Bodywork (such as massage, Reiki, or a variety of other modalities) can help you cope with and heal from PTSD. Caring touch from a trusted practitioner can help you calm anxiety, reconnect with your body, and gradually release frozen trauma memories.
Bodywork can also be a trigger for anxiety, memories, and boundary issues. Finding providers of caring touch and coming to trust them can be a healing journey in itself.
How to search
This process helps you clarify your boundaries and conduct your search gradually. It can be generalized to find a psychotherapist, construction contractor, job, or even romantic partner. The steps can be done out of order, a little bit here and there, in whatever way suits you best.
- (Optional) Get a notebook to collect your observations
- Describe your NOs
- Describe your YESes
- Gather names of practitioners
- Interview by phone
- Schedule a bodywork session
1. Describe your NOs
Some of you may be shaking your head and saying, “I would NEVER…”
- “…allow a stranger to touch me.”
- “…take off my clothes.”
- “…receive bodywork from a woman.”
That’s great! Make a list of your boundaries, and promise yourself to honor them. Throughout your search, assume that you can receive what you need in a way that feels safe to you. Some bodywork practitioners will agree to meet with you first, or do energy-work without touching you, until you feel comfortable. Many kinds of bodywork are done over clothes. Men do bodywork too. Check in with your body, and notice how it feels to have these strong boundaries in place.
Your NOs and YESes may change over time. You may wish they were different, or feel external pressure to ignore them. Paradoxically, there is more room for change when you honor your boundaries in the moment without forcing or expecting them to change.
2. Describe your YESes
Now write a paragraph or list describing what you do want. In a perfect world, what would this practitioner be like? Here are some ideas to start with.
- Respectful of boundaries
- Open to feedback
- Knowledgeable about PTSD and trauma
- Kind, compassionate
- Comfortable location, fee
3. Gather names of practitioners
This is where a notebook can come in handy to keep track of names, phone numbers, and responses. Scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, and notes in the corner of planner pages can work, too.
Ask for recommendations based on your YESes and NOs from people whose judgment you trust. You may be comfortable revealing that you have PTSD, or you can ask “for a friend,” or perhaps you’ll decide that you are only ready to speak to a few people. Professionals such as psychotherapists, doctors, and other bodywork practitioners can be good resources.
Search the web with keywords (for example bodywork PTSD your-city your-state) and in practitioner directories for specific types of bodywork. Some gentle, awareness-based modalities are CranioSacral Therapy, Feldenkrais Method, Reiki, Rosen Method, and Somatic Experiencing.
4. Interview by phone
The day will come when you’re ready to call one or more of the practitioners on your list. You might get voicemail, a receptionist, or, sometimes, the practitioner will answer the phone. You may also be able to make initial contact by email.
If you’re leaving a message, all you need to say is that you’re gathering information to make an appointment, and leave your phone number. Twice. It is challenging enough to wait for a call back without wondering if they can reach you.
When you do reach the practitioner, it is helpful to have a list of questions that cover your YESes and NOs. Also pay attention to the reactions in your body. Do you relax or become more tense during the conversation? It’s okay to be nervous – notice how the practitioner handles that.
Some sample questions:
- “What’s your experience with doing bodywork for PTSD?”
- “How does your work help with… (general symptom)?”
- “How soon can I expect to see results?”
- “I need… (name a YES or a NO). How do you handle that?”
- “What do you charge?”
- “What’s your cancellation policy?” (Useful to know, and tells you about boundaries.)
- “Is there anything else I should know about working with you?”
Note that you don’t need to tell details of your trauma or symptoms over the phone, especially if that’s hard for you.
During the conversation, you may reach a clear positive or negative decision about making an appointment, or you may end the conversation by saying you need to think about it. Noice if the practitioner supports you in trusting your own judgment.
5. Schedule a bodywork session
You’ve decided to schedule a bodywork session. Again, it’s okay to be nervous. Breathe, stay grounded, and keep noticing how your body is feeling.
Remember that you can change your mind at any point before or during the session. You may still have to pay, depending on the cancellation policy. Maybe that’s exactly the therapy you needed that day – to honor your need to leave or cancel.
During the session, as much as you can, share your needs with the practitioner, especially if you’re feeling pain or distress. Some discomfort may be part of your process, but it doesn’t help to become overwhelmed the way you were in the original trauma. Ask any questions that come up for you. A helpful practitioner will support you in listening to your own truth at every step.
A practitioner may be helpful to you for one, a few, or many sessions. Check in with your body about rescheduling just as you did for the first appointment.
Trust will build over time. A long-term bodywork practitioner can be a refuge, supporter, teacher, and healer as you move through the PTSD recovery process.
Celebrate each step you take toward finding a practitioner, each session you schedule, each change you notice. Some changes will be obvious: less physical or emotional pain, new tools to handle anxiety, more flexibility. Some may be more subtle: more ease in speaking your truth, clearer boundaries, deeper breathing.
Best wishes for your search!
I recommend these practitioners and directories as a starting point for your search.