Why All Bodyworkers Need to be Trained in Trauma-Informed Care
Author: Tiffany Ryan, PhD, MSW, LMT
Dr. Ryan has her PhD in Social Work and is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher.
Let’s start with the basics...What does “trauma-informed” really mean?
The term “trauma-informed” is becoming mainstream in the yoga and mental wellness worlds, but it hasn’t quite infiltrated the bodywork field. There are some mind-body interventions that focus solely on treating trauma through manipulation of the body - i.e. Somatic Experiencing, Healing Touch, Reiki, etc. Receiving safe touch has a powerful impact on the nervous system. When we speak about trauma informed bodywork, we mean that body workers are trained to be able to provide a safe, healing, supportive, and therapeutic environment to provide bodywork. This means that not only should the bodyworker be trained in the types of trauma and how trauma manifests emotionally and in the body, but also on the nervous system and how bodywork can provide a healing environment for trauma survivors.
So why is this training relevant to me as a bodyworker?
According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 70% of adults in the United States have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. Let’s put this into perspective: if 70% of Americans suffered from a condition in which they would be covered in hives every time you said a particular word or touched them in a certain way - don’t you think bodyworkers would be extensively trained on how to avoid these triggers? Unfortunately, mental health does not play a very big role in our core training as bodyworkers. It’s important to acknowledge our role in the integrated healthcare model and as part of the mental health team. Your clients may or may not be diagnosed with PTSD, but trauma has a tendency to manifest in ways such as chronic disease, anxiety, depression, isolation, etc. Since this is something that 7/10 adults struggle with, it’s important to be properly trained.
In my professional experience with trauma informed bodywork, I have learned that communication is the absolute most important component. Clients need to feel that they are in control of the session at all times and that the therapist is there for them and willing to make any accommodations necessary. For a client to feel in control, the therapist not only needs to open the lines of communication, but even before that it’s imperative to build rapport. This is why a detailed intake is so important - it can serve as a basis to get to know the client better before the treatment and allow for the therapist to discuss their own background, education and experience with trauma informed bodywork, and the role of communication between the therapist and client during the session.
There are some clients that may be receiving bodywork for the first time as part of their mental health treatment. I’ve had massage clients that begin fully clothed, starting with firm, but light touch on only one part of their body. As bodyworkers, we need to understand that starting where the client is at is imperative to their healing. As part of your communication, make sure the client understands that everything is an offering and they can create a unique, one of a kind session based on their needs at any time - like remaining fully clothed with the lights on, or as a yoga teacher that the client can move into a different position than the one you cued based on their comfort and preference.
Without the proper training and ability to offer services tailored to those we are dealing with trauma symptoms, we are missing out on a whole demographic. We often put our services into two different categories: 1) structural work or 2) relaxation massage. However, many clients are seeking out services to either treat the effects on their body from stress and/or to regulate their nervous system/provide emotional regulation. This type of service often gets thrown into the “relaxation massage”category. We often dismiss relaxation massage as not utilizing our full skill set as massage therapists; however, being intentional with the way we engage with clients is imperative to the healing process. When done well, it provides an opportunity to reset the nervous system and release the positive hormones necessary for positive emotional wellbeing. We have the opportunity to provide relief and create a positive impact for many, many individuals who come to us seeking a nervous system reset, whether they are fully aware of this need or not. As bodyworkers, we must acknowledge our role in the integrated healthcare model and as part of the mental health team.
This is a new concept in the field of bodywork, so what should I look for in a training?
There are very few trainings that focus on massage and how to effectively work with and provide relief to those seeking massage to address trauma related issues. Trainings should be created by someone who has knowledge, formal education, and experience in both the mental health and bodywork worlds. Trainings should cover necessary information on the nervous system, the mind-body connection, an overview of trauma and it’s manifestation, how to create a safe and trauma informed environment, specific suggestions for how to effectively manage and help those clients whose goal is to regulate the nervous system through bodywork, what to do when the client needs more help than only you can provide, and how to work as part of a healthcare team.
If you are interested in offering an innovative way to serve clients in a safe, trauma-sensitive, fully-clothed, small group environment, check out our Yomassage® or Mindful Touch™ trainings. After you complete the 25-hour training, you have the opportunity to advance through two additional trauma-informed body-work certifications.
Learn more about Yomassage®/Mindful Touch™ trainings: https://yomassage.com/pages/training-info
Find a Yomassage®/Mindful Touch™ class: https://yomassage.com/pages/find-a-class