4 Skills You'll Need When Working with Clients with PTSD

According to PTSD United, an organization dedicated to providing support and resources for people who suffer from PTSD, roughly 24.4 million people are dealing with PTSD at any given time. Although nearly everyone experiences a traumatic event at some time or another, the difference for people who develop PTSD is that their reactions to the trauma continue instead of resolving naturally over time. Often, people with PTSD will feel stressed even when they aren’t in danger.

Following are the four top skills you'll need when working with clients suffering from PTSD:

1. Relationship building. Developing a professional relationship with clients who have PTSD often means more than simply explaining the benefits of massage therapy. These clients are going to need to know they can trust you, and that may require spending more time talking before a massage therapy session begins, says Pamela Fitch, the author of Talking Body, Listening Hands: A Guide to Professionalism, Communication and the Therapeutic Relationship, and a massage therapist with extensive experience working with clients with PTSD. “Clients who have a history of trauma may ‘suss’ out the therapist, ask questions, call ahead and even interview the therapist prior to allowing themselves to become vulnerable in the treatment room,” she adds.

2. Get experience. Working with clients with PTSD is best-suited for massage therapists who have some massage experience. “Definitely, years in practice will help to ensure that the therapist does not try to do too much,” Fitch says. Cynthia Price, a research professor at the University of Washington and massage therapist, agrees, though adds that additional training specific to working with mental health issues and trauma in particular is a good idea, too. “This can include reading the literature as well as taking courses,” she explains. “There is a lot of training available for mental health practitioners that is excellent background for massage therapists.” You do need to be mindful of your scope of practice as a massage therapist, however.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. From the intake to the massage therapy session to the close of the session, communication is imperative for clients with PTSD. For the most part, intake with a client with PTSD will be very similar to all the other intakes you do, with one distinct difference: “The intake process can appear the same, but the therapist’s intention should be to ensure the client’s safety,” Fitch says. “This may require that the therapist ask about a client’s touch history.”

4. Go slow. Clients with PTSD are going to need you to work at their pace, whether that’s during intake or a massage therapy session. “The biggest challenges are to work slowly, conservatively and try not to rush,” says Fitch. “Taking the time demonstrates to the client that the therapist appreciates their need for feeling safe and in control.”

More Resources

Get more information on how massage therapy can help clients with the symptoms of PTSD by reading the full article from the Summer 2016 issue of Massage Therapy Journal.

"Being a member of AMTA has totally opened my business and career wide open."

Kelly L., AMTA member since 2010