Blog Archives for category PTSD
I am a certified massage therapist, Intrinsic Coach®, and Reiki Master in private practice near Washington DC. For the past 6 years, my work has focused exclusively in the area of women’s wellness and trauma recovery. This was not a path I intended to travel when I decided 8 years ago to leave the corporate world and pursue life as a massage therapist and coach. Rather it was the path that was presented to me when I discovered energy work – polarity therapy, cranial-sacral therapy, Reiki – and a wide range of Asian forms of massage and bodywork, all of which see an inextricable link between body, mind and spirit.
I have had the honor of working with over a thousand women in the past 6 years – all of whom sought me out in an effort to heal, to cope with the lingering effects of trauma and chronic pain and to reconnect their spirit with their bodies. Many came to me with physical complaints, but through the process of working together, they discovered that emotional healing can also be achieved through a sensitive application of what I call a “body-centered” approach toward healing and recovery.
There have been many tears shed when together we discovered that place within your body where you have held the pain for so long. But, our sessions have been a safe harbor, a sacred place where your experiences have been honored, a place where there is no judgment for expressing emotion or shedding tears, a place where it is ok to be cared for, to be nurtured, to feel the infinite love of the Universe.
Each day, I learn something new from my clients; working with you has spawned tremendous personal growth in me, and for that I am grateful. But, I have observed what I would describe as common patterns or threads among all of you with whom I have worked. And, I would like to share those lessons with you today in the hope that you begin look at bodywork and massage in a much broader context. It is a physical medium for sure, but I believe that all bodywork is a spiritual act first and a physical act second. When you are fully and deeply connected to your body, you cannot help but be connected to the earth and to the greater universe.
So, I give you these five observations with the full knowledge that they will be supplanted by new learning as I work with some of the most amazing women whom I have ever met – my clients. They inspire me every day and I am so very grateful that I have the opportunity to share in their transformation.
Try as you might, it is very difficult for you to receive
As I begin each session with my clients, we start off with a few minutes of stillness and quiet. She is lying face down on my table and I will gently place my hands on her – on in the small of her back and the other in the middle of her back and then near the crown of her head. I ask her to take in deep breath and envision the breath coming up from her root chakra, and then I ask her to just focus on her breath for a few minutes, breathing slowly in and slowly out.
I will than say, “Give yourself permission to be here today . . . Give yourself permission to receive.”
For almost all of my clients, this is one of the most difficult things for them to do. The inability to receive is something I see in my clients every day. My clients are all busy women – many are mothers who are trying to balance the demands of a career with the needs of raising a family and children. They are constantly in a give, give, give mode, which while having its’ rewards, often leads to lack of sleep, increasing levels of stress, fatigue and often illness. I see resentment and anger building within them as they continue to go on giving. I try to remind them that if they continue to write checks on their “giving accounts,” it is mandatory that they make a few deposits into it from time-to-time!
Receiving is a skill and it is something that can be learned. Receiving is its own reciprocal action. You do not need to immediately return the favor of the gift. Your acceptance is a gift in and of itself. When you receive you begin to recharge yourself, you make deposits into your giving account and make it easier for you to give to others.
There is time for everyone in your life but you
You always place yourself last on your list. Being a mom, a wife, balancing a career is more than a 24 hour a day job. At the end of the day, you are Dr. Mom, the primary caregiver, and Given your predisposition to give, give, give, it is very easy to simply drop your name last on your list. Oh, you’ll get around to it, but you rarely do.
Intellectually, you all know that it’s important to make time for yourself; time to exercise, time to rest, time that is just for yourself. But, it is just so darned hard because everybody comes to you for everything. You’re the family doctor, head chef, in charge of housekeeping and accounting, the family bus driver, CEO and more.
The fact that you’re on my table, once a week or once a month is a great start. But, it is not enough. So, where do you start?
You start by setting boundaries and (occasionally) saying no. Your family, your co-workers, your spouse, boyfriend or lover will not respect your time and ultimately you, if you don’t respect your time and set aside time that is just for you. Just. For. You.
You also start by re-training your kids, your spouse and even your co-workers. If they are old enough, there is no reason why your children cannot make their own lunches for school. The same goes for laundry and other household chores. If they don’t know how to do something, teach them. Your insistence on making time for yourself will also set an example for them. You’re not just teaching them how to live; you become a living example and you show them how to live.
Sadly, domestic violence and sexual abuse is more common than people realize
According to RAINN, every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. 44% of the victims are under the age of 12. 80% of the victims are under 18. 97% of the rapists will never spend a day in jail. Domestic violence numbers are a little harder to come by, but surveys put the number at somewhere between 25% and 40%. Domestic violence ranges from verbal battery and abuse to outright assault.
When I started my practice, I was shocked with the realization that so many of the women who were coming to see me had suffered at the hands of men. At any given point in time, more than 50 percent of the women who come to see me have experienced some form of sexual assault or domestic violence. I was stunned by the number of women coming to me, and by the fact that they were coming to see me at all. I believe that the official numbers are actually low, because so much of this type of abuse goes unreported. But, I realized early in my practice that this would become a major focus, that it would become my life’s work.
The stories are chilling. I have a client whose father repeatedly raped her from the time she was 6 months old until she turned 7 when he tried to strangle her. She completely repressed these memories until she came to me complaining of neck pain. When I worked on her neck to try to relieve the pain, it triggered flashback memories of the event.
There is another client who stuttered and her father would repeatedly slap her in an effort to try to get her to stop. Those memories came back, when in the course of her massage I gently worked on her face. She too had repressed the memories and dissociated her feelings from her body. Another client was repeatedly gang-raped. These are just a few of the stories. I have hundreds more like them in my client archives.
The body captures these memories. Physical therapists call it tissue memory. It’s not a well understood phenomenon, but massage therapists see it all the time. I’ve written extensively about it on my blog. When an area injured during trauma (whether it is an accident, abuse, invasive surgery – which is also traumatic) is released, all of the feelings, emotions, and sensations that you experienced during the initial event may also be released. The same fear, the same pain, the same anxiety may resurface, just as intensely as when the original trauma occurred. At the subconscious level, this is what your body has been feeling all along. In order to fully heal, these sensations must be fully felt so that they can be released.
The bottom line is that I have learned that bodywork can help bring about emotional healing a well as physical healing. Body, mind and spirit are inextricably connected; they cannot be separated and should not be treated as separate entities.
A sensitive therapist, within the therapeutic environment, can help a client fully connect mind and body, and help the client to safely release the sensations associated with the trauma. It is only through this kind of release that you can truly heal. Unless you completely let go, your body continues to experience the trauma at a subconscious level. If the body doesn’t release, restrictions can form in the fascia, creating chronic pain and making it worse over time. The added stress on your body may also compromise your body’s immune system, which can lead to other forms of illness.
Within the therapeutic environment, and with a competent and sensitive therapist, you have the ability to release and clear the pain and trauma of the past. When we fully let go of the pain of our past, we can embrace life in the present, and experience the love and beauty of living in the moment.
So, what should you do if you if you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault?
If you are in immediate danger or if you have been hurt, call 911.
For advice and support: if you or someone you know is frightened about something in your relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY, 1-800-787-3224.
For rape or sexual assault, contact RAINN (Rape and Incest National Network). RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. At any given moment, more than 1,100 trained volunteers are on duty and available to help victims at RAINN-affiliated crisis centers across the country.
To reach a qualified counselor for help, call 1-800-656-HOPE.
For a safe place to stay: Contact your state’s branch of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence or another local organization.
Even though you may not feel so, you are worthy of love, care and nurturing
Again, intellectually most of my clients would agree with this statement. But, it’s hard for them to walk this talk. So, how do you put this into practice?
It starts with a conscious decision to love yourself, to reduce (and eliminate) self-criticism, to forgive yourself, to let go of worry, to have fun, to receive, to be true to yourself and more. Everyday can be an exercise in building your self-confidence and self-esteem. Every day can be an affirmation of love for yourself and an expression of gratitude for the life you have.
There will be set backs. So, I try to help my clients set reasonable expectations. I am drawn to the Reiki Principles which start with the words, “Just for today . . . ,” and especially the principle that says, “Just for today, I shall be kind to all living things,” and I remind my clients that they are one of those living things and that kindness and love for oneself gives you the ability to love others.
Even though you may not believe it, you hold all that is necessary to heal
We are always in search of that magic pill. My clients are no different. They come to me, often with a specific pain, complaint or issue. And, at least in the beginning, they expect me to fix it. And I’ll try various healing modalities; massage in all of its forms, Reiki, Cranial-Sacral therapy, essential oils, diet, exercise and more.
My clients eventually come to realize that there is no “one thing.” What I have learned is that there is no “one thing” that if we all would do to make our lives perfect. No, instead I work with my clients to develop what I call their own personal “life cocktail.” It’s an ever changing combination of things, in varying proportions – from meditation and yoga, to exercise and diet, to massage therapy and energy work, to balancing work and life and play, to love and sex, to spirituality and seeking a higher order, – it’s all of those things and more, much more.
What I have learned is that you all are creative, capable and complete. You are absolutely perfect. When a client comes to see me, there is only one person in the room that matters, and that is she. She holds all the knowledge necessary to live a full and productive life, to be happy. It starts with a conscious decision, a desire for change.
What I have learned is that even though we may desire magical cures and modern medicine tries to create pills that will miraculously cure you, healing does not happen that way. It happens when, as my friend Dr. Lissa Rankin says, “we as practitioners hold sacred space, believe in our patients, love them, hold them up to the mirror to show them what we know is possible for them, and then make recommendations for how we think they might achieve the healing effect they desire.”
She goes on to say, “Science may cure, but only love heals.”
And that my friends, is the ultimate answer. That is what I have leaned over the past 6 years.
Today, June 27, 2011 is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. The US Senate established this day as a way to increase public awareness for PTSD. The following infographic provides a good summary of PTSD, and defines the symptoms, causes and treatments for the various types of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD.
Brought to you by: Masters in Social Work | MSW@USC