The following is an exerpt from: To Touch Or Not To Touch: Rethinking The Prohibition On Touch In Psychotherapy And Counseling. Clinical, Ethical & Legal Considerations
By: Ofer Zur, Ph.D. & Nola Nordmarken, MFT - 2004
MEDICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF MASSAGE
Earliest recorded medical history dates from 25 centuries ago and includes references to medical treatment utilizing touch in Eastern cultures (Miller, 1997). Shamans, in many cultures, used touch as one of the healing practices used to heal mind, body and spirit. Healing practices began to evolve into the science of medicine in the middle ages. Touch healers who had long been honored by their communities gradually lost clout. They were negatively stigmatized by both, medical and religious proponents (Cohen, 1987). By the 17th century, the Christian church conceded control over the physical body and this important historical compromise established the Western split between body and mind/spirit. "In the (modern) technological view of the world, medicine is viewed as an industry and healing as a process to be adapted to the mechanical constructs of assembly-line production" (Hunter & Struve, 1998, p.48). Touch has become almost irrelevant.
Recent research done by the Touch Research Institute has demonstrated that touch triggers a cascade of chemical responses, including a decrease in urinary stress hormones (cortisol, catecholamines, norepinephrine, epinephrine), and increased serotonin and dopamine levels. The shift in these bio-chemicals has been proven to decrease depression (Field, 1998). Hence, touch is good medicine. It also enhances the immune system by increasing natural killer cells and killer cell activity, balancing the ratio of cd4 cells and cd4/cd8 cells. The immune system's cytotoxic capacity increases with touch, thus helping the body maintain its defense against pathogens (Field, 1998).
Massage therapy has been shown to reduce aversion to touch and to decrease anxiety, depression and cortisol levels in women who have been sexually or physically abused (Field, et. al., 1997). It decreases diastolic blood pressure, anxiety and cortisol (stress hormone) levels (Hernandez-Reif, et. al., 2000). One study examined the effects of massage therapy on anxiety and depression levels and on immune function. The subjects received a 45-minute massage five times weekly for a 1-month period. The findings were that: 1) anxiety, stress and cortisol levels were significantly reduced; 2) natural killer cells and natural killer cell activity increased, suggesting positive effects on the immune system (Ironson, et. al., 1996). Bulimic adolescent girls received massage therapy 2 times a week for 5 weeks. Effects included an improved body image, decreased depression and anxiety symptoms, decreased cortisol levels and increased dopamine and serotonin levels. In a study of children with ADHD, touch sensitivity, attention to sounds and off-task classroom behavior decreased and relatedness to teachers increased after massage therapy (Field, et. al., 1997). Following five 30-minute massages, children/adolescents had better sleep patterns, lower level of depression and anxiety and lower stress hormone levels (Field, et. al., 1992). Massage therapy also decreased the anxiety, depression and stress hormone levels of children diagnosed with PTSD, who survived Hurricane Andrew. In addition, their drawings reflected less depression (Field, et. al., 1996).