Below is some information on my service that I am calling ‘Integrative’ ScarWork — you will see why!
Content note: this blog post contains references to scars, self-harm, surgery and mental health.
Several years ago, I did an intense four-day training in Sharon Wheeler’s ScarWork. I wanted to build upon the Scar Remediation training from my Sexological Bodywork course. I hoped to combine somatic practices and Sexological Bodywork with intentional, therapeutic contact with scars.
Specifically, I decided to focus on scars from gender-affirming surgeries and self-harm scars.
How is my offering different to most ScarWork practitioners?
Most of the people on my course were coming to it from backgrounds in remedial and clinical ways of working with the anatomy. ScarWork itself evolved from Rolfing (read more about the approach here).
The teachers and the other students were a long way off from being willing or open (or qualified or insured) to work directly with scars in intimate areas. Also, there was a lack of knowledge about trans and LGBTQI+ issues in general.
I had, however, been using castor oil in intimate areas and learning to map internal caesarean scars in my previous course. I also had my lived experience in the queer community!
I was excited that now I have the opportunity to offer ScarWork on a discreet area such as the scars from top surgery and/or lower surgery at various stages for trans people. I also felt that I could offer a therapeutic experience of working on self-harm scars too.
My service is a fusion of Somatic Sex Education, Sexological Bodywork and ScarWork through the lens of person-centred, embodied, therapeutic presence. There are probably many ways I could describe it…but this is my phrase!
Wanting to deliberately create a significant contrast to people’s experience of medical settings, I bring careful and embodied consent, quality communication and the use of meditative and down-regulated (safe/relaxed) states. I create a nurturing environment where people can experience a completely different way of being looked at, treated, touched and interacted with.
The ‘Integrative’ part of this, for me, is how I combine this with the invitation to come more into the experience of the body and all that it can tell us. I let the client lead me on how ready they are for this or how much is right for them. I can touch and interact with scars, both external and internal, in a consent-based, gentle and non-invasive way. This can be healing on multiple levels.
So many people come to me carrying difficult memories and trauma from years of being under the care of gender services. As well as being joy and relief, often after years of waiting lists, there is also pain, loss and processing to be done. There is often a distinct sense of medical trauma, from less than caring treatment and attitudes from the medical systems, or things that went wrong.
It can also be a celebration of transition, of pleasure, of survival, of the future, of someone giving themselves a meaningful gift.
Where does pleasure come into this?
My version of Integrative Scarwork means that we unapologetically embrace the idea of getting pleasure back, or connecting with new pleasure. Not just ‘normal’ function, not just ‘normal’ sensation, but pleasure in movement, and pleasure in feeling and from touch!
Now, this is something I can definitely say is missing from most of our mainstream gender services — to centre a person’s sexual pleasure and whole erotic embodiment, to acknowledge the yearning for this and the loss and grief that can arise in its absence.
Clients know I centre and welcome pleasure and that I am there for them whether they can access or notice pleasure or not. We welcome what arises and cultivate curiosity about it.
The touch and scar remediation we might do on genitals is not explicitly erotic or seeking of pleasure (that could be a different session), but we might ‘map’ the scar or an area in a completely open-minded way. Because I am a Sexological Bodyworker, the client knows they are completely welcome to notice arousal or pleasurable sensations and to tell me.
I invite people to have ScarWork on self-harm scars. With my background in mental health work and understanding the deeper meanings and functions of self-harm, I appreciate how having a reparative experience with scars can be so beneficial. These scars can be from the most painful moments of our lives. Having a chance to speak out about whatever memories or stories come up can be incredibly healing.
We create a contrasting somatic and emotional experience that is different from those provided in medical settings. We can create different narratives to the ones we were presented with in the past.
As well as the possibility to reduce the appearance of the scars, people can also process and move on from the era in their lives. One person said that after I worked on one arm, she was far less likely to self-harm on that arm, as she felt more loving towards it.
What is in a session?
My intention is to create a session that is defined by a human, empathic and caring relationship. One where the person is welcomed and really listened to. I want the person to know that anything is welcome on this journey we are embarking on together, and this includes releases of emotion, spoken memories and noticing sensations all over the body.
ScarWork itself is a gentle, painless way of interacting with the scars and the surrounding tissues (over 20 different strokes). On a physical, biological level we are dealing with fascia, adhesions and tissues that have quickly formed to do a great job of protecting the body, but now might be causing mobility problems and numbness and other issues.
I work in a trauma-informed way, so the client is always in choice. I always tell the client what touch I am intending and stay in communication. We can bring in heat and castor oil packs before the ScarWork, and we can include comforting and nurturing massage.
Clients are often surprised by how relaxing and almost trance-like the session can be. They get to lie down and relax (relaxing music playing) whilst someone else touches and attends to these tender parts, always staying in a comfortable range of sensation. Notions of ‘breaking down’ the scar tissue with a ‘no pain, no gain’ approach do not apply here. It is holistic, in that if we touch the scar gently, we are also touching the whole of YOU gently. This touch, for so many of us, is a unique experience, and certainly different from the (important) work of surgeons.
The memories and emotions (perhaps trauma, and ‘energy’) that surface can seem to pre-date the surgery and be about what people carry from childhood. This can relate to how they felt about their body. It is a chance for the body part to come up and be felt and treated with love and care.
I might also draw on some tools such as ‘Body Poem’ and the notion of ‘speaking with’ the body directly as we do in the ‘Genital Interview’. I would ask open questions about what is there and what is in the client’s awareness. Sometimes we might work in silence and the client appears to doze off into a relaxed, sleepy state (on chest scars for example). I believe that sessions with a range of atmospheres can be a healing and transformative experience.
From no woo to super woo, there is something for everyone!
Is this about aesthetic appearance? Can I make your scar look better?
Scars often change in appearance under my fingertips. The photos clients take before and after often show these changes — in colour, depth and shape. More importantly, clients report a changing relationship with the scar both physically and emotionally…more mobility, more sensation coming back, less numbness or pain, and an increased sense of a connected (friendly, or erotic) relationship with the body part.
Do you want to know more?
In a Zoom session, I can show you ScarWork techniques (a video of me working on a man’s chest scars) and how to touch your own scars using Sharon Wheeler’s techniques.