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  • Writer's pictureAmy Lazenby, Certified Massage Therapist

Massage therapy as an effective counterpart to psychotherapy

A therapeutic massage doesn’t just relax the body and feel good, it is beneficial to mental health as well. The relaxation response induced by massage therapy can help regulate levels of stress, help control anxiety, and help manage depression, making it an effective counterpart to psychotherapy.

The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. Through Mental Health America’s online screening program, screenings taken between January and September of 2020 showed many areas of concern. Perhaps some of the most concerning statistics were those showing that more and more young people are struggling with their mental health but not getting the help they need. “60% of youth with depression do not receive any mental health treatment. And even in states with the greatest access, 1 in 3 are going without treatment.” (MHA, 2021) Following is a link to this years’ report, which includes a spotlight on the impact of Covid-19 on mental health.

With so many struggling to manage their mental health, the impact on long-term health is indeed cause for concern. This is where massage, as a counterpart to psychotherapy, can have great therapeutic value. The alarming correlation between stress and certain health conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and insomnia, to name only a few, makes managing stress a crucial factor in maintaining overall health. Regular massage is of great benefit to various regulatory systems in the body, which work together to achieve homeostasis, or the body’s ability to maintain a stable internal environment.

Research has shown that long term stress is an obvious risk factor for heart attack. In one study, “researchers showed that patients who suffered a heart attack had statistically significant higher levels of cortisol during the month preceding the event.” (, 2021) Massage therapy, especially on a regular basis, helps decrease levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol and increase the “feel good” hormones dopamine and serotonin. Massage is also known to decrease the heart rate and blood pressure and to increase blood circulation. With massage, the “mobilization of skin, connective tissue, muscle tissue and the periosteum, stimulates receptors that send messages of relaxation to the central nervous system. These reflexes cause vasodilation, resulting in decreased blood pressure and heart rate.” (Institute for Integrative Healthcare, 2007) Lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and increased circulation, contribute to the relaxation response, comforting the body, and calming the mind. In fact, during a massage, “functional brain imaging studies show that changes take place in many areas of the brain involved in regulating emotions and stress response including the amygdala and the hypothalamus.” (Psychology Today, 2018)

The cumulative effects of massage on the body can produce a sense of well-being, comfort, and even trust, vital aspects of mental health care. Physically, it can improve pain often associated with anxiety and depression, by reducing muscle tension and lengthening the muscle, and restoring circulation to ischemic tissue. As discussed, the physiological changes that occur with massage are equally as beneficial. The autonomic nervous system becomes balanced, regulating the body’s stress response and decreasing the heart and respiratory rate, promoting a sense of deep relaxation, an essential component in therapy that addresses anxiety. When muscle tension and pain are reduced, and anxiety diminished, the nervous system is provided with relief, a period of calm, which is restorative and healing in nature.

In turn, massage therapy may help those suffering from depression to feel:

*increased energy levels

*reduced stress levels

*improves rational thinking and memory

*feelings of well-being and relaxation

*increased creativity

*clarity of mind

*peaceful mental and emotional state

With regularity, it is possible that massage could help those suffering from depression to overcome:

*low self-esteem



*chronic stress

*eating disorders and irregular appetite

(Natural Therapy Pages, 2021)

Massage has therapeutic benefits that reach far beyond relieving aching muscles. When used as a holistic counterpart to psychotherapy, it can help remediate the most harmful effects of stress, anxiety, and depression, and be a substantial aspect of the recovery process.


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