We’ve all had days where we feel sad or blue. Nobody can be happy all of the time, and changes in mood, feelings of sadness sometimes, are perfectly normal. For some people, however, these feelings are more persistent and severe, interfering with everyday activities, lowering energy levels and interrupting sleep, for example. When these feelings begin to take over and noticeably change a person’s quality of life, seeing a mental health professional—and getting a depressiondiagnosis—can be the first step in getting the help they need.
For many who suffer, the solution most talked about is psychotherapy, where a person sees a trained mental health professional to talk (and perhaps be prescribed medication). But that approach doesn’t always work equally well for everyone. Now, people are also beginning to better understand how a combination of treatment options can be beneficial, and massage therapy is showing some promise in helping people better handle this condition.
Remember, too, that depression isn’t just mental health issues—some of the symptoms manifest physically, too. “Depression is considered a mental illness, but one feels it in the body as well, a sense of heaviness in the corporeal,” says Alice Sanvito, a massage therapist and owner of Massage-St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri. “The physical experience of massage can change the physical sensation of heaviness to something lighter and can restore the feeling of living in one’sbody again instead of being lost in one’s head.”
When you ask exactly how massage therapy works to benefit people with depression, the most accurate answer is “we don’tyet know.” But that’s not to say the benefits aren’t real, and some, like Christopher Moyer, PhD and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, posit that massage therapy may work in similar ways as psychotherapy. “The size and effect of massage therapy on trait anxiety and depression is virtually the same as that routinely found in the research studies of psychotherapy for those same conditions,” he explains. “Typically, both take place in a private setting and are based on a ‘50-minute hour’ for the length of the session. Repeated sessions on a weekly schedule—or similar—would be a traditional or common pattern when the goal is long-term reduction of anxiety or depression.”
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