Recovery from Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
By Kawai Tsang, in consultation with Margaret (Margie) Thomson
Margie initiated her own research into Recovery from Trauma and PTSD after several women experiencing trauma due to significant events approached her for general massage. These events included assault, surgery, cancer, domestic violence and acute pain as examples.
She utilised her knowledge of the Limbic System, memory triggers and the Fight/Flight response and how trauma affects the body including muscles to help these clients.
She used deeply relaxing massage techniques to enhance the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This assisted the client to feel safe in trusted hands, feel in control, feel valued and feel connected to the therapist. The patient was able to appreciate treatment as a process to re-engage in her community.
Margie read papers and books on the subject including:
- Recovering Body and Soul from PTSD
By Trish Dryden and Pamela Fitch
- The Body Keeps The Score
By Bessel Van Der Kolk
- The Body Remembers
By Babette Rothschild
- What Happened To My Brain
By Dr. Caroline Leaf
She engaged Michelle Govern (Masters in Counselling) as her mentor and worked alongside Nelli Martin (Psychologist) during the 6 months it took to complete the case study. She worked within the safe environment provided by Kansha Natural Therapies.
CASE STUDY FINDINGS
A patient survived a severe incident of family violence by her then partner in 2015. She was diagnosed with PTSD seven months after the event. Her PTSD symptoms were triggered on a regular and on-going basis. On the healing journey, the patient benefited immensely from talk therapy, which gave her an understanding of her PTSD and strategies to deal with trauma. From the talk therapy, particularly the focus on acceptance, the patient began to view her PTSD not a something wrong with the body, but that PTSD is a normal response to an abnormal and extreme life event and the PTSD continue to be triggered.
On a physical level, the patient has found Acupuncture effective for balancing body and mind and also Ayurvedic medicine effective for supporting the nervous system and addressing adrenal fatigue on an ongoing basis. Intense physical exercise in the form of short, high-intensity boxing and circuit fitness programs also helped release strong emotions such as anger and frustration and by releasing endorphins. The workouts gave her a sense of strength and accomplishment, helping to alleviate feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and despair. She has also independently explored many self-care strategies including practicing yoga, daily meditation and walking in nature.
At the point the bodywork with Margie began, the patient had already been on a healing journey for 18 months. Although no stranger to massage and aromatherapy, the patient was completely unprepared for the profound difference taking part in this therapy would make to her healing journey. The effect of the bodywork was a huge leap forward in a process that was a grueling daily battle. The overall goal in Post-trauma bodywork is to help the patient become safely embodied within the self. Talk therapy alone does not always adequately address the fear and mistrust that has been encoded into their bodies. In a multidisciplinary context, Post-trauma bodywork can help bring clients back into themselves by increasing their feelings of safety and mastery in the world.
Margie followed the Collaborative, Empowering and Integrated/Cooperation approach. From the beginning, Margie stressed that the approach would be collaborative, the bodywork aiming to work together with psychotherapy. The treatment plan began with establishing “safety boundaries and goals for the day” followed by massage therapy. Margie created a therapeutic environment that was both safe and empowering. The massage room became a sanctuary where the patient could deeply relax and the body and mind respite from the continuous feeling of lack of safety. A respectful reciprocal relationship developed where Margie and her patient were to learn from each other. She listened carefully and began on a journey of discovery together with the patient. This approach enabled the patient to be active and probably more aware of the body than she otherwise would have. The client was able to choose the type of massage and essential oils and was encouraged to give feedback.
The approach to bodywork treatment for trauma and PTSD must have ‘predictability and routine’ which helps establish a sense of safety. Essentially this means the treatment follows the same format each time. It’s important that the client notes healing from trauma are not linear. There is no fixed timeline or a specific amount of bodywork required for a client to heal. It’s important for the therapist not to encourage reliance on the therapist, positively reviewing what has happened during the course of treatment and to empower her to take her learning out of the treatment room and into everyday life – a life that is now enhanced by the possibilities of a more embodied self.
The overall observation of the client throughout the treatment sessions is that through providing a safe environment with safe touch, the client learned to feel safer in her own body. She began to be more present during sessions, eventually feeling centred, grounded and calm. She was empowered to help guide the treatment sessions and began to trust enough to address the confronting memories of her trauma that arose such as flash-backs, speechless terror, numbing, hyperarousal and/or dissociation along with the resulting physical sensations and reactions in her body. Although progress was sometimes two steps forward and one step back, there was from the beginning a sense of making positive progress. I was encouraged by the effectiveness of working with other professionals such as the client’s psychologist to help the client process the traumatic memories that were released during the treatment. While significant progress has been made during the case study, this has been supported and enhanced by the client’s own desire and determination to practice meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise, relaxation techniques, self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love.
While the experience of trauma is different for every individual, a collaborative approach between talk therapy and bodywork therapy is an effective, holistic, common sense approach to healing trauma. Without the talk therapy, the client may not have had the framework to understand and process what was happening in her body, or the skill to use her breath when traumatic memories and powerful emotions were released during massage.
There are no specific massage techniques for dealing with a client affected by trauma. In the hands of a skilled therapist who has researched and had some hands-on experience, recovery from trauma and PTSD is achievable and post-trauma bodywork can be a powerful tool for healing and growth.