How does massage help PTSD, stress and anxiety?

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How does massage help PTSD, stress and anxiety?

– by Kimberley Pledger

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is classified as a mental health diagnosis for which the primary treatments are anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication and talking therapies.

Despite its classification, PTSD is a prime example of the body and mind working as an integrated whole, where changes happen in tandem on a mental, physical and physiological level. In other words, PTSD exists in the mind and the body. This means that the current treatments for PTSD, based as they are on an outdated idea of a separation between the functioning of the mind and body, overlook the physical symptoms of this disorder.

Recovery from PTSD is not just about minimising or eradicating the psychological symptoms, it’s also about feeling yourself again, which means feeling in charge of your body and being able to trust it again.  This article will review the physical symptoms of PTSD and consider how touch therapy (massage), as a complement to medical and psychotherapeutic treatment, can help you regain your sense of self.

The Physical Symptoms of PTSD

There are ten physical symptoms commonly associated with PTSD so lets look at each of them in turn and consider how regular massage can help to address them.

1. Insomnia
Insomnia is itself a symptom of the hypervigilance experienced with PTSD — it stands to reason that if you’re always on guard and you never switch off then you’re going to struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep. The physiological reason you are hypervigilant is that your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. The sympathetic nervous system is made up of the parts of your brain and body that kick in when you’re in danger and control whether you fight back, flee or play dead. Positive touch stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — the parts of your body and brain that are activated when you are relaxed and experiencing something that gives you pleasure. The rhythmic stroking and kneading of the body that takes place during massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system and induces a feeling of sleepiness. This feeling normally starts a short while into a massage and is accompanied by a sense of well-being which should last for several hours after the massage has finished. In fact, it is not uncommon for a person to feel the effects of a massage for a few days afterwards so you can see how regular massage could really help someone with PTSD to overcome insomnia.

2. Exhaustion
Exhaustion as a symptom of PTSD is partly the knock-on effect of insomnia, but also a result of the body being stretched to its limits because it is always on alert.  Massage deactivates the parts of the body and mind that are stimulated when under threat and effectively reverses the effects of hypervigilance. Instead of feeling wide awake and jittery you feel sleepy and calm; instead of working in overdrive your body moves into cruise control and eventually slows down into sleep. If this happens regularly it reminds the body that rest is possible and desirable so over a period of time you start to wake up feeling refreshed instead of exhausted.

3. & 4. Accelerated Heart Rate and High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
In order to maintain the heightened state of readiness demanded by the sympathetic nervous system in a person with PTSD, the heart beats faster so it can quickly pump blood to where it is needed most — the larger muscles to get them ready for fight or flight. One of the factors in high blood pressure is an accelerated heart rate, which is why hypertension is commonly found in people with PTSD.

Massage effectively switches off the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic so the heart slows down, breathing becomes deeper and a feeling of wellbeing spreads through the body. There have been several studies showing how regular massage can help to keep blood pressure at lower levels.

The hormone cortisol is known to be a factor in hypertension and is also evident in high levels in people with PTSD. Although it is not yet fully understood how cortisol contributes to either PTSD or high blood pressure, what is known is that cortisol levels drop following massage.

Psychotherapy, Counselling or Talking Therapy? Part 2.


Psychotherapy, Counselling or Talking Therapy?

By Tiago Brandao

The diversification of talking therapy approaches has resulted in a number of different professionals being responsible for different aspects of mental health, which can be confusing.

To simplify:

Psychiatrists are always specialist trained doctors. In the UK (and usually around the world) they are the only professionals that are able to make a definitive diagnosis regarding their mental health (for example, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or personality disorder). Psychiatrists are the only professionals who can prescribe medication for these conditions. Usually their focus of treatment is the physiological aspect of the mental health problem, so medication will be prescribed to alter brain chemistry to help patients manage their symptoms.

Psychologists are trained professionals that study the way that people’s minds work, including their behaviour, thoughts and physiological aspects of the brain. They can specialise in a number of different areas including but not exclusive to clinical symptoms, educational achievement, forensic studies and sports psychology. Psychologists may also provide talking therapy and tend to focus on evidence-based interventions such as CBT.

Psychotherapists and counsellors have a number of similarities and the names for their therapies are often used interchangeably. Both are trained professionals that use talking therapy to support individuals with their mental health and emotional challenges. One difference, however, is that psychotherapists have a more in-depth and extensive training, which gives them the potential to manage clients with more serious or complex psychological needs.

As I mentioned in the previous post, although each of these professionals might use different resources and techniques to support their clients, the professional relationship has been proven to be one of the most important aspects influencing the efficacy of treatment/process. Therefore, when looking for a mental health professional, make sure that you find someone that you feel comfortable with and that you feel able to build a trusting relationship with. This will be the first step of a very rewarding process.

It might also help to ensure that they are registered with one of the UK professional bodies such as BACP, UKCP, BABCP or BPS. These organisations make recommendations about the standards of training and practice for all psychotherapists and counsellors.

I offer all new clients a free 30-minute initial session so that we can get to known each other and to check that we are the right “fit”. This session offers a non-judgmental meeting with no expectations committing to counselling following this session.


1. Butler AC, Chapman JE, Forman EM & Beck AT (2006). The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Clin Psychol Rev. Jan 26(1):17-31. Epub 2005 Sep 30.
2. Lambert MJ & Barley DE. (2001) Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training Vol 38(4), 357-361.

Psychotherapy, Counselling or Talking Therapy?


Psychotherapy, counselling or talking therapy?

– by Tiago Brandao

Counselling and Psychotherapy are two of the many names that can be used to refer to different types of “talking therapy”. The idea of using talking therapy was first identified by Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century, when he sought to cure his patients’ physical ailments using dialogue.

As technology and scientific methods improved, research disproved some of Freud’s original findings and uncovered new links between the body and the brain. This led to the development and diversification of a number of theories and diaglogue-based approaches, each with its own strengths.

Currently, psychotherapy and counselling can be divided in three broad approaches:

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy evolved from Freud’s original work. It tends to focus on the unconscious processes of the human mind and the impact these have on interpersonal relationships. Research has demonstrated that psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective over years of practice or treatment. It tends to be a long process with regular sessions of therapy taking place over years.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing the individual’s thoughts (“cognitions”) and behaviours. CBT has been shown to have a beneficial impact on the person’s general sense of wellbeing. It also provides the individual with a number of tools to use to continue the therapeutic process once the therapy sessions come to an end. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the main approach used by the NHS. 70% of the population has shown improvements in their mental health following treatment(1). CBT tends to be a short intervention (around 8-12 sessions). Some professionals have questioned whether benefits are maintained into the long-term with CBT – it is seen by some as a short-term fix.
  • Person-centred approaches focus on an individual’s ability to self-heal and provide a safe space to do so. These approaches, which utilise flexibility and warmth, tend to be attractive as they respect they make allowances for each person’s rate of development whilst providing the challenge and the support concurrently.

Gestalt Therapy is a person-centred approach that focuses on an individual’s ability to adapt – using the relationship between therapist and client creatively and compassionately to support the person to realise their full potential. In the 21st century, most healthcare professionals aspire to make their care and treatment person-centred. Because of the highly individual nature of Gestalt Therapy and other person-centred approaches, research methods are still being developed to measure the active ingredients of the therapy and their outcomes. Person-centred therapies tend to be a middle length approach compared with psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, but allow for each person’s development, from months to years.

The brain, the mind, human behaviour and the study of relationships are challenging to study as isolating the variables that affect someone’s development requires enormous research resources. It is, as all others sciences, a never ending process of new discoveries and development.

Research has identified that the most important aspect of psychotherapy or counselling is the relationship between a person and their therapist, known as the therapeutic relationship(2).  The more positive and trusting the relationship a person has with their therapist the more successful the therapeutic process.

When looking for a therapist, it is essential that you find someone that you feel comfortable with and that you are willing to build a trusting relationship with, as research shows this will have a significant impact on your development and capacity to achieve your potential.

For this reason, I offer an initial 30-minute session free of charge. This session allows us to get to know each other, and decide whether we can work together successfully.


1. Butler AC, Chapman JE, Forman EM & Beck AT (2006). The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Clin Psychol Rev. Jan 26(1):17-31. Epub 2005 Sep 30.

2. Lambert MJ & Barley DE. (2001) Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training Vol 38(4), 357-361.