This blog post is part 2 of a series. In this current blog post, I share the sections from my term paper on why reclaiming healthy touch matters.
Please go to part 1 of this series on reclaiming healthy touch to read from the beginning.
This blog post is part of the term paper I wrote in July 2003.
Reclaiming Healthy Touch Series
Part 2 – Reclaiming Healthy Touch Matters
With the vast number of people whose lives have been affected by domestic violence, disasters, wars, and child abuse, there will always be clients who need to experience what it is like to live in their bodies and experience healthy touch. And yet, for many of these people, healthy touch is but a dream and something they most likely will not be able to fully grasp.
It is hard to put a number on how many people are affected by these horrendous treatments the world and society place on certain individuals. However, consider the following statistics.
- Nearly 31 % of women are victims of domestic violence. 1
- Over 300,000 children are sexually abused each year in the US
- 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys 2
- About 30% of men and women in war zones develop PTSD 3
There are many events in our world that take people from living ordinary lives to dealing with a life that is overwhelming and anything but ordinary. Events of September 11, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine school shootings, or even events such as rape, domestic violence, mugging, child abuse, and war may often overwhelm people and force them to deal with extraordinary events.
Another reason we should be concerned about reclaiming healthy touch is that our body retains physical memories of events that take place throughout life. Even though we think of our mind or our brain being the major place in our body that stores and recalls memories, the body plays a much larger role in all of this. If the body is given the chance, it can recall and recreate the trauma much like the brain is able to do. Consider the following example.
Why Reclaiming Healthy Touch Matters
Perhaps it is winter and we’re driving on an icy stretch of road. The car skids, and now a number of events transpire rapidly. First, we’re aware of losing control of the car. As it begins to skid we instinctively grip the steering wheel tighter, attempting to control the vehicle. We might notice a tree or a ditch or oncoming traffic. There is heightened anxiety about an impending collision. Our fear rises instantly and our entire body braces for the impact of the collision.
Fortunately, we miss the tree and the traffic, but head into the ditch pretty hard. The impact causes our heads to be whiplashed back and forth several times. We’re alive, not hurt seriously, but very shaken after the impact. We would walk away from such an accident with more than just a sore neck. Most accident victims report emotional upset as well – nervousness, inability to sleep, anger, fear, and anxiety.
These emotions are locked into the body along with the muscle spasm from the whiplash. The physical condition (muscle spasm) and the psychological condition (fear and anxiety) occurred simultaneously, and they each reinforce the existence of the other. 4
Since the body is a storage site that connects the emotions with the events, we are able to affect recovery of these events by connecting them with the body and the mind. It is through the touch and the connection with the body that we provide the connection between the event, the emotions, and the mind.
Realizing that healing from trauma must include not only traditional psychotherapy but body-oriented work as well is another reason why we should reclaim healthy touch.
Reclaiming healthy touch matters because trauma is stored in the body.
Since trauma survivors experience feelings stored in the body, total healing must come from within. The body doesn’t lie. It just presents itself as it is, so by focusing on body oriented healing, we can work with the body to resolve emotions. We do not need to be able to analyze where the source of the emotions is. We just need to be present and help the trauma survivor become aware of the sensation which lies beneath the touch, and guide them through the process of reclaiming those emotions or feelings which are stored in the body.
According to Compassionate Touch by Dr. Clyde W. Ford, “the goal of my body-oriented approach to emotional healing is using awareness, touch, and movement to help them perceive, feel, and move their body in an unfettered way.” 5
As part of this goal, memories will come up that may not always be pleasant but these are things which should be welcomed with open arms because they are the same things that will help the trauma survivor heal. Trauma survivors can never go back and change the past or get rid of the past, but through sensation and touch, they can focus on healing the effects of the past and living in the present moment.
Reclaiming healthy touch matters because trauma survivors can focus on healing the effects of the past and living in the present moment.
Of course, helping a trauma survivor fully feel and accept healthy touch is vital and integral for the individual to experience all that there is to experience in life. Touch and movement are the body’s natural languages and because of this, we can use these to help the person heal and recover. While body therapists do not need to become psychotherapists, it is important that they understand the role that the body plays in dealing with emotions and experiences of the past.
Consider the following example for a moment. Instead of asking a trauma survivor how some thought, word, or feeling affects their body, try asking how a particular sensation that they feel in the body helps them to understand a deeper emotional issue. It can be said that language may become a limitation when we try to express ourselves, but through touch and movement the body is able to express itself in the natural language it knows so well. To understand completely what another individual is trying to say, you must understand all of the vocabulary, how the vocabulary is used, along with the tiny nuances and idioms. “Touch and movement, on the other hand, are more universal.” 6
Because trauma is usually captured as an emotional reaction at the point of impact, our muscles store these results.
Reclaiming healthy touch matters because our muscles store trauma.
Consider that for sexual abuse survivors, the abuse usually begins before a child has the mental or verbal skills to speak. At this point in their life, their primary means of communication is through touch. So touch becomes both the vehicle that harbors the abuse as well as the possible mode of healing, enabling the individual to release the energy that is stored by these traumatic events.
Even in trauma that is unrelated to child abuse, we may feel as if time stood still or we were frozen in time, or possibly that we were standing outside our bodies as we witnessed the various events taking place. It is through these events that our muscles store the captured reactions and it is through the body that we must release these reactions in order to free the body.
Part 3: How Does Trauma Affect The Brain
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – National Statistics.
- Beyond Surviving -A Safety Program toward a movement to prevent child sexual abuse © MS Foundation for Women, Gillian Murphy. Pg 3.
- Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions about PTSD – www.4therapy.com (this website appears to no longer be in service).
- Compassionate Touch (Pg 34) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
- Compassionate Touch (Pg 11) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
- Compassionate Touch (Pg 22) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
- Compassionate Touch (Pg 18) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999.
- University Of Washington Medical School (Webpage) Jean Schuna, MIT, LMP Massage and Bodywork with Survivors of Torture.
- The Hakomi Institute (Webpage) – www.hakomiinstitute.com
- Compassionate Touch (Pg 43) Dr. Clyde W. Ford North Atlantic Books © 1993, 1999
- 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