The Relationship between Manual Therapy and Mental Health as It Is Perceived and Co-created by Recipient and Therapist




Gutierrez, Timothy M.

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Over 40 million Americans suffer some form of anxiety disorder yearly. Numerous studies show the efficacy of massage therapy in reducing stress and anxiety. However, few, if any, examine the relationship between stress/anxiety and massage as it is perceived and co-created by recipients and therapists. I have been a Licensed Massage Therapist since 2003 and have worked in this capacity on the campus of UTSA since 2011. For this project, I massaged twenty-two participants who are affiliated with UTSA in a diversity of ways and interviewed each of them immediately afterward. We discussed the experience of the massage as it related to stress and anxiety, potential explanations of how this relationship works and how the experience was co-created by our interactions. This study revealed a six-step interactive therapeutic strategy that, in simplest terms, includes: palpating and verbalizing tense areas, inquiring, exploring, treating, offering perspective and allowing space. Four categories of outcomes of the massage were identified that can be divided into general, physical, emotional and mental qualities. Six media through which co-creation of the therapeutic experience could be negotiated between client and therapist were identified: discussion during massage, the technical ability of the therapist, personal characteristics of the therapist, environment, helpful predispositions on the part of the participant and a spirit of teamwork. My project contributes to on-going discourses in embodiment theory, social touch and healing dramas within clinical borderlands, a topic domain for which I have coined the term "therapeutic borderlands.".


The author has granted permission for their work to be available to the general public.


Clinical Borderlands, Manual Medicine, Massage Therapy, Medical Anthropology, Mental Health, Stress and Anxiety