healing touch for abused children

A friend of mine has just finished her massage therapy training …. yeah Lori!!  She posted a link on her Facebook page that was addressing how massage therapists can help abused children.   Here’s a little for you:

So, the question is, what do we need to think about as massage practitioners who wish to do our part to ease childhood trauma associated with abuse and provide an opportunity for breaking the cycle. If you are currently working or thinking about working hands-on in pediatric massage therapy, you need to remember to empower the child by using a structured permission process, safe positioning and giving choices. A structured permission process includes explaining the massage in terms the child will understand. Give the child phrases or code words for yes, no and stop. The reason for using a code word is not to reinforce that a child may not say “no,” but rather to give them permission to say no without having to say the word “no.” Many abused children will have a history of knowing they cannot say no to anything.

Safe positioning is needed to empower the child. It is recommended that you always begin with the child in a sitting up position. This is important, as laying supine feels very vulnerable, while lying prone feels vulnerable and does not provide for the pediatric client to see what is happening to them. Additionally, stay within a safe distance. Do not cross the personal bubble until the child has given you permission to do so. Give the child many choices. Not an overwhelming amount of choices. However, you want to let the child know they are in charge. Remember, they have likely never felt in charge of anything. Feeling out of control and confused does not create the best nurturing environment. It is advisable that you do not give a choice of removing clothing at the first session. This is important, as you want the child to feel safe and secure. Allowing them to keep their clothing on, even shoes and socks, provides for the safest beginning.

Not only should we provide the best environment for the child, whenever possible, we should try to include a parent who is likely also a victim of abuse. Many times, I have provided education on massage for infants and children in shelters for domestically abused women and their children. Education is important. If the parent has also been a victim of abuse, how do they know how to give and receive gentle touch appropriately?

Breaking the Cycle

During one visit at a shelter, I sat on the floor with the mothers and their children. We had a mixed group of mothers with infants, toddlers and children. One little boy, Sam, was six-years-old and sat next to his mother during the class. The director of the shelter had shared with me that Sam was quite an aggressive little boy and would lash out often. Throughout our lesson, Sam refused to have his mother massage him. As we began massage on each body area, we took time and asked permission. Every time mom asked Sam’s permission, he said no. He instead asked a teddy bear’s permission and would massage the bear. As it came time to massage the face, I had an idea. I suggested Sam ask mom if she would like a massage on her face. He liked this idea and scooted in front of his mom, warmed his hands and asked permission. Sam watched diligently as I demonstrated each massage stroke on my face. He lovingly placed his hands on mom’s cheeks and provided gentle strokes. Sam asked her if the massage was too hard. Mom said no, it felt good, as the tears streamed down her cheeks. Together, they shared a special moment I felt privileged to witness.

Throughout the months following our class, I have kept in touch with the shelter director and am very happy to report that Sam has successfully integrated into his new school. He is no longer as aggressive and has made friends very easily. Mom is adapting well to their new life. Both mom and the shelter director have credited our massage time as the intervention that broke the cycle of abuse. The traumatizing effects of abuse might be felt for a very long time. However, using nurturing touch might be one effective tool to help break the cycle and help children to feel loved and valued. Many times it is not only our hands which provide the best care, but rather our hearts and minds sharing the information to empower others to be successful.


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