November 25th 2012 -
When Your Client Experiences a Healing Crisis
By Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Any person receiving bodywork can experience what is known in the industry as a “healing
crisis”. Such an occurrence can be frightening, both for the client and for the therapist. Learn
how to identify the symptoms of a healing crisis and what steps for prevention you can
suggest to clients.
Also known as the "Herxheimer Reaction", a healing crisis occurs when the body tries to
eliminate toxins at a faster rate than they can be disposed of. The more toxic one's bodily
systems are, the more severe the detoxification experience, or healing crisis. This reaction
signifies that the bodywork received is working and that your client’s body is going through
the process of cleaning itself of impurities, toxins and imbalances. While a healing crisis is
temporary, it can occur immediately, within several days or several weeks after a bodywork
session. Symptoms usually pass within several days, but can persist for several weeks. Often
the crisis will come after a client feels their very best.
A healing crisis is a reaction to previously sequestered toxins being systemically released.
Such poisons can be stored in all kinds of tissues, primarily muscle, fascia and adipose. During
manipulation, whether it’s deep tissue massage, energy work or reflexology, these poisons are
squeezed out of the holding body tissue into the bloodstream. This sudden increase in blood
toxicity causes a toxicity reaction, until the body is able to effectively process and eliminate
the poisons. While not a pleasant experience, a healing crisis signifies that a cleansing and
purifying process is underway.
While cleansing can be physical, emotional or spiritual, a true healing crisis typically involves
all three of these aspects. Due to the body’s fascinating ability to store memories and
emotions in the tissues, their recollection or release can accompany the manipulation of those
tissues. Most practitioners refer to the surfacing of memories or emotions without physical
symptoms as an emotional release. An emotional release is a typical component of most
Most people have some emotional issues or traumas occurring sometime in their life.
Whenever an emotional trauma or situation happens it is stored in the nervous system.
Though we may think we are over it and not even remember it, the mark or impression could
still be there and negatively affect our health and psychology. During any form of bodywork it
is possible to release these stored issues or traumas. An emotional release may give rise to
feelings of anger, grief or another emotion. This release is indicative of a healthful body
transformation, where the body clears itself of the negativity previously stored within.
Learning to suppress our feelings typically causes them to go into our physical bodies. The
tensing of neck muscles will prohibit frowning, holding one’s breath can replace crying and jaw
clenching may stifle yelling. When these patterns are repeated, emotional suppression
becomes a habit, the unconscious mind takes over, and the body becomes a storehouse for
unexpressed, unconscious feelings.
Suppressed emotions and traumas are a key factor in the development of muscular tension,
high blood pressure, heart disease, immune weakness and other diseases. Most practitioners
agree that real healing begins when this suppression is released, freeing the body to heal at
the deepest level.
What are the symptoms of a healing crisis?
While each individual’s body is unique, there are some common symptoms typical of a healing
crisis. Below is a list of Herxheimer Reaction symptoms most often experienced after receiving
• Dizziness and light-headedness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Low-grade fever
• Joint and muscle aches
• An odd or metallic taste in the mouth
• Muscle cramps
• Skin eruptions
• Intense emotional states
• Increased sweating, urination or defecation
Is this a healing crisis?
After a session, a client may experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms. In order to
feel confident that this is a healing crisis, and not stemming from different etiology, the
following causes should be ruled out:
• Low blood sugar – A hypoglycemic reaction can cause light-headedness, dizziness, nausea
• Pregnancy – A new pregnancy can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
• Starting to get sick – Catching a cold can cause dizziness, headache, feverishness, nausea,
achiness and fatigue.
If the therapist is unsure of the reasoning behind a client’s maladies, and the client is
concerned, refer them to their physician.
How do you prevent or minimize its course?
The best strategy to prevent or minimize a healing crisis is to support and facilitate the body’s
toxin removal and encourage emotional health.
The best ways to facilitate toxin removal are:
• Hydration - Drinking extra water immediately following and sequentially after bodywork to
aid the body in toxic elimination through urination and perspiration.
• Fiber – Increasing dietary fiber will support the gastrointestinal system’s swift removal of
waste via the bowels.
• Sleep – Feelings of fatigue or sleepiness are best honored. Listening to one’s body by getting
the rest it asks for will help the body in its recovery process.
During an emotional release, the most important item a therapist can lend is a safe
environment while being supportive of the client’s process. Since bodyworkers are not trained
as psychotherapists, below are some suggestions to best convey safety and support:
• Grounding - If appropriate, maintain a grounding touch with your client. This can take
different forms, depending on the therapist’s level of education and comfort around grounding.
• Listening - Focus on listening, not counseling. Clients often need to verbalize their feelings to
be able to move past them.
• It’s okay - Confirm to your client that an emotional release is not only okay, but it will
amplify the effectiveness of your session. This can be prefaced by stating that when an
emotion surfaces, the body is saying it's time to let it go.
Most releases surface and resolve quickly. However, if a client exhibits frequent, strong
emotional releases during sessions, or if the client’s anxiety or fear increases as a result of
bodywork, it's important they seek the help of a professional counselor.
A healing crisis may take both bodyworker and client by surprise, but being prepared for its
possibility can be a freeing, learning experience. A therapist may wish to discuss this aspect of
healing with their client prior to a session, or may find this information helpful during or
following a client’s healing crisis. The release of the old and in with the new is what physical
and emotional healing are all about, and the welcoming of this transformation opens the door
to leading a healthier, more conscious, life.
Deep Tissue Massage
Healing Energy and Touch
www.experts.about.com, Experts: Massage, Christopher Hall, About, Inc., 7/27/05.
www.falconblanco.com, The Healing Crisis, FalconBlanco, 2006.
www.massagetherapy.com, Freedom for Feelings, Cathy Ulrich, Body Sense Magazine,
www.nihadc.com, Massage and Somatic Emotional Release, National Integrated Health
www.positivehealth.com, Reflexology – A Second Look, Ingrid Sahai, Positive Health
Productions, Inc., 2006.
305 Indian Lake Rd
Oxford, MI 48371
Nicole Cutler,L.Ac. Natural Wellness [firstname.lastname@example.org]