Trauma Can Elicit Emotional Responses to Massage Therapy, Aiding Healing

Massage Therapy

Elements Massage Therapists say some emotions can be released when physical tensions are relieved through massage therapy.

A therapeutic massage can have benefits that exceed many clients' expectations. While most people seek a massage to soothe sore and stressed muscles, there are times when clients may experience an unexpected emotional release during or after their session. During a massage session, the body may experience changes at both the structural and chemical level. These changes can lead to the release of emotions, and ultimately contribute to trauma healing. 

According to Milwaukee-based Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) Angela Keeter, emotions run through the body,

When emotions accumulate in the muscle or tissue, there are times when a massage can release this flow of energy in the form of unexpected responses. It may sound alarming, but it is a normal part of healing.

Angela Keeter, Licensed Massage Therapist

"When emotions accumulate in the muscle or tissue, there are times when a massage can release this flow of energy in the form of unexpected responses. It may sound alarming, but it is a normal part of healing." 

Dr. Peter Levine, a Ph.D. in both Medical Biophysics and Psychology, says animals in the wild utilize innate mechanisms to regulate and discharge the high levels of energy arousal associated with defensive survival behaviors. It provides animals with a built-in ''immunity'' to trauma that enables them to return to normal in the aftermath of highly ''charged'' life-threatening experiences. Humans however, do not have this automatic release response. 

In fact, the release of emotions in humans is involuntary and cannot always be purposely elicited. However, an emotional release is not an uncommon occurrence. Anne Williams, director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, says massage therapy can help people "connect to what has meaning, what is really happening, what requires attention and where letting go may occur." 

Jim Willegal, an LMT with Elements Massage, identifies energy in clients that needs to be released by the temperature of his hands. "My hands will get really warm when I hit a certain area of the spine. I will remain there until the energy is released," he explained. "Every human body is different, thus the need for personalized massages."

Both Keeter and Willegal were intrigued by the emotions their clients were exhibiting and began researching SumatoEmotional Release (SER) and Cranial Sacral Therapy (CST). Willegal has gone on to become CST certified. Massage Training is essential, however both Keeter and Willegal agree that it is the LMT's intuition and experience that drives the ability to elicit an emotional release from a client. Keeter states she sometimes sees color as she is working on a particular area of the body. She doesn't question the area she is working on.

"I like to think of a client's body as a history book or a map, paying attention to what has worked or not worked in the past. I can tell if certain areas of the body have too much or too little energy passing through by the temperature of the tissues. The hotter the area is, the more energy the client has passing through that area of the body." 

Just as muscles have memory, tissues do as well. According to the late Dr. John Upledger, co-founder of the Upledger Institute International, and modality developer of SER and CST (among other modalities), our bodies remember actions as well as feelings. Emotional releases can stem from good or bad emotions. 

"Emotions store in muscles and tissues - psychologically, physiologically, spiritually, and emotionally," says Keeter. "As the body tries to heal, the emotions can form an energy cyst." 

Massage therapy helps relieve the physical tension built up in our bodies. As the body releases the physical tension, the energy cyst breaks up and frees the emotions. The freed emotions are not always tied to a specific memory, but rather a build-up of many emotions or traumas over time.

Keeter has had clients fight the emotional release. "I feel like I need to explain it to them. I tell them to take deep breaths to get through it. We [LMTs] are not there to figure out the feelings, that is up to the clients."

"I let my clients know that the feeling is okay, and to just go with it," added Willegal. "If the client wants to talk about it, that's fine too."

Not all massage clients experience this level of emotional release, and some that do, don't always like it. 

As Keeter points out, "Emotional release from a massage just isn't for everyone."

When it comes down to it, Willegal believes every massage therapist is different, just like the client. His advice to those looking for an LMT is, "try different therapists to find what you like. It's all about what the client is looking for and ultimately needs."

Massage studios, like Elements Massage®, are helping to dispel the notion that massages are a luxury commodity. Massage therapists practice preventative maintenance and help promote health and wellness helping clients heal faster physically, and at times, even emotionally.

Source: Elements Massage


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