Dissociation and lack of bodily self-awareness are common among women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, according to this study’s researchers. “Body-Oriented Therapy in Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse: An Efficacy Study” compares therapeutic massage and body-oriented therapy as methods for eliminating these psychological states that inhibit recovery.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Nursing investigated the effectiveness of body-oriented therapy, a treatment approach that combines hands-on bodywork and verbal therapy.

Twenty-four adult females who were in psychotherapy for childhood sexual abuse were randomized into two groups, one that received standardized therapeutic massage, and one that received body-oriented therapy. Over a 10-week period, both groups received sessions in eight, hour-long sessions in university treatment rooms and in research clinicians’ private offices. Two of the clinicians were massage therapists and two were therapists who teach body awareness.

The body-oriented therapy protocol was delivered in three stages, involving massage, body awareness exercises, and an inner-body focusing process. The massage-therapy protocol was standardized and served as a relative control condition to address the lack of touch-based comparisons in bodywork research. Both protocols were delivered over clothes.

Indicators of three key constructs were measured: psychological well-being, physical well-being and body connection. Symptoms were measured using the Brief Symptom Inventory, Dissociative Experiences Scale, Crime-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Scale, a medical-symptoms checklist, scales of body connection, and investment. Results were gathered at baseline, two times during intervention, post-intervention, and at one month and three months follow-up.

Both statistical and qualitative analyses were used to provide both empirical and experiential perspectives on the process. The subjects also completed a demographic questionnaire at baseline, a final questionnaire on their experience of the treatment and perception of its impact, and a follow-up questionnaire about any experience of body-oriented therapy after the study.

Analysis of variance indicated significant improvement for both intervention groups. Although the differences between the two groups were not statistically significant, their answers to open-ended questions revealed that the groups differed on perceived experience of the intervention and its influence on their recovery.

The author states that although the results did not support the study hypothesis, they do provide support for the efficacy of body therapy in recovery from childhood sexual abuse, and that “both massage and body-oriented interventions influence abuse recovery in important but distinct ways.”

Source: School of Nursing, University of Washington, Seattle. Author: Cynthia Price, Ph.D. Originally published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Sept./Oct. 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5, pp. 46–57.