Psychotherapy & Massage Therapy: Better Together

When you began working in your chosen profession, you developed a clear idea of what your clients would need from you when they came to see you.

Massage therapy? Work with the body to improve a client’s quality of life.

Psychotherapy? Work with the mind to do the same.

The trouble we run into, whatever type of therapy we’ve studied, is that while our profession treat parts of a person instead of the whole, a real human being is not so easily divided up. And that means that as therapists we often run into situations where a client needs something that is beyond our scope of practice and expertise.

There are a lot of issues that inspire people to seek the help of a therapist that straddle the borders between mind, body and spirit (in fact, some would argue that there are very few issues that don’t). Sexual and other physical trauma, eating disorders and other body issues are some poignant examples of situations that have really intense mental and physical components.

Massage can trigger painful memories that have been stored in the body and cause an emotional meltdown on the table.

Talk therapy can only go so far when a client’s issue involves total alienation of the body; touch can be an essential part of the process.

So then the question becomes, how can massage therapists and psychotherapists work together? How can we bring the best of what we do to a situation, without doing to much or too little?

Working together: Tips for effective partnerships

Know what you can provide, and what you can’t.

Ok, you already know this but as a reminder:

Massage therapists have a lot to offer in terms of increasing serotonin and dopamine, modelling and teaching safe touch, feelings of body acceptance, and reducing or retraining hyperplexia (exaggerated startle response). Talking about issues and giving options or suggestions (other than referrals) is outside the scope of massage therapy.

In addition to helping people to process and cope with painful emotions and memories, psychotherapists tend to be pretty skilled with boundaries, and good at identifying some of the tricky dynamics that can arise in interpersonal work like transference, projection, etc.. Using touch or other body work is outside of most psychotherapy training.

Know what your colleagues can provide, and use them.

If you're psychotherapist who has never had a massage - get one. Same with massage therapists. If you've never done talk therapy - try it out.

Part of being a great therapist is being able to help clients identify what else could be helpful. Get knowledgeable about how other disciplines can help with the issues your clients face, and let them know all their options! A more holistic approach should help them feel better faster, and isn’t that our goal?


Get to know who’s doing what in your therapy community. Network to find folks whose approach you feel comfortable with and whose skills you trust. Talk to them on how you can partner on referrals, hold joint sessions and create customized treatment plans that address the whole person. Your clients will get the benefit of a holistic approach, and you’ll gain a huge amount of insight and knowledge by seeing how your colleagues come at the same problem from a different angle.

Have you collaborated with other professions in providing treatment? Do you think it’s a good idea? What excites you or worries you about it? Let us know!



All great ideas for collaboration. And then there is the third option. Integrative therapy. Much like integrative medicine; when practiced well - it's "the cat's pajamas" (note to website admin: see the reference :!) Seriously, though - as the author noted; how can you heal only PART of you, if ALL of you is unwell at a particular time? Or maybe not unwell at all; just the not at your optimum? My preferred bodywork specialist is actually a Licensed Medical Physical Therapist; (works for a hospital and her services are reimbursed by insurance companies - if one is lucky enough to even have P.T. coverage! - another story, another time). BUT, she has enough C.E.U.s in psychotherapy and "alternative talk and body modalities" too - that she is able to provide many services in ONE package. She also knows where her own boundaries are; and never hesitates to say," you need to see someone who specializes in 'rape recovery' or 'bulimia' or.... take your pick of issues. Just as when she encounters physical damage beyond her scope, she says, "you need to go back to the orthopedic physician, the rheumatologist, or whatever specialist you are seeing for your particular disorder". She also recommends practitioners outside her field - she, herself, uses a CMT for regular "adjustments" - bodyworkers NEED to maintain their own bodies, too! Interesting, isn't it - she doesn't use another P.T.; or a physician or even an acupuncturist for "maintenance" - she chooses to use a CMT; one that she knows and trusts. Respect. It's always about respect.

So, what if you can't find one these "angels" who "does it all" when you need it? Well, how about an integrative center that is FOCUSED on the type of approach the author is (and rightly so!) promoting? They are becoming more prevalent both in and outside of city limits. It is my hope, and to a certain extent, my expectation - that we are all headed in this direction (integrative approaches) for both physical and emotional well-being. Look in your community's "health" newsletters/magazines found at your local health food store, or practitioner's office - or even, in my own case - at the local YMCA! There you will find advertisements and offers - go and check out the possibilities. It is time to take back both our bodies and our minds!

I've actually had really good experiences with this. I had a chest injury that lasted my whole life and only ever had breakthroughs when the treatment (in this case deep tissue massage) was mixed with some emotional work.

Great stuff Leigh!

@Blog Tyrant: So glad to hear that you DID eventually find a mixed modality that worked for you. Thanks for sharing your positive feedback! Denise

Your information is very wonderful. I am a LMT for many years. when I read my intake forms and see my clients have a bunch of anti anxiety, anti depression, and anti whatever meds I wonder if they've ever considered massage as a regular part of their mental health regimen.