The Psychotherapy of Massage: What Makes Us Human?

By Gerry Pyves
December 12, 2013

The Psychotherapy of Massage: What Makes Us Human?

By Gerry Pyves
December 12, 2013

For fifteen years, I have been trying to keep my two disciplines of psychotherapy and massage completely separate, out of respect for the reasons why clients came to see me. Clients who come for psychotherapy want to explore the psychological roots of their dysfunction, while clients who come for massage want to sort out their physical problems. I have a confession to make: I have failed miserably.

Appallingly, I have been affecting the bodies of my clients in my psychotherapy practice, and I now confess to affecting the minds of my massage clients. The psychotherapy regulators would have me NOT TOUCH my clients or "get physical" with them for fear of creating "transference issues." The massage regulators would not have me go beyond my scope of practice and start "messing with the minds" of my clients. So shoot me.

Try explaining these "regulations" to massage clients that release psychological and emotional traumas in the presence of powerful healing touch. Try explaining these regulations to those psychotherapy clients who find their body's energy and physical structure transformed by their psychotherapy.

Fear of Touch

Alarmingly, I meet more and more massage therapists who seem to think massage is just about fixing a structural problem. Others simply relegate such touch to the category of "relaxation massage." For which read the unspoken, ineffectual and superficial.

As a profession, we appear to have immersed our heads almost exclusively in the sands of musculoskeletal re-alignment. As if human beings were just muscle and bone.

What Does Massage Touch?

What we actually touch of course, is human skin. We may influence the muscles and tendons and bones, but we do not touch them. What we actually touch is skin. The skin of a living and evolving person, who carries their full life history in every inch of their body.

I do not have the space here to go into all the detail regarding the skin but recommend a reading (or re-reading) of Ashley Montague's classic, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin and Deane Juhan's brilliant, Job's Body. Both writers refer to the overwhelming scientific evidence that, when we touch the skin, we are making direct contact with a part of our organism that is hard wired directly to the brain and with all that makes us human. So just what is it then, that makes us human?

I use my own acronym to understand what a human being is composed of. It is a model that has served me well for 28 years of clinical practice. It stands for:

P - Physical
E - Energetic
E - Emotional
M - Mental
S - Spiritual

When we touch a person's skin, it is impossible to only touch their physical body. In giving more than 20,000 massage treatments as a therapist, I have found it impossible to massage another human being without having a powerful impact on their energy system, their emotions, their mental outlook or their spiritual state.

So why then, our profession's current obsession with only the person's physical structure? Is someone out there afraid of how touch affects our emotions, our thoughts or our spirit? So many bodyworkers I meet seem to just want to prod and poke and frantically "fix" the body; as if it is an enemy to be controlled. Do we really have to subjugate and control the body? Must we still follow these apparently touch phobic leaders of the massage profession (whether male or female) who seem so very frightened of simple nurturing touch? Do we really have to follow blindly as they insist on our touch becoming so medical? If I wanted to be so medical, I would have trained in medicine.

I chose massage because the body is the most magical self-healing organism on the planet, and guess what triggers that self healing? Simple healing touch. Every massage practitioner who has spent any time at all in the treatment room observing our clients knows the muscles in the body have only one "origin" and one "insertion" - the mind. Experienced massage therapists KNOW nurturing touch enables clients to release all their tight muscles in just one breath. Because they are letting go in their minds.

So please stop trying to tell me which bits of my body are wrong and trying to put me right. Just give me touch that respects the journey of my life and properly values the history that twisted my spine and compressed my tissues. Then I will release what I am ready to release. In my own time. In my own way.

Please don't just sit there with your SOAP notes and address one fifth of what makes me human. See all of me. Listen to all of me. I come for touch that connects me with my very soul. Do my muscles release when I get this? Of course, they do.