase to the point of the full body massage.  

Be Willing To Adapt

Often times a trauma survivor will have areas on their body that they do not want touched, as well as areas where they feel absolutely no sensation when being touched.  In addition, there may be areas where awareness is there but until you touch that area of the body, they will not know something deep inside existed there. 

So be ready for just about anything to happen and be willing to adapt what you are doing to meet what the client needs. 

What Works For One Survivor

Remember what worked for one person or at one point may not work in the future, especially for people suffering from trauma.  Every person is different and every day is a different day for a trauma survivor.  What they are aware of today will be different than what they are aware of tomorrow.

Even though trauma and massage can be very healing for a survivor, realize that it is a process that is different for each person.

Don Shetterly

Techniques For Trauma And Massage

Sometimes as you are giving a massage, you might notice that the client is unable to relax and give up control to areas of their body such as the arms, legs, and head.  Mental techniques along with gentle vibration and even distraction can greatly help when working with people who are unable to give up control. 

Often you will see the person trying to help you when you raise an arm or a leg, and if you are working on joint mobilizations, they may even learn quickly enough of the movement you are doing to repeat it with you. 

Overcoming A Mysterious Condition

Trust Brings Change

In time, as the client begins to trust you more and becomes more aware of holding patterns within their own body, these things will change.  However, it will most likely take time, so be patient with the client and find every way that you can to encourage them without drawing attention to the fact that they do not easily relax.  Most trauma survivors can sense this and it becomes a frustration for them when trying to get a massage.

Encourage Journaling

Encouraging the clients to work on daily relaxation will be very helpful to them, along with journaling about what they experienced in the massage as well as the time after they leave the massage session.  Be creative in the ideas that you give them for relaxation. It may take great encouragement of many different ideas before one connects with them.  See the appendix for a list of possible ideas for relaxation, and feel free to add your own to the list. The possibilities are endless.

Part 7: Trauma Bodywork Methods

Trauma And Massage Considerations
Trauma And Massage Considerations

Cited Sources

  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline – National Statistics.
  2. Beyond Surviving -A Safety Program toward a movement to prevent child sexual abuse © MS Foundation for Women, Gillian Murphy. Pg 3.
  3. Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions about PTSD – (this website appears to no longer be in service).
  4. Compassionate Touch (Pg 34) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
  5. Compassionate Touch (Pg 11) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
  6. Compassionate Touch (Pg 22) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
  7. Compassionate Touch (Pg 18) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
  8. University Of Washington Medical School (Webpage) Jean Schuna, MIT, LMP Massage and Bodywork with Survivors of Torture.
  9. The Hakomi Institute (Webpage) –
  10. Compassionate Touch (Pg 43) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999
  11. Touch Research Institute University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, FL., Dr. Tiffany Field, Ph.D. Study: Effects of sexual abuse are lessened by massage therapy

Written July 2003 by Don Shetterly

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash