Emotions and Massage

It is fairly common knowledge that emotions can be part of bodywork and massage.  Feelings are all in the body which is why there is so much focus on ethics, boundaries and learning to use touch safely with people.   No matter what technique or method is used the client only knows how it feels to them.  They don’t care if you are doing sports massage, deep tissue massage, triggerpoint massage or cranial-sacral therapy.  Their feelings are what tell them where they are at and teaches their body that it can relax and heal.

Although we do not know for sure, the theory is that the body stores memories of feelings in it’s cells.  It starts at an early age when we hold back our feelings and emotions.  It is often taught that it is not good to have feelings and emotions.  People will buck up and keep their feelings inside. Touch has a way of allowing these emotions to come to the surface.  As massage therapists it is out of our scope of practice to deal with the emotions.  We of course have to learn how to deal with them when they do come up or it could cause further problems.

Emotions can be anything from anger, sadness, grief, panic, anxiety, frustration and even laughter and joy.  It can be a simple sigh of relief or a deep breath.  It can be heat or cold in an area of the body.   It can be people who ask for extreme deep tissue sessions because they actually can not feel and are numb both physically and emotionally.   People may say they have a  high tolerance for pain and won’t feel pain or will ignore it for a long time before doing anything about it. Anyone can experience emotions on the massage table.  Elliot Greene in his book The Psychology of the Body (Lww Massage Therapy & Bodywork Educational Series)
says that people who suffer from chronic pain are also somewhat more likely to experience emotional release.  When the massage therapy begins to disrupt the underlying physical patterns behind the pain, then emotional patterns related to the chronic physical pattern may surface.”

Sexual, physical and emotional trauma at an early age or in any stage of life for that matter can leave it’s mark on a persons body and emotions.   People with a history of  abuse of any kind have a high likelihood of having body armor.  It includes people who have been traumatized in war, natural disasters and things like car accidents or crime victims.  Armoring in the body is a natural result of trauma.  It is defined as chronic patterns of involuntary tension in the body that dampen or block emotional expression, alter perception of both the outer and inner psychological world, diminish or eliminate kinesthetic awareness and other sensations and restrict the range of motion according to Greene in the “Psychology of the Body”.   The war vet will think that everyone is following them and be sent into fight or flight when someone touches their neck if they sat in a trench for awhile waiting for the enemy to come from behind.   People in car accidents that experience intense physical impact while they turn their head may years later recall the sound of the crash every time they turn their head in the same way.  Stress can build up so much in tense muscles that just the lightest touch can bring tears to the eyes of many.

To be able to work with people who are undergoing emotional release requires that you be able to be present with the client.  This basically is staying in a non-judgmental open state and not ask questions or direct peoples conversation.  It is a state where you totally allow the experience to unfold and focus on the client without letting your emotions and agendas (if any) to get in the way.  To do that requires that you do your own personal emotional work either through massage and bodywork or with a skilled therapist.  Supervision can also help you in learning to deal with emotional releases on the massage table.

The thing to know about working with people is that the goal is not to try to get an emotional release.   The feelings can actually be felt without having emotions come forth.  Because it is inevitable that a client will have an emotional release at some time on your massage table it is important to get further training in this area to be able to support the client appropriately.

Some massage therapists take this too literally and attempt to create an emotional release on their massage client. This should never be the case and is a question of great ethical concern. Massage therapists are NOT trained in psychotherapy and it is out of scope of practice for massage therapists.

Online Class:
Body Psychology based on Elliott Green’s book.

Recommended Reading:
The Psychology of the Body (Lww Massage Therapy & Bodywork Educational Series) -Elliot Greene

Somato Emotional Release
by John Upledger, DO

Freedom for Feelings Bodywork and Emotional Release By Cathy Ulrich.  Massage and Bodywork Magazine.

Rosen Method A Listening Hand By Libby Gustin with Andrew Gustin.  Massage and Bodywork Magazine.

Releasing Emotions Trapped in the Tissues By John Upledger, DO, OMM. Massage Today.

Bodywise: An Introduction to Hellerwork for Regaining Flexibility and Well-Being

How Emotions Determine Your Health -www.womenttowomen.com

The Relation Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Health: Turning Gold into Lead By Vincent J Felitti, MD. Research Study showing how emotions affect health.