My Sobering Experience at Rehab with Massage Therapy

The other day a client innocently asked me if I worked Saturdays?

I said no. Not anymore.

I recalled that I used to work Saturdays when I lived in Scotland and some of those Saturdays were spent working within an NHS setting at a Drug and Alcohol rehabilitation centre.

Sounding surprised, shocked and a little doubtful the client asked:

What? Massage can help with that? Can it?

Oh Yes. Massage can help people recovering from addiction.

Really?– The client’s facial expression displayed clearly that they were still shocked by the whole idea.

Yes, absolutely in quite a number of ways. I gently gave a few brief examples and we continued our conversation.  However that encounter got me thinking about what an unusual part of my massage career this was and I decided to share my rehab experience with you, so here it is.

For me rehab was a sobering experience it challenged my preconceived notions about who an addict is.
It brought up interesting questions about how comfortable or otherwise was I getting paid to massage them?
Suddenly addiction was on my radar – why does it happen, what is it and how do we as a society handle it?
I learnt a lot about myself, massage, addiction and people across the years I worked there as a Massage Therapist.
In that particular program in Edinburgh, Scotland the patients were not allowed have any money including bus fares and therefore had to walk to get to and from their AA meetings to the residential buildings and then to the hospital.

This level of activity for some of the patients was the first time in a long time they had used and been sober enough to actually feel their muscles being used.

So massage was very useful in relieving the achey sore muscles until they became accustomed to the new levels of daily activity.

There were also a proportion of patients who had become addicts through self medicating physical pain problems so massage was also helpful for those people who had an underlying pain issue.

Another aspect of the rehabilitation program was to teach patients how to exercise. This was an interesting as a few patients on the program just replaced artificial highs for natural endorphins – and over did things! Resulting in pain and muscles in need of help in the way stretching and strengthening.

 Again another area where the knowledge from massage therapists was super beneficial. We could treat and teach self care strategies to the patients.

Nearly all the folks in the programme experienced anxiety and stress. Yes! You guessed it. Massage was a fantastic a non-pharmaceutical solution to this problem coupled with meditation and breathing exercises.

For me one of the most interesting, profound and less obvious ways massage benefitted the patients was by increasing self worth and redressing negative believes about body image which consequently had the affect of raising the self esteem a massage recipients.

Yes working in rehab as a massage therapist was sobering it that the human side of addiction was there in front of you. I learnt that addicts are people –they are all somebody’s special someone sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parent and grandparents.

I learnt how addiction knows no barrier like class or wealth. Addiction saw no difference between the highly educated and poorly educated. Rich or poor, young or old it took away their dignity and ravished their bodies, spirit and minds.

I also learnt about recovery observing over the same people across the weeks you would see them smile, gain weight, muscle tone and strength. You would see them become rounded filled with hope for the future.
Once reticent to receive a treatment, patients were stripping off and jumping on the table before you could say hello!
Yes massage can  help people recovering from addiction.
If you have any question or would like to discuss this topic further please get in touch.
Christine Knox