Traumatic events can cause severe reactions of fear and terror for individuals who experience them. As they struggle to make sense of what has happened, the majority of individuals who experience severe trauma develop short-term symptoms like sleep disturbances and physical pain. Others develop chronic symptoms related to their experience of trauma and are indicative of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD affects physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries.
The overall goal in the massage treatment of PTSD is to help the client to become safely embodied within the self. Massage therapists teach clients safe and effective ways of self-soothing and stress management.
PTSD can occur within 6 months of a traumatic event or be delayed for as long as 40 years after the event. Those who have experienced a deeply traumatic event may not be so easily soothed by simple words or touch. Massage therapists should have a list of PTSD practitioners available for referral and with whom they can work to coordinate a treatment plan. PTSD has been described as the failure of time to heal all wounds. There are no specific massage techniques for working with trauma clients. Swedish massage can be as effective and enlightening to a client as the most advanced fascial mobilization. No matter the technique, massage therapy can inadvertently trigger traumatic memory, which can be a powerful tool for healing and growth.
Experience indicates that when a therapist shows close attention, acknowledgment, and respect to a PTSD client, the client will eventually come to trust the process of massage as a safe way to receive the soothing that they need. With soothing comes a thawing from long-standing fear.
Establishing trust is essential when working with clients with PTSD. It is the therapist’s role to create a safe place in which the client can regain confidence by showing support, acceptance, and positive regard. In a healthy therapeutic massage relationship, the client participates in creating accomplishable treatment plans. This is critical for the successful treatment of the client with PTSD. The client needs to know that he or she has the power to stop, change, or modify a treatment at any time.
Massage therapists should offer choices in treatment, ways of being massaged that help to restore safety and control. In the hands of a skilled therapist, massage therapy for clients with PTSD helps to restore the most basic of human needs-for safety, trust, control, self-worth, and intimacy.