The Impact of Massage on Mental Health within the Context of Recovery. By Nikki Collins

(Please click on the title above for the full report)

The study aims to describe the experience of receiving massage therapy whilst living with and recovering from mental illness. Using the Descriptive Phenomenological Method, the study gives voice to the lived experience of the individual. A purposive sample of four participants was recruited. The data analysis findings are written as a Descriptive Statement included in this paper in full. The outcomes deepen our understanding of how touch and the person of the therapist come together to provide a treatment for mental illness that centres on connection, safety and being of value and worth. Questions arise as to the degree in which massage may be regarded as a treatment and may be perceived as positively impacting mood. The implications of the study are relevant to massage therapists and open up discussion around accessibility and the provision of massage therapy within mainstream mental health services.

Nikki Collins is an APNT and BCMA registered massage therapist, working privately in South Devon and for Force cancer support centre. She is also a qualified mental health nurse, currently returning to practice at Devon Partnership Trust. She has  two children and spends her spare time wandering in the forests of nearby Dartmoor.

Extract fromThe Descriptive Statement: Recovery is self-acceptance of mental illness and its enduring nature. It is hope of a life lived as happily and healthily as possible. It is having access to support that is individualised and self-directed, with a range of different resources to access at different times. It is resilience in the face of societal pressures and inadequate support.

Massage is experienced as a treatment for mental illness and, if ongoing, provides an alternative and effective support, reducing the need for other interventions. Massage takes on new relevance for individuals as an important resource for recovery, one of many within the recovery ‘toolbox’. For some individuals, massage remains a ‘luxury’ and too limited in its impact to regard as treatment. The effects of massage share commonalities with mindfulness, notably the effect of deep mental relaxation. Massage contrasts with mainstream treatments, particularly in relation to the absence of negative impact – massage is viewed as a wholly positive experience.