Mental health benefits of massage therapies

We have seen over the years the benefits massage therapy can have for our clients, not just physically but mentally too. For example, a full body massage provides much-needed relaxation for anyone but for someone who has been suffering from depression or another mental health condition, the neuro-chemical effects of receiving a massage can enhance their ability to (a) cope with day to day life and  (b) relaxes them enough to benefit from other therapies that will promote their healing and growth, i.e. counselling and psychotherapy and other physical therapies.

Several clients, who up until their massage treatment, and interestingly this was mostly men, had never really opened up to anyone about their emotional health. A good illustration of this point is the experience of a male client: we will call him Dan for this example. Dan hadn’t been touched by anyone for months, he was divorced, lived alone and didn’t have many close friends. It isn’t surprising to us that during his first massage session he began to cry, and not just a little, he bawled away like a baby. We don’t say ‘baby’, to belittle his emotional state, but it felt like it was deep emotion, raw, just like you might hear from a baby that is hungry for food or affection.

This is a good illustration that our emotions are stored in our body, and in this man’s case very deep in the tissues of his body. And thanks to the non-judgemental approach of our massage therapist this man felt safe enough to come back for further sessions.

It also illustrates the importance of feeling our emotions and sharing that experience when it happens, rather than burying the feeling/experience as in the case of Dan. We are pleased to say that Dan went on to have a series of counselling sessions to work on emotional material that was blocking his ability to form a deep and meaningful relationship.

Depression – is it really holding on to the past?

Depression can affect any of us at any time. Hopefully for some of us it is a short interruption to our normal mental health pattern and we can then get back on with our lives. But for many it can be a daily struggle to get motivated to get out of bed, get showered and dressed, and even preparing breakfast can feel like a tall mountain to climb.

I recently read a face book post, possibly taken from the work of Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, that stated, ‘Depression is living in the past’. Yes, it is partly as the mind can replay moments from the past that can weigh us down in the present moment. But I personally believe the condition is more complex than that. I have met a number of people in my therapy work and I think that this glib statement, (although well intentioned) would make them quite cross, as they are not the kind of people who dwell on the past very much.

If you think for a moment how overwhelming feelings can be, they can hit us out of the blue and pretty much affect everything in the present moment.  Some people need hours or days to internally process what has happened and others might immediately call a friend/loved one to listen to what is going on for them. It really depends on the emotional temperature and personality of the depressed person.

Living with Depression can be about living in the moment. For example, if we have come to a place in our lives whereby we have become more aware of what we are feeling in the present moment, and then get on with the rest of our day, the sad feelings may not change immediately, but they may not stop us from conducting our lives. Taking this a step further, when we notice the black mood is there again, we can stop in our tracks – acknowledge it, examine where it can be felt in the body, and then move on.

I call this process ‘becoming an observer’ and is something I do with my therapy clients. If they can become curious during our therapy sessions, the learning from their time with me can then be practiced outside of the therapy space. And, as I suggested earlier, observing and moving on may not change the feelings themselves, but it may make them less potent and allow one to live a life. It is also important to note that there may not be a smile on your face but you are learning to live with the feelings that in the past may have kept you in bed and off work.

Counselling and Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis, also known as TA, was founded by Eric Berne, who developed concepts, language and methods for understanding the process of human behaviours.

The most well known concept from TA is the ego-state model.  An ego-state is a collection of related behaviours, thoughts and feelings.

One of the many ego states can be triggered by a situation in our life, e.g. a friend comes for dinner and accidentally drops a wine glass. We can respond in a number of ways to that incident of course, e.g.

Adult ego state: rational thinking, and a practical reaction to the incident.

Parent ego states: behave in a way that reminds us of our own parents’ behaviour (i) a critical parent might say “you stupid man, why can’t you be more careful?” or (ii) a nurturing parent might say, “gosh, are you ok? did you cut yourself?”.

Child ego states:  respond in a way that a small child would, (i) Adapted child, whereby the behaviour is an extreme reaction to something quite trivial, e.g. having a trantrum about the prized glass, and (ii) Free child, a playful approach to the incident, e.g. you get two straws so that you and your guest can drink up the spilt wine from the table.

At times we might think, feel or behave in any of these ego states, even moving from to another and back again. The direction of movement depends on the level of self awareness a client has of their own internal models of behaviour. For example, if their old pattern is to react in a critical way they can begin to learn that their nurturing self, or adult self, is the best ego model to remedy the situation rather than inflate it.

The short-longer term aim of the therapy is for the client to become more and more aware of their predominant roles and that in time they begin to make choices in particular ego states, that support the relationship with one’s self and others, and give less attention to the more destructive choices.

One way of doing this is to discover a client’s Life Script. The belief is that our life script contains all that we believe about ourselves and the world around us.  From the earliest period of childhood we receive very precise instructions about what we can do and what we can’t, which often becomes the “script” for our lives, e.g.  as early as five or six, we see the world through the prism of our life script and ignore what doesn’t fit the picture. This prevents us from seeing the variety of choices that life has to offer. The role of the TA therapist is to help their client to identify their script beliefs and, if necessary, work on ways to modify them.

Transactional Analyis is ideal for clients who want to explore how their individual personality has been shaped by their experiences.

It can also help improve communication techniques and change damaging repetitive patterns of behaviour. Both elements will help clients to build healthier and stronger relationships.  It is also an ideal technique to resolve conflict, confusion and tension within relationships – with family, partners, friends, colleagues and bosses .

Transactional Analysis was always traditionally offered as a long-term therapy but nowadays is used as a short-term treatment, which could appeal to those who want a solution-focused therapy.

If you are interested in this approach to therapy please call our resident counsellor, Paul on 910 665 601.

He offers a free telephone consultation to establish what it is you want to work on and will recommend a course of action that supports your current needs.