You've likely come across the term "co-regulation" in the context of the parent-child relationship, where a parent models behavior or provides emotional support to regulate a child's nervous system during a tantrum.
Now, let's delve into how co-regulation occurs in a massage therapy setting, shedding light on its relevance in various interactions in our lives. And also explaining how and why massage therapy starts before massage starts.
Co-regulation can de defined as a process wherein an individual with a regulated nervous system - feeling safe and relaxed - effectively shares their calm with someone whose nervous system is in disarray.
The reality is, we're always either helping each other stay calm or causing stress. Whether it's how we talk to a waitress, engage in a business meeting, or communicate with our partner, being aware of this can make interactions more comforting. Here's how co-regulation unfolds in a massage room: Many clients express feeling relaxed even before I begin the massage. Here's the reason why.
Co-regulation in a therapy room
Tone of voice: As a therapist, I communicate with a warm, reassuring, and confident tone.
Verbal acknowledgment of tension: Recognising and addressing physical or emotional tension psychologically helps individuals feel seen and understood.
Reassuring presence: This is a tricky one and comes only with experience. It is the therapist's confidence in their ability to meet your needs, not just in alleviating pain and technically knowing how to manipulate your body, but in being able to fully embrace and hold you as you come.
Eye Contact: Establishing warm, compassionate, and reassuring eye contact creates a connection, acknowledging the human need to be seen and understood.
Syncing the breath: This is another tricky one. I may slow down and deepen my breath while you are telling me how you are doing, indirectly inviting you to slow down your breath. But humans are not according to the book, right? So, sometimes, I do completely the opposite - I may adjust my approach to meet yours, as a client, arousal level. And once we “meet,” the connection is established, and now there is a space to slow down.
Staying Present: Encouraging clients to describe their sensations in detail serves as an indirect invitation to return to the present moment. And once we return to the present moment, the nervous system can start to calm down. There is also another aspect to it - the way the client talks about their pain/tension tells me more than any label they would put on it.
Physical touch: The quality and intention of it, especially the very first contact with the body. The quality of the first touch sets the tone for the client's sense of safety. If the body perceives safety (aka, if it feels accepted in its isness), it allows the therapist the access, enhancing the effectiveness of the bodywork.
The journey toward inner harmony begins long before reclining on the massage table. The quality of touch and a solid understanding of anatomy is crucial, as is every other step of the process.
As a therapist, my responsibility is to meet you exactly as you are, wherever you are. I am not looking for you to be softer, less stressed, more relaxed, or less doubtful about my ability to fix your pain.
I embrace you in your raw authenticity, allowing the organic flow of co-regulation to unfold. And, myself, I trust this process. Because it is only when your body feels secure in its unedited state that the true essence of co-regulation can manifest.