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Touch...Massage...Missing Elements...Victims...Offenders...
The Mind...The Body...All Are Connected.

And this connection is the focus of the work I do.

by Deborah P. Hoey, M.A., C.M.P.

It all began when a co-worker informed me that a student in the class I was teaching had asked the principal of the school for a hug. The co-worker was shocked; I was puzzled. Then it hit me. I asked the student if he was hugged at home and his answer was "no." Teaching for me would never be the same.

I began reading books about touch and learning how vital appropriate touch is in our lives. Ashley Montagu and Jules Older, Ph.D. report research studies on the use of touch.(1,2) The overall findings from their developmental research show that the lack of touch is related to physical, emotional, and social deprivation. "Furthermore, that when the need for touch remains unsatisfied, abnormal behavior will result."(1)

In a University of Miami study, premature infants who received a scheduled touch, averaged 47% greater weight gain per day than those newborns who did not receive the touch.(3) The number of feedings for the control group and the experimental group was identical. The touch involved stroking the whole head and neck, the shoulders, the back, legs and arms. In addition to greater weight gain, increased motor activity and more alertness were recorded. The stimulated babies were also hospitalized six days less than the control group.

I also began reading about the connection between the body and the mind. I learned that the body and the mind are inseparable! Anger, frustration, jealousy, guilt, sadness, and other emotions affect both the body and the mind. What was experienced in the body was recorded by the mind. What was recorded by the mind was stored in the body. Thus, if talking is insufficient in gaining control of these emotions, the body has to be involved in the process. Massage provides the means to rid the body of traumas and unwanted feelings. "Our body remembers even when our conscious mind forgets. It stores our traumas and triumphs; our happiness and sadness; our anger and elation; our instinct and intuition; our lowest drives and highest ambitions; our past, our present and our potential...even fear is not just stored mentally but physically as well...emotions are not just in the brain, they are in the body."(4)

Massage is one of the oldest forms of treatment for human ills.(5) The AYER-VEDA, the earliest known medical text from India, compiled around 1800 B.C., records the use of massage with diet and exercise as the leading health restoring practices of the time.(2)

As early as the mid-1940s, Wilhelm Reich, a protegee of Sigmund Freud, was kneading the muscles of his clients in order to release energy trapped within those muscles.(6) He believed that the unresolved past lay caged in the tension in the muscles of the body. The dissolving of muscular tension relieved emotional tension.

The class I was teaching at that time was for students classified as Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (SED). Learning how to understand and control the emotions was the focus of the curriculum. I now know that the curriculum was off balance. The body was being ignored.

That year was the end of my teaching career. I attended graduate school and enrolled in a massage school. The use of massage with SED students was the basis for my research study. The statistical results proved the hypothesis to be correct...SED students do benefit from massage. But statistics do not tell the whole story. There was a gleam in each student's eyes after the massage. A gleam that told me that what I was doing was correct. This gleam encouraged me to pursue my sense that the body must be attended to along with the mind.

The form of massage is AMMA massage. I chose this form because it is unnecessary to remove clothing. According to Chinese medical theory upon which this Japanese massage is based, AMMA either stimulates or sedates the body, depending on the individual client, using pressure points along energy pathways called meridians. No oils are used with this form of massage. A person is massaged through a sheet or clothing while either lying or sitting. A shorter form involves massaging the shoulders, back, arms, hands, neck, and head. The person sits on a High-Touch Massage Chair developed for this form. This fifteen minute form was used for the study.

My thesis was written, accepted, but not forgotten. The more I read, the more I became aware of the significance of touch and massage. "Bodily states influence the mind."(7) If the body is relaxed, the mind will relax. The physical healing the mental! What happens in the mind affects the body; what happens in the body affects the mind. Massage, relaxing the body, would also have an effect on the mind. Immobilized emotions could be mobilized through massage.

Picture a dry sponge...put water on the sponge and the sponge swells...squeeze the sponge and the sponge returns to its dry state. This same theory can be applied to the body. Picture the body...add emotions to the body and the body swells...massage the body and the body returns to its original form.

All this happened within the span of three years, and years later, eyes continue to tell me that what I am doing is correct, only the population is different. The eyes now belong to male juveniles who have committed sexual offenses, ages fourteen to eighteen, housed in a residential group center. I still remember the first day that I walked onto the unit; I was sent on a volunteer basis. The therapists looked at me and said, "You're going to what? Massage our residents?" After massaging the staff, the shock and confusion turned to an openness, a willingness to give this theory a try.

Sex-offendingãan area totally new to me. The shelves in the office were filled with books on the subject. I talked with the staff. I read individual files. Many key words I read again and again: fear, mistrust, anger, shame, loneliness, blame, guilt, worry, victimization, addiction. These kids are victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, but the reason that they are in the program is that they have abused someone sexually. Offenders with their own victimization issues make for a very difficult rehabilitation process.

The staff, the books, the files...informative sources, but the best source of information was the boys themselves. I learned about the fantasy life, a life that disconnected the body from the mind, a life that occupied much of the day, a life that resulted in harm being done to others. I learned that past traumas continue to haunt the present. I learned that present emotions were blocking future progress. The residents were receiving individual, group, and family counselling. Everything was aimed towards healing the mind. The physical element of their being was totally ignored. Bodywork was needed!

The massage program was initiated four years ago. Each boy receives a fifteen minute chair massage, once a week, and two weeks before graduating from the program, a full-body massage is given. The massages are not mandatory. A sign-up sheet is posted. Each resident looks forward to his time in the chair. "I wait all week for this fifteen minutes." "The only thing I don't like about massage is that we only get them once a week." Residents are encouraged to tell me when the touch hurts, say "no" to a sensitive area, or to laugh if the touch is ticklish. All too often, a resident will grit through the pain or tense up on a sensitive area. Several residents have begun to speak about the painful areas and to become more assertive about their feelings, physcial and emotional.

In a workshop I attented, and in an article he had written, Robert Timms, a psychotherapist, tells of his own victimization that occurred when he was six years old. The memory of the rape had been blocked for forty years. Because of uncontrollable hypertension and a long list of physical symptoms, which a medical doctor could no longer treat, Robert decided to try a massage. After several massages, the memory began to unfold...attacked and raped by his favorite uncle.(8) The right side of his abdominal area, where he had refused to let anyone touch, had been the area where his uncle had grabbed him. Robert and Patrick Connors, the body therapist, now work together in Atlanta, GA, integrating psychotherapy and bodywork.

"Abuse is a wound to the body as well as to the self, and the body is necessarily involved in the healing process... massage helps abuse survivors reclaim their bodies."(9) K. Bailey, a bodyworker, teaches classes for massage therapists on working with victims of sexual abuse. The benefits of massage with survivors is being seen. The traumas and unwanted feelings are being "squeezed" from the body.

Bill Moyers presented a five-part PBS series on the connection between the body and the mind. Moyers, a print and broadcast journalist, had done extensive research in this field. He told of women with fibrocystic breast disease being treated through massage and coronary heart disease reversed without drugs or surgery. Touch is mysteriously therapeutic.

The best form of education about the connection between the mind and the body is sharing with residents and staff my informal notes that I have taken throughout the four years. It is important for residents to connect stressful events, mental anguish and physical symptoms because they are connected to assaults, harm being done to others. In my work with sex offenders, I have found that it is important for them to learn about the mind body connection. Doing so, and practicing appropriate interventions, can lead to a safer community.

Working with the body to help the mind allows both the body and the mind to feel. The only control a survivor may have had was disconnecting from the body during abuse. The most significant observation I have made is that these boys are numbãtheir bodies are empty. They basically feel nothing. What they do feel is sorrow for themselves. Everything revolves around themselves. Empathy is an emotion these residents need to feel to stop their offending behaviors. Empathy is essential in the treatment program. Empathy for their victims! Because massage connects the mind and the body, massage opens both to experiencing feelings, to feel. Massage leads to empathy.

Massage is also available to the staff. Working with young offenders often leads to high levels of stress. Massage helps reduce the tension. The initial response of the staff was, "We need another therapist and we're being sent a massage person?" has evolved into "How does this resident feel to you this week" to "I need a massage."

In addition to massage, self-acupressure, yoga classes and other physical activities are provided at the unit, with the purpose of connecting the body and the mind. The residents learn how to take care of themselves, live in the present moment and stop inappropriate fantasies. "Physical activities can advance development or even promote good emotional growth."(10) Physical movement is linked to mental motion. By moving the body, the mind moves; immobilized emotions are mobilized. Anger leaves the body! Residents are less likely to be overcome by unwanted emotions.

Physical activities have also been linked to academic advancement. Bryant Cratty, an educator and supporter of physical movement, has conducted studies showing a high correlation between the two.(11) He believes that the concentration a student uses in the physical activity can be brought to academic activity. He uses the term "transfer of skill."

Moran and Kalakian(12) link physical activity to increased attention span. Movement requires one to think it in terms of sequence. Sequential thinking is a basis for learning.

Touch...massage...the body...physical activity...feeling...the mind...concentration...learning. It is all connected!

In closing, I want to share comments made by the residents:

  • The only time I was ever touched was when I was getting hit by my dad or someone else.

  • It shows that not all touch is bad.

  • I don't weird-out when someone touches me.

  • It has helped me with my issues with females. Rather than saying that Debbie is coming on to me like that.

  • I know that there is nothing sexual about your massage, and that is important for me to know. I always felt that when a female touched me, there was a sexual reason behind it.

  • I had to put trust in you that you weren't going to hurt me.

  • I have a hard time trusting anyone to touch me.

  • I feel like I want to punch a wall. Could I have my massage NOW?

  • I usually am nervous a lot, but after my massage, I'm not.

  • I cried last night. I don't remember when I ever cried.

  • I hugged my mom for the first time last night.

We can tell residents that not all touch is sexual, not all touch hurts. Through massage, the message is experienced . Massage is a vital supplement to a program working with those who have committed sexual offenses.

People may continue to question this work. The connection between the mind and the body may be a difficult concept to grasp, and I know that what I am doing is correct...the eyes continue to tell me.


(1) Montagu, A., Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

(2) Older, J., Ph.D., Touch is Healing, New York: Stein & Day, 1982.

(3) Knaster, M., "Premature Infants Grow With Massage: Dr. Tiffany Field's Research," American Massage Therapy Journal, (Summer, 1991).

(4) Ford, C., "Where Healing Waters Meet," Massage Magazine, Hawaii: NOAH Publishing Co., 1990.

(5) Beard, G., & Wood, E., Massage Principles & Technique, Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Co., 1964.

(6) Radista, L., Some Sense About Wilhelm Reich, New York: Philosophical Library, 1978.

(7) Granville-Grossman, K., "Mind and Body," Handbook of Psychiatry, Vol, 2, Mental Disorders and Somatic Illness, edited by M. H. Lader, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

(8) Timms, R. J. "Courage To Continue: A Personal Statement About Sexual Abuse," Pilgrimage: The Journal of Psychotherapy and Personal Exploration, (June, 1989),

(9) Bailey, Kathie, "Therapeutic Massage With Survivors of Abuse." American Massage Therapy Journal, (Summer, 1992).

(10) Healy, J., Ph.D., Your Child's Growing Mind: A Parent's Guide To Learning From Birth To Adolescence, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1987

(11) Cratty, B., Active Learning: Games To Enhance Academic Abilities, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971.

(12) Moran, J., & Kalakian, L., Movement Experiences for the Mentally Retarded and Emotionally Disturbed, Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co., 1974.