Monday, March 18, 2013

Massage and Addiction

     I read a very interesting, and informative, article in AMTA's Massage Therapy Journal: Massage & Addiction; How massage therapy is being used in addiction recovery centers.  Within the article, it is considered a "sobering experience," because it offers recovering addicts a way to feel comfortable in their own skin. 
     It is becoming more and more apparent that addiction centers are including massage therapy as part of their recovery program.  It's becoming one of the most popular offerings.  Recovery is a bit of a process, and quite often a difficult one.  Oftentimes the client cannot fully articulate what is going on, and because massage isn't exactly a talk-type therapy, it can meet them wherever they are.  Maureen Schwehr, NMD is a naturopathic physician and craniosacral instructor in Arizona, and she says, "that most conventional therapy for recovery focuses on the mind.  Once you start considering a mind/body/spirit model, you have more treatment options.  The spirit of who we really are.  Our mind is our thinking brain, and our body houses this.  If you're an addict, you often have to ignore your body, because you are, in essence, hurting your 'house.'" She goes on to say that addicts continue their destructive behavior because they don't check in with their 'home.'
     According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), addictions impact nearly all American families in some way.  And it's still not clear as to what causes addiction.  Most experts say it's a combination of physiological susceptibility and environment.  And nearly any behavior can be addictive (i.e. shopping, eating, sex).  It doesn't matter the 'drug' of choice.  When addicts get a hit of their drug of choice, dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) floods their brain's reward system.  And this may be why massage, which has been proven to increase dopamine and serotonin, and decrease cortisol, can help those in recovery.  There are other physiological and emotional issues during recovery, such as pain, anxiety, and sleep problems.  Massage also helps with these.
     On a more superficial level, clients often just feel better after receiving a massage.  As a massage therapist, I am able to show people what relaxation feels like.  And it's been said that massage therapists may have an advantage over medical doctors.  We understand the stress/disease connection more than doctors do.  We can actually feel when a client is tense.  Most physicians don't put their hands on a client/patient like that.
     After a while, clients start realizing that the medicine is inside them.  First, it's being seen on their faces, then in the way they talk and their feedback.  This is a great shift.  Massage can help with the basic rewiring of our brains.  When you're being touched, it's not always to receive pleasure, most often it's to put yourself in touch with yourself.  Massage builds trust.  And when someone has the opportunity to be touched, to have therapeutic work done to them, it can bring recovery work home to a much deeper level.  It helps connect the body to the emotions, and when you bring someone back to their body, it's like bringing them home.