By Gerry Pyves, NO HANDS Massage Founder & Creator
Ever since I started my first training in therapeutic Massage, I found myself nursing a conviction that deep and powerful Massage was having a profound PSYCHOLOGICAL effect on both myself and my clients. Twenty eight years and over 20,000 treatments later I find this conviction permeates every fibre of my being, just like rings permeate the trunk of a tree. This conviction has become part of who I am.
Nor has this belief come from merely giving Massage and watching the changing lives of my clients. I discovered very early on that I learned more about Massage by being a client than any training course could ever teach me. Over the years I have logged over a thousand treatments as a client. I still learn more about how I am really doing “in myself” during that weekly hour on the Massage plinth than in practically any other situation I know.
However, it was only when I trained and qualified as a psychotherapist, that I found the explanation for what I was experiencing daily in my Massage treatment room.
So, this article is about what psychology has to teach us about why Massage can be so life transforming. In particular, I am describing the psychological approach of Transactional Analysis as developed by Eric Berne and many subsequent and brilliant T.A. psychotherapists. Transactional Analysis is the psychotherapeutic approach I use in all my work with clients and in my educational work with Massage students and the public. It also informs how I manage the day to day management of my training company. So just how does the psychological theory of Transactional Analysis help us to understand the transformational power of touch?
In his book “What Do You Say After You Say Hello?”(1972) and in all his other books, Eric Berne explains how, deep down in the psyche – in the murky world of our UNCONSCIOUS in fact – lies our LIFE SCRIPT. This life script is the single reason we find ourselves in situations we really don’t want to be in. Not only that, but we find ourselves returning to that place again and again. Perhaps it is something to do with our relationships, or our health or our work.
According to Berne, at the root of this LIFE SCRIPT lie our INJUNCTIONS, which generally begin with the word “Don’t”. Some examples would be:
Don’t Make it
Don’t Be Close
Berne was obsessed with the connection between his clients’ lives and how much they resembled Fairy Tales. Consequently, he called these INJUNCTIONS “Witch Curses” in order to express the venom and damage they can do to us. These INJUNCTIONS fuel our beliefs and actions even though we are not aware of them. They are very deeply rooted in the Psyche. We formed them before the age of three. They have become “who we are”.
The healing antidote to the poison of these INJUNCTIONS is, in fact, a PERMISSION. This would be characterised in fairy tales by the benign spell of the fairy godmother. Such life transforming permissions often arrive with the sentence that begins “It’s OK to…. “be” or “Feel” or “Make it” or “Be Close”. However, the great myth and self delusion of much psychotherapy is that simply by becoming AWARE of our INJUNCTIONS and giving ourselves new PERMISSIONS in the form of grown up language, we will be ‘sorted out’.
Not a bit..
Awareness is but the first step. LIFE SCRIPT lives and thrives deep in the bottomless sea of our UNCONSCIOUS, so the odd grown up word or thought is but a drop in this vast ocean. Trying to change this script in a grown up way is simply fiddling with the icing on a cake – no wonder so many of our resolutions to make changes only last a short while. How many New Year’s resolutions are dead and buried by lunch the next day?
The analogy would be to sit in a boat out in the deep ocean and believe that by pushing the water in a certain direction with my paddle, I am causing the deep ocean currents to also flow in that same direction. What folly!
What needs to happen for a person’s life to be healed of this toxic belief or INJUNCTION is to reconfigure the SCRIPT itself right in the place where it lives.
Which brings us to the thorny question: where exactly in the UNCONSCIOUS does our script actually live?
If you really want to get an idea of the immensity of the UNCONSCIOUS then watch the film INCEPTION. In this film Leonardo Di Caprio and his colleagues enter another person’s dreaming mind. Unfortunately, he loses a colleague and ends up trying to rescue him deep in the layers of another person’s mind. It certainly conveys how like a “needle in a haystack” finding SCRIPT could be.
Except that Eric Berne did just that.
He located the script deep in the CHILD EGO STATE of each of us and positioned it in the very early formation of that part of our Psyche – right in the part where we would ‘somatise’ our thoughts and feelings directly through the body. This is the part of our life when we would have a tummy ache because we were experiencing difficulty in leaving home for school. It comes from that golden age when thoughts and feelings were utterly inseparable from the body. We felt happy so we thought happy and well, we just danced.
This is the time in our life when we somatised our thoughts and feelings instantaneously. There was no need to explain to either ourselves or to others that “I feel happy”, we just laughed and giggled and danced. It was instant holistic living!
It was the Garden of Eden of our magical childhood when we were just “one” with every part of ourselves and with the whole world.
THE SOMATIC CHILD
Berne named this part of ourselves THE SOMATIC CHILD because of the unified physicality of this stage of our life. Now, this has some serious implications for those of us involved in Massage therapy….
You are probably already beginning to see the connection between our psychological state and the role of physical MASSAGE. My own view is simple. If psychotherapists actually understood what script really was and where it lived, then they would all want to become MASSAGE THERAPISTS…
The Massage treatment room is the place where we daily soothe away people’s existential anxieties with the reassurance of gentle flowing touch. Such anxieties often emanate from the toxic injunction “Don’t Be”. Here in the Massage treatment room where no words are spoken, is the place where we can communicate directly with this part of the psyche that Berne called our SOMATIC CHILD. We do this in precisely the language this SOMATIC CHILD understands; physical (somatic) touch. Touch does that. It speaks volumes about “It’s OK to Be” and it does this through a hundred different movements that are felt all over the body.
Likewise, the Massage treatment room is the place where we daily contradict the toxic and damaging belief of “Don’t Feel” with the antidote permission to breath and experience the soothing sensations of this body that we live in.
Here in the Massage treatment room, where no words are spoken, is the place where we can communicate directly with the part of the psyche that needs to know if it is safe to reconnect with the body and thereby shake hands with our energy and most importantly our feelings. Touch does that. It speaks volumes about “It’s OK to Feel” and it does this through a hundred different movements that are felt all over the body.
Clients experiencing emotional release during a Massage session is as commonplace as people buying sweets at a petrol station when they fill up their car with petrol. It is not what they came for, but when we fill up with touch, all sorts of good things can happen.
In the same way it is in the Massage treatment room that the permission to “Be Close” is delivered non verbally to our SOMATIC CHILD. The sheer respect of nurturing touch, a touch that simply gives and gives and gives, does that. As each flowing stroke cascades across the body and mind it causes whole buildings and edifices of “Don’t Be Close” to collapse and fall to the ground like leaves falling gracefully to the ground in Autumn…
Here in the Massage treatment room, where no words are spoken, is the place where we can communicate directly with the part of the psyche that needs to know if it is safe to be a success in life and “Make it”. The deep kneading strokes that realign the back muscles into their optimal position so we can stand tall and be proud and be the best that we can be, does that. This touch speaks volumes about “It’s OK to Make it” and it does this through a hundred different movements that are felt all over the body.
The reason we need this Massage to flow across our whole body is because of the amazing connection between our skin and the brain…
The different zones of the body are called dermatomes. This is because we have mapped out which part of the brain is sending and receiving signals to which part of the body. If we reverse this medical thinking we arrive at an amazing conclusion. When we Massage different parts of the body, then we are literally massaging the brain. If the flowing or kneading movements are sending an antidote remission to “Feel” or “Be”, “Be Close” or “Make it”, then this message is being sent to the whole brain as we travel around the different dermatomes of the body with our flowing touch.
The somatic psychotherapy aspect of Massage should not be too surprising. Biologists are now discovering that the cells of each human being evolved in utero in three distinct growing layers:
- The endomorphic or inner layer, which concerns itself mainly with digestion and the internal organs
- The mesomorphic or middle layer, which concerns itself largely with muscle bone and tendon
- The exomorphic or outer layer, which concerns itself largely with the skin and the brain
Knowing that the skin and the brain originate from the same exomorphic growing layer and are inextricably linked, may go a long way to explaining the psychological power of touch and Massage.
We touch the skin, we touch the mind.
Bob and Mary Goulding were outstanding Transactional Analysis Psychotherapists. They became renowned for their development of The Redecision School of T.A. in the 70s and 80s. As they sought to work with the younger child part of the psyche, they began to realise that whilst there were indeed thousands of different injunctions that we could all receive, most of them boiled down to variations of just twelve injunctions. They realised that these twelve injunctions were at the roots of almost all human unhappiness and dysfunction. Whilst they accepted this list was not an exhaustive list, it certainly addresses the issues of most people. Here are the twelve injunctions:
Don’t be You
Don’t be Close
Don’t be a Child
Don’t Grow up
Don’t Make it
Don’t Do Anything
Don’t Be Important
Don’t be Well
In the table below I have gone a step further in order to aid your recognition of these twelve injunctions in real life. To the right of the injunction column, I have put some of the behaviours you might see in lives lived under the toxic curse these injunctions. This is the “Footprints” column. To the right of this behavioural column I have given the injunction a name that puts it a little closer to the three year old language of fairy tales. This is the “Witch Curse” column.
The part of us that believes and holds these injunctions is still three years old. She still talks in the language of children. This is why she immediately “gets” what the touch is saying, without any need to go on training courses about the meaning of touch or Massage. With our touch we are giving somatic PERMISSIONS solidly for a whole hour as antidotes to these injunctions. What on this Earth could be more healing to the psyche?
THE TWELVE SOMATIC PERMISSIONS OF MASSAGE
I began to wonder just how many of these twelve antidote permissions are already given somatically and non verbally through deep, powerful and safe Massage.
When someone touches you soothingly and deeply in a safe and accepting way, how much of a permission “To Exist” might there be in that hour? How deep might that permission go? How much acceptance is there that it is OK to just “Be You” in a massage that traces all the unique contours of your body?
What messages are contained about “belonging” and “being close” in an hour long session where one human being silently touches another without a hidden agenda? What messages of encouragement are contained in the powerful and deep mulching strokes of a profound structural Massage about being free to be “healthy” and “effective” as a “grown up” adult?
What physical messages of playfulness and it being “OK to be a child” are communicated by the shaking and rocking that goes on in every good Massage treatment? What encouragement is there to “feel” and experience life fully breathing into the powerful here and now treatment of a Massage?
When a Massage therapist takes time at the beginning of the session to ask you how you want to feel by the end of the session and then does exactly what you say and you get exactly what you wanted, is this not a permission “To Think” and to immediately feel the benefits and rewards of that thinking, physically?
What permission is there in having regular massage to actually “make it” in life and do whatever you want and be as “important” as you want? Almost all successful people that I know have regular weekly Massage. How important would you feel if you gave this to yourself? I defy anyone to have a year of weekly Massage and remain the same.
How much permission “To Be Healthy” is contained in a Massage and how much sanity is there in checking out the reality of my body at least once every week?
Once I realised that Massage in itself provides a physical permission to every single one of the twelve injunctions, I began to understand why so many of my Massage clients were experiencing such profound and positive life changes. This was happening because they were receiving powerful somatic permissions without a word being uttered. Even more amazing, all of this was happening without either of us realising how or why this was happening.
Touch does that. It simply works, even when we do not have the words
to explain why it works.
Although anonymised, you should know that each client has discussed this article with me and has given their consent to me writing about their session in this way. What was particularly striking about these three sessions is that they all happened on the same day. I was so struck by their transformational power that I forced myself to write detailed notes of each session before going home at the end of the day, something I am not particularly good at doing, normally.
When asked why she had come for her Massage, Amy shared with me her growing realisation that she needed to ‘speak out’ in her life and speak her truth more. This was the result of other personal development work that she was doing and she wondered if the Massage could help her in this. As I am not yet able to categorically or honestly state what Massage cannot do, I said that if she thought it could help, then I would be willing to support her in her endeavour.
This client was also doing some work on her life script through fairy tales and shared with me that if her life was a Fairy Tale it might look a bit like Snow White. By this she meant she related to Snow White hiding away deep in the forest, keeping her life and her truth a secret.
Because Amy had done some basic training in Transactional Analysis, I asked her what injunction might have been lurking around deep in her UNCONSCIOUS. Amy said that she held a deep “Don’t Be You” belief. This certainly fitted with her behaviour. After all, if you don’t believe it is OK to speak your truth then deep down, you probably don’t believe it is OK to be you. What do you think?
So Amy and I agreed that she wanted to use this Massage to send a new permission deep into her psyche that it was “OK to be YOU”. She wanted to anchor this permission deep in her SOMATIC CHILD. We agreed that the Massage would be slow and soothing and flowing. Do you think that soothing and gently flowing Massage is an effective somatic way to say:
“It’s OK to be You. You are you and there is only one of you. You are brilliant, eternal, a child of God and UTTERLY UNIQUE. It is safe to let your light shine.”
At the end of the Massage, as Amy walked around the room she described a new sense of solidity in her walk and in her body. She said she felt much more “here” and much less anxious. She said that the Massage had touched her deeply and that she actually felt a very young and deeply anxious part of her had been soothed and healed during the Massage.
During this conversation at the end of the treatment, she then shared a very important story about her childhood that she had never shared with anyone else. I took this as phenomenological evidence that the “It’s OK to Be You” (and speak your truth) permission had sunk deep into her psyche. She looked calm and purposeful in her walk, as if the world had better watch out for this calm and healing woman. She looked as if she might well go out and change the world with this quiet and determined power.
I have been amazed at the number of my clients and students who do just that after their experience of the power of Massage – they go out and let their light shine in the world.
Paul complained of a tight neck and shoulder when I asked him why he had come for a treatment. When I asked what might have caused this, he had no answer. For me there was a sense of the answer lying hidden in the room but that now was definitely not the time to probe.
So I got on with the (structural) Massage and it was a privilege to work with him as he was such an awesome client. Each breath was an opening and a release. As my own bodyweight pressed into his soft tissues through my hands and arms, I could feel his body melting and sinking deeper and deeper into the table.
At the end of the session, As Paul walked around the room, he said: “You know the reason I am so tight is because I haven’t had a Massage in four months – since I last saw you, in fact. That’s really silly isn’t it?”
I have to say I agreed with him.
“It’s like I need your permission to go and see another Massage therapist,” he laughed and then said “My God, what a crazy thought that is! It’s like I am being disloyal if I see someone else.”
This was indeed a ridiculous thought as it took Paul over five hours to drive to see me from London and another five hours to drive back. There were hundreds of good Massage therapists within an hour’s journey of his home to give him the structural release that his body needed.
Amidst much laughter we discussed how he had taken from the treatment a permission not only to “Be Close” but also to “Be Close with Others”. Allowing my touch in had been a big journey for Paul, one that had not been easy. He had been seeing me occasionally over a whole year. Once he had achieved safety with one therapist (me) he realised he had now hit another and very jealous “witch curse” injunction.
As we discussed this I said it sounded a bit like Rapunzel not being allowed out of her tower, and getting punished for forming attachments with other people. Paul put his hand to his mouth and said “But that is exactly what I felt as a Child.” He went on to describe the intense insecurity he had experienced as a Child and that recently he had discovered that he was literally “stolen away” from his real parents due to a family scandal and his Aunt had pretended to be his mother. This Aunt guarded him jealously and never allowed him to interact with the rest of the family to protect both him and his real mother.
We discussed whether this realisation was an indication that he had used this Massage treatment to give himself a permission to form stable attachments where insecurity and jealousy no longer stopped him from forming many attachments. Amidst much laughter and a few tears (a further indication of the involvement of her SOMATIC CHILD), Paul stated that it would be much more convenient to have treatments nearer his home. I said this sounded eminently sensible to me.
Paul rang me three weeks later to proudly announce that he had received a FANTASTIC Massage from another therapist and that he felt really free in a way he could not logically explain.
For reasons that neither of us were consciously aware of at the time, Paul took a profound permission to be free and perhaps even “To Grow Up and leave home” from the structural and deep Massage treatment I had given him.
My last client of the day arrived having overcome phenomenal obstacles to travelling to Morecambe where I work. All the West Coast trains were cancelled for the day! When she arrived after this Herculean journey she said quite simply “I want to be connected to my body and to the human race.”
Now this particular client had an incredible history of illness – which clearly stopped her from being fully alive and fully a part of society. She was forever having to ‘retire’ from life due to her illness. After a lot of personal work over many years she reported that she was ‘well’ and so she wanted to really let herself ‘get stuck in’ to life.
To me, if this client was in a Fairy Tale then it sounded a bit like Cinderella finally getting out the house and GOING TO THE BALL. I am not sure what specific INJUNCTION Lucy was running – in truth it could have been any one of a thousand. However, the purpose of the Massage was to reinforce her decision to ‘rejoin the human race.” Eric Berne called this “taking out your subscription to the human race.” It really was about getting connected.
Lucy wanted to be connected to her body, connected to the Earth and connected with another human being. My gut feeling was that she had a “Don’t Belong” injunction but I never checked this out with her.
So we agreed on a lovely slow and deep Massage in what I call the connecting style. At the end of the Massage Lucy was surprised at how open she felt in her upper body and how much taller she was walking. It was as if she was taking her space in the world physically. She also talked about feeling wider and bigger and I have to say, she looked truly amazing. She also described how feminine she felt in her hips as she walked which made me wonder about a “Don’t be You” or a “Don’t Be a Woman” injunction as well.
Whatever the injunction, this client walked out demonstrating in her body movements that she had taken a somatic PERMISSION to fill her allotted space on this planet and with the rest of the human race.
She looked like she really was going to the ball – instead of to the train station for an uncertain journey back!
This article set out to describe what psychological theory offers Massage therapists to help us understand the life transforming power of what we do. By using the Transactional Analysis models of LIFE SCRIPT and INJUNCTIONS created by Eric Berne, we can see clearly how the powerful touch of therapeutic Massage can offer the twelve antidote PERMISSIONS needed to reach the deepest part of our psyche, the SOMATIC CHILD.
This is the Holy Grail of all psychotherapy and Massage therapists are doing it every day, whether we realise it or not.
Following injury to both his hands whilst giving a Massage treatment, Gerry embarked on a 25-year journey, creating over 100 new zero-strain strokes. The result was much more than just a way to Massage without injury – it was a complete revolution in the way that Massage is delivered.