How Massage can Combat Symptoms of PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is the most widely recognized trauma-related mental health issue. It has been estimated that 70% of the adults in the US have experienced a trauma severe enough to result in PTSD. These events can be military combat, a terrorist attack, natural disasters, a violent crime, or horrific accident. Of those who have gone through such an event, about 8% of men, and 20% of women will go on to develop PTSD. PTSD is a complex disorder, with long-ranging consequences.
Typical symptoms of a person with PTSD will include:
- Flashbacks and Nightmares
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of isolation and detachment
- Physical pain without physical cause
People who suffer from PTSD associate the present and future with the traumatic events of their past. A person with PTSD is unable to “let go” of the traumatic episode they have witnessed or experienced, and they relive it again and again. Many people who suffer from PTSD, especially those whose disorder is the result of physical violence, have difficulty trusting other people with physical touch. Instead, they associate all touch with their traumatic experience.
Massage therapy allows the client to build trust and regain comfort with touch in a safe, controlled environment. The chemicals released during massage trigger a reduction of stress, anxiety, and physical pain, but it may take several sessions before the client is comfortable with the types of touch that provide these benefits.
When working with a client suffering from PTSD, the therapist should:
Establish a rapport with the client before any treatment begins.
Refrain from asking for any details of the client’s trauma that aren’t absolutely necessary for treatment.
Listen with compassion if the client offers details but refrain from making any observations or offering advice that is outside the massage therapist’s scope of practice.
Explain in detail the types of touch that will be used in massage treatment and establish the client’s comfort level with touch.
Understand that a client with PTSD will need time to develop trust with the therapist before any touch occurs.
Allow the client to remain fully clothed and begin treatments with the client on their back.
Start slowly, with still hands placed on non-triggering areas of the client’s body that have been identified before treatment begins.
Allow the client’s comfort level to dictate all aspects of the massage treatment, including positioning, degree of nudity, intensity of pressure, and areas of the body treated.
Collaborate with the client’s treating physicians to develop a long-term treatment plan.
Alternative medicine, massage, and bodywork, along with traditional methods, can help victims of PTSD in the recovery process.
With PTSD numbers on the rise and more troops coming home every day, there are plenty of sufferers in need. In the hands of a well-intentioned therapist, massage for clients with PTSD acknowledges and helps to restore the most basic human needs of safety, trust, control, self-worth, and intimacy.