Trauma and Touch


Not everyone welcomes touch so readily into their lives.  Rather than bringing comfort and nurturing, it brings uneasiness, difficult emotion and sometimes pain.  But massage can help when approached mindfully, slowly and with the client in complete control of the treatment.

For many people, coming into a massage therapy clinic, undressing and lying almost (sometimes fully) naked on a table between sheets and having a stranger touch them is not a problem. They can relax, unwind, tell their therapist what their goals are for the day and communicate if something doesn’t feel comfortable. But not everyone has that ability. Those who have had the right to feel safe in their body challenged or taken away, or who have been subject to uncaring, violent or perhaps an absence of touch may find they shy away from it or are hypersensitive to it.

Trauma-informed massage therapy involves a client-centered, mindful, and focused approach to treatment that allows individuals to experience safe touch. What does this mean?

Client-centered means that the care provided involves the client throughout the decision-making process.  This enables informed choices to be made from everything from goals for treatment to positioning, pressure,  and where and how they will be touched during the massage.  It is paramount to offer information that allows clients to exercise their right to refuse or modify the treatment; a very empowering right.

A mindful approach is one that is slow, methodical, and with awareness to what sensations are occurring in the body.  It is also a means of staying present to those sensations (not emotions).  Some clients can be easily touch-triggered into overwhelming emotion, memory or flashbacks.  With trauma-informed care massage, the goal is ensure the client remains in the “here and now” as part of the therapeutic process.

Staying focused on the present, to body sensation, and to the predetermined goal for the session keeps both the therapist and the client clear on what is achievable through massage.  Asking questions, actively listening to responses, and providing client education helps maintain clear boundaries and safety for the client at all times.

Safe touch respects clients boundaries, hears concerns, responds with appropriate treatment modifications, offers choice, and provides a fundamental sensory interaction necessary in all human lives.  Allowing the nervous system to reframe or repattern old sensory input can  have a remarkable effect on a person’s ability to receive touch in their daily lives.

Being in a safe environment where one is truly heard can allow clients who have had negative experiences with touch become more open to the experience of receiving nurturing, compassionate touch- something we are all entitled to in our lives.

Noggins Unlimited