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The Difficulties Of Massage For The Trauma Patient

Aug 6, 2008
The brain and therefore the mind of a person who has been traumatised functions in a different way from a person who has not been traumatised. Perceptions of massage are mediated through the nervous system, and so the experience of massage may differ between the traumatised and non traumatised person. For the former, massage may not be relaxing.

To be more specific, trauma is a word that has become overused and devalued much like stress has become. A person might say 'I'm traumatised, my email program isn't working!' Even if a person is involved in a shooting, car accident or some genuinely traumatic event, it doesn't mean they themselves will become traumatised.

Many people recover with time, rest and the supportive presence of family and friends, without suffering ill health or ongoing mental distress. They get their minds back. But some people who've been through trauma don't recover and develop PTSD. (Post traumatic stress disorder). They don't get their minds back. Their brains and central nervous system (CNS) functioning are altered.

Simple Trauma and Complex Trauma

Babette Rothschild, a leading trauma expert, divides trauma into 2 major areas. Simple trauma refers to a single event or series of events that are not related and the effect of this on an adult whose life experience has been fairly ordinary up to that point. This person's CNS gets stuck in fight and flight.

The second main category is complex trauma. This refers to chronic events early in life when a child's brain is developing, such as ongoing abuse or negect. In this case there is a failure of development of the top down pathways that transmits information from the cerebral hemispheres to midbrain and hypothalamus to brain stem. Instead the bottom up pathway is permanently switched on i.e from brain stem to hypothalamus to cerebrum.

For those with complex trauma, the relayed information from the sensory and proprioreceptors, stimulated by the action of massage, makes its arrival at the cerebral hemispheres, that part of the brain where meaning is registered, but it fails to have any impact on the autonomic nervous system or the hypothalmic-pituitary axis (Alan Schore).

Relaxation Can Be Undesirable

It's as if the brain is stuck in the general adaptation syndrome but with dysfunctional thought processes relating to the trauma such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, inability to switch off from the incident, inability to relax for fear of what may happen if mental defenses are lowered.

Massage is always thought to be desirable, but the physical relaxation it brings induces mental relaxation. This may not be what the trauma patient requires.
About the Author
The author is a massage therapist, psychotherapist and craniosacral therapist and supervisor in private practice in London, England. She can be located at her london psychotherapy practice or at london psychotherapy .
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