Mind-body therapy aids recovery for trauma victims

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Mind-body therapy aids recovery for trauma victims

Nursing researcher's novel approach helps women gauge physical aspects of their emotions
Ashley Wiggin

As a licensed massage practitioner, Cynthia Price learned that teaching body-awareness skills to clients gave them more resources to care for themselves. She developed an approach, called "Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy," that combines massage, mindfulness and body awareness.

In 1999, when she came to the UW School of Nursing to pursue a doctorate, she set out to find ways to make the therapy accessible to more people. Her initial studies, with women in recovery from sexual trauma, showed promising results. When her postdoctoral training focused on substance-abuse disorders, she wondered if the therapy might help women in treatment, since most were also victims of interpersonal trauma.

Clare McLean
“This therapy helps [victims of trauma] develop somatic tools for knowing how they feel and responding to their emotions," Cynthia Price said.
Picture of Cynthia Price

On the strength of a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, awarded late last year, Price and her research team are exploring how this therapy can help women recover quicker from substance abuse and avoid relapse.

“Data has shown that about 50 percent of people in substance recovery relapse, and the goal is to reduce that rate by combining this therapy with usual care,” she said.

In the feasibility study, participants who received Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy had less relapse and substance use, as well as reduced psychological distress, compared with those who received usual care only, Price said.

For 11/2 hours weekly over an eight-week span, a trained massage practitioner applies the mind-body therapy individually to women in recovery centers. The therapist helps patients become aware of different areas of the body, to develop the capacity to maintain awareness, and to notice links between physical and emotional experiences in the body so that they will be able to respond to stressful situations in daily life. Clients are re-evaluated three, six and 12 months later.

“Neuroscience research suggests that interoception (sensitivity to stimuli originating inside the body) is a key to emotion regulation,” she said.

Price has worked primarily with women who have sustained some type of trauma. Women in treatment for substance use often turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with their emotions.

“Victims of trauma are often disconnected from their bodies and have few tools for managing their emotions,” she said. “This therapy helps them develop somatic tools for knowing how they feel and responding to their emotions so that they can take better care of themselves.”

Substance-abuse recovery centers that cater to a high-income clientele often have massage therapists on staff. Such services would benefit lower-income populations, too, Price noted, as they tend to suffer from multiple physical and mental conditions and have little social support. Few resources are currently available for this population.

Price hopes this study will help people understand the long-term effectiveness of mind-body therapies in recovery, and help the lower-income centers gain funding to incorporate mind-body approaches for their clients.