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Massage Therapy Lessens the Effects of Sexual Abuse

Women who are abused come from all socio-economic, educational and ethnic groups. More than 50 per cent of women are sexually abused by the age of 18. Traditional therapies, such as psychotherapy, although somewhat effective (Douglas & Strom 1988, Gage 1991, McArthur 1990, Mitchell 1991) do not treat the body, which is the object of the abuse.


September 17, 2009
By Massage Therapy Magazine
From a study conducted by: T. Field, M. Hernandea-Reif, S. Hart, O. Quintino, L.A. Drose, T. Field, C. Huhn, S. Schanberg of the Touch Research Institute.

Women who are abused come from all socio-economic, educational and ethnic groups. More than 50 per cent of women are sexually abused by the age of 18. Traditional therapies, such as psychotherapy, although somewhat effective (Douglas & Strom 1988, Gage 1991, McArthur 1990, Mitchell 1991) do not treat the body, which is the object of the abuse.

Massage may be an important therapy for sexual abuse because “good touch” can help victims lose their negative associations about touch (Sharpe 1992).

In one study, three women victims of rape received massage therapy including deep pressure, heavy pulling and deep stretching. The following effects were still evident in all three women several months after the massage therapy study. 

• less psychomotor tension
• fewer physical ailments including headaches, skin problems and back pain,
• less social aversion,
• more positive self feelings
• a more relaxed body posture

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In another study, 20 women abuse victims were randomly assigned to a massage group or a relaxation therapy control group.

The control group received progressive muscle relaxation. The massage therapy group received 30-minute massages twice a week for one month. A pre-determined procedure was used in both groups to maintain consistency.

Assessment included self reports of mood, tactile defensiveness, anxiety, depression and self esteem as well as assays of stress hormones (catecholamines and cortisol)

Pre/Post Session Effects
The massage therapy group experienced the following:
• A decrease in depressed mood from pre to post massage
• A decrease in anxiety from pre to post massage.
• A decrease in cortisol levels from pre to post massage but only on the last day.

The relaxation therapy group only reported the following:
• A decrease in anxiety from the  pre to post therapy session.

First Day/Last day Comparison
The massage therapy group experienced the following:
• A decrease in depression
• A decrease in anxiety
• A decrease in life event stress
• No changes in attitude toward touch

The relaxation therapy group experienced the following:
• A decrease in depression
• An increase in negative attitudes toward touch

The greater improvement of the massage group could relate to their positive touch experience following
a negative touch experience.

Did You Know…

  • Abuse increases costs and burden on the health care system, the social system, the educational system, the workplace, and the judicial system.*
  • Data collection efforts are hampered by*

            • The influence of cultural norms
            • Changes in reported rates of abuse according to the definition of violence used
            • The way questions are asked
            • The setting of the interview (privacy, environment familiarity)

* http://www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact239.html

Child Abuse

  • In Canada, one child dies every week at the hands of a caregiver.
  • Three to five children in every Canadian elementary classroom have witnessed their mothers being assaulted.
  • Serious behaviour problems are higher for children who have witnessed battering (17 times higher for boys / 10 times higher for girls)
  • Two out of three female children and one out of three male children will experience an unwanted sexual act before they reach adulthood.1
  • 25 per cent – 60 per cent of all sexual abuse or assault involves children under 11 years of age. 
  • Children with disabilities are 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than non-disabled children2
  • In over 95 per cent of reported cases of child sexual abuse, the offenders are men.

1 – The National Clearing House on Family Violence, 1994
2 – National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, 1996

Elder Abuse3

  • What may seem like self-neglect may actually be elder abuse.
  • Most victims of elder abuse depend on the people who abuse them, sometimes for food, shelter, personal care, or companionship.
  • Signs of elder abuse include:
  • Depression, fear, anxiety, passivity,
  • Unexplained physical injuries
  • Dehydration or lack of food
  • Poor hygiene, rashes, pressure sores, or
  • Over-sedation
  • Missing money or personal items without explanation
  • Isolation from the community, social services, other family members

3 – http://www.innocents.ca/elderabuse.htm

Research – Abstract – Post-traumatic Stress
Field, T., Seligman, S., Scafidi, F., & Schanberg, S. (1996). Alleviating
posttraumatic stress in children following Hurricane Andrew. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 17, 37-50.

METHOD: Massage therapy was evaluated for the reduction of
anxiety and depression levels of children as measured by behavioral
observations, their drawings, and their cortisol levels. Sixty 1st-5th
graders who showed classroom behaviour problems following Hurricane
Andrew were randomly assigned to a massage therapy or a video attention
group.

RESULTS:
Scores on the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Index suggest
that the subjects were experiencing severe posttraumatic stress.
Subjects who received massage reported being happier and less anxious
and had lower salivary cortisol levels after the therapy than the video
subjects. The massage group showed more sustained changes as manifested
by lower scores for anxiety, depression, and self-drawings. The massage
therapy subjects were also observed to be more relaxed.


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