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Special Considerations Reclaiming Healthy Touch

Reclaiming Healthy Touch Special ConsiderationsA continuation from the beginning introduction page of my term paper.

For the Introduction, please see
Reclaiming Healthy Touch Introduction.

For more of my story,
Hope and Possibility Through Trauma.

Continued from
Evidence Of Trauma In The Body



Sections Of Reclaiming Healthy Touch

  1. Introduction
  2. Why Reclaiming Healthy Touch Matters
  3. How Does Trauma Affect The Brain
  4. Evidence Of Trauma In The Body
  5. Special Considerations Reclaiming Healthy Touch
  6. Full Body Massage And Trauma Survivors
  7. Other Forms Of Body Work Helpful To Trauma Survivors
  8. Reclaiming Healthy Touch In My Life
  9. Sources And Additional Resources



Special Considerations Reclaiming Healthy Touch

Boundaries are the single most important thing that should be considered when working with trauma survivors and specifically with survivors of domestic violence or child abuse.  Permission to touch the trauma survivor should never be assumed and should always be given before touching a survivor.  Touch in survivors of abuse can reenact the abuse and so the utmost care should be taken to lay the foundation of trust and safety with the individual.

Since emotional memories are not just stored in the areas related to the abuse or trauma, any area of the body can bring up these things.  Even though there is an area of the body that might seem safe to a body worker, it is never safe to assume that this is safe for the individual.  There should never be assumptions of what is safe or what is not safe in a client’s body.

It is also important to avoid touching sensitive areas.  When it is necessary to touch an individual in these areas, a body worker may incorporate different ways of doing this.  You could have the individual touch the area and relay back what they sense, or you could have your hand on top of their hand with the individual knowing that they can push your hand off of them at any point.  Again, you should always do everything possible to keep a client safe and you should never infringe on their boundaries unless they and their body specifically say it is ok.  At the same time, a body worker needs to be very aware of the feelings they experience while touching the client.  A body worker may feel the anger and horror at what has happened to the individual.  However projecting those thoughts on to the client runs the risk of transmitting the feelings to the survivor.  A body worker can be compassionate but they need to separate their feelings about the trauma from the work they are doing in order to be effective and not harm the client further.

One way to build trust and safety with the client is by employing the STOP exercise that Jean Schuna talks about in her article, “Massage and Bodywork with Survivors of Torture”.

One of the most powerful exercises that I do is the “stop” exercise, which is as follows:  Before the client ever enters the treatment room, they decide on a word or gesture to use to tell me to stop touching their body.  This could be the word “No” or “Stop” or a raising of the fingers of the other hand.  I sit next to the client and place my hand on their arm.  When the client is ready they say the word or give the signal.  This simple exercise often brings about nervousness, tears, and a great sense of release once it has been practiced enough times to begin feeling somewhat comfortable.  Some clients begin to revel in the feeling of control and want to practice it several times with increasing glee in saying “No”.  This may be done just the first visit, or reinforced at subsequent visits, if needed. 8

Working with a psychotherapist or counselor is very important when dealing with the things that arise out of bodywork sessions with a trauma survivor.  A massage therapist is not licensed to be a psychotherapist or counselor and should never try to fill that role without the proper training.  However sharing insight with the client and the therapist will help to bring greater healing from the traumatic events.  For a client to just understand or hear the connection between what the body worker experienced and what the client actually felt will go a long way toward healing in the client’s body from these past events.

Another thing to be aware of in working with trauma or child abuse survivors is where they are at in their emotional healing from these events.  If they are at a volatile place in their emotional healing, you may want to get clearance from a psychotherapist before you proceed in bodywork with the individual.  Too much of the right thing at the wrong time could not only be ineffective but it could also be harmful to the individual and slow their healing as well.  Just take into consideration where they are and make sure that they have adequate means of support from friends, family and a professional therapist.

One thing you may notice from working on a client is that they become very quiet when maybe they had been talking before, or they become very distant.  Another way to describe it would be that they were far from their body or not connected to their body as if their body shut down.  You may see this as non-responsive, or if you ask them how the pressure is or maybe even if you ask them to focus their awareness on a certain body area, they would struggle to even reply or to give any type of coherent, logical and real information back to you.  In those times, you have to trust what you feel and what you sense.  You may want to change what you are doing or see if you can gently inquire as to what they are experiencing.  If the client does not know you well, they may be very apprehensive in sharing this information with you, so remind them to always talk with their counselor or psychologist about their experiences in the massage.

One final thing to keep in mind when working with trauma survivors is the emotional release.  An emotional release is any type of bodywork or activity that frees up energy or emotions which are blocked in order to bring a new awareness to the individual.  The expressions may range anywhere from something as simple as a sigh to crying, trembling, shaking or screaming. These things should never be suppressed nor should they be influenced.  Stay with the person and be there for them or let them be somewhat by themselves if they need to, and let everything play out to completion.  When the emotional release is over, the individual may feel much more relieved.  In the case that things may be going too far, you might try to help bring a person back to the present by asking them questions about their current awareness of their body.  However if you can stay with a person and let the emotional release complete, it will be a much more healing time for the individual.




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Full Body Massages And Trauma Survivors



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