Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, July/August 2010.
I volunteer at Kernan Hospital where I teach a multiple sclerosis day group for one hour twice a month. In the first part of the class, I teach seated t’ai chi chih, and for the second part of the class I open it up to anyone who would like to receive reiki/chakra energy healing. It is a joy for me to see how relaxed the members are after class (some actually fall asleep!). I also know I’m helping when I pull pain and/or open a shoulder chakra (which only takes minutes), and I hear, “I can’t believe it. The pain is gone!” The look of gratitude on their faces is priceless.
A few times I have been wrapped up in my own problems, but once I am with the group, my perspective changes. I’ll never forget one member who was afraid she’d miss my class because she had trouble walking; getting in and out of the bathroom had become a real chore. I was inspired with a newfound gratitude when I realized how I have always taken these things for granted.
Sharon Sirkis Columbia, Maryland
I volunteered with a few other therapists at a local triathlon for two years. It was great fun and we were very busy after the first athletes crossed the finish line. The athletes were happy to receive postevent sessions, many standing in line for an hour to receive treatment. The event, hosted in my hometown, is part of the Ironman series, so we have professional and amateur athletes competing from all across the country alongside our locals. It is as much fun to watch as it is to participate.
It was exhausting work, but we were introducing massage therapy and bodywork to athletes who never had a massage before, let alone know how it could benefit their training and postevent health. It was worth the sore muscles to have athletes and volunteers come up to our tent and thank us for our hard work.
I’ve loved the times I volunteered solely to be of service to others. Advice: Don’t use the experience as a business/income builder. Make friends instead. And have fun!
Kimberly Rogers Waupaca, Wisconsin
I always feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and appreciated after volunteering my massage. I volunteer every year for nurse’s appreciation. I have gained new clients from my outreach programs. That’s a benefit that keeps on giving—to myself and the clients. I build great relationships in my community by going to businesses to offer free massage. They keep me coming back each year.
Christa Terrill Hazel Park, Michigan
I have been an avid volunteer most of my life and am lucky to incorporate it into my practice. I was hoping to contribute this experience to my life as a bodyworker and volunteer.
I work very closely with the University of Tennesee Medical Center/LHC Group home hospice offering my services to patients and their families. The doctor talks with the patient/family and establishes a care plan. If massage is requested, I am contacted and go out to the home as a volunteer to offer massage, reflexology, and energy work. It is such an honor to be there for people at such a sensitive time in one’s life and offer comfort in their time of need.
Massage isn’t clearly recognized as a medical benefit in this area at this time; it is my hope that this recognition will spread through the medical community and that the views of the medical validity of bodywork will increase.
I also volunteer at the local animal shelter and massage the animals, as well as the employees. It de-stresses the animals and has gotten me several human clients who would not normally accept massage.
I follow Remote Area Medical at their in-state free clinics for those in need for medical, dental, and vision care. I bring my chair along and massage the volunteers who are working hard to save lives. Not only is it good karma points, it is also introducing healing therapies to people who may not know anything about massage and bodywork.
I also offer my services at a very reduced rate for nonprofit employees, medical personnel, and seniors. There are several other organizations I volunteer with and help raise money for, such as local cancer centers, HIV/AIDS groups, and the vascular transplant centers.
Volunteering is a way of life for me and when incorporated into my practice, it offers free advertising, a wide array of clients, and strategies on how to help.
Danae Miley Knoxwille, Tennesee
Volunteering at a local hospice was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. For a little more than two years, I would bring my chair to Rose Monahan Hospice Center and give 15-minute massages to staff, family, and friends. The staff, constantly “on,” were involved in the intensely personal work of caring for the dying and their families. When they had a few minutes to come in for a massage, they would leave feeling re-energized and truly grateful. “I can finish the day! I so needed that! You’re an angel!” Visitors and family members often kept vigil day and night. The nurses would convince them that it was OK to leave the bedside for 15 minutes. Once I invited people to let me care for them so that they could better care for their loved ones, most surrendered their bodies and minds and melted into the chair. Sometimes people would cry quietly, some emitted strangled sobs, some fell into a deep sleep. Always, there was immense gratitude and the miracles that go with comforting, through touch, those who mourn.
Joanne Ethier Paxton, Massachusetts
Volunteering for hospice benefited me in many ways. The most important is the amount of compassion, empathy, and care I must have for each patient, even if I didn’t know him or her. Naturally, I’m pretty sensitive, but that, combined with compassion and empathy, has made me a more successful massage therapist. Now I am able to show that same amount of compassion, empathy, and care toward my clients, making them relax easier and overall be more satisfied. My most special complement recently was a client who told me she could feel the compassion radiating off of me, even before the massage, and it made her massage much more enjoyable. I became a massage therapist so I could provide comfort to those in need, and hospice has made me more successful at doing so. It has not only made me a better massage therapist, but a better person as well.
Britanny A. Waldes-Pages Denver, Colorado
In the early 1980s, I was a hospice massage volunteer when I learned about the Planetree research project delivering complementary health-care services along with conventional medicine within a major medical center. They hadn’t built massage into the study, but accepted me as a volunteer to demonstrate its value. Two years later, I recruited and trained massage practitioners to create the Planetree Massage Therapy Service (PMTS).
We became a daily presence offering caring touch to patients and stressed staff members wherever we found them: in bed, in chairs, hooked up to equipment, etc. By learning to adapt our work to the limitations of both patients and physical surroundings, all the PMTS practitioners gained confidence and skills that enabled us to continue our work with other clients through all stages of their health.
In addition to the personal growth and gratification of bringing massage into hospice and hospital, my private practice overflowed after the hospital referred a journalist to me for a massage and he named me in his nationally published article.
Several years later, my parents were both in another hospital. My Planetree experience prepared me to be at ease with staff and the constraints of the settings. As I spent day after day going from one to the other, I felt staff accepting me on the care teams. This unanticipated benefit was a blessing.