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Spas that Understand Cancer

Juliet Heeg


Decades ago in downtown Manhattan, greeted by a whir of chimes, a lounge spun of silk, abuzz with ginger tea, I floated into my first spa massage. I had arrived feeling well and left feeling even better. But had I been seriously ill, I might have been seen as a liability and turned away in a hushed spa-like voice. Had I been a person who just happened to have cancer, I might have had to settle for prayer beads and a candle from the gift shop. Fortunately, today change is in the scented air. Nonprofit groups, such as Spa4ThePink, are educating the spa industry on how professionals can work skillfully and compassionately with cancer patients.

As a psychotherapist and a former copywriter, I admire Spa4ThePink’s tag line: Changing the healing journey for those “who happen to have cancer.” The upshot being, let’s not make cancer the defining identity and journey of a client: let’s not lose sight of the person. This is simply where the client is right now and some precautions and courtesies need to be taken to create a comfortable spa journey.

While cancer is a “dis-ease,” knowledge about relevant protocol and hygiene can put both practitioner and client “at ease.” With mandatory Patient Distress Screenings taking place at all major cancer centers in 2015, mental health professionals will be looking to refer clients to “cancer aware” spa and wellness facilities to manage their stress.

Executive Director of Spa4ThePink and Wellness for Cancer, Julie Bach, engages a former Buddhist monk, “mindfulness” teacher, meditator, and Prajnic healer, Felix Lopez, to do “mind-body” work with the spa industry to help address the stress and feelings of concerns among practitioners working with this population. As we know in the psychotherapy world, the idea that feelings are discrete, autonomous happenings, is an illusion. If as a psychotherapist, body therapist, or esthetician, you are anxious, your client is likely to feel anxious as well. In the language of neuroscience, it’s the power of attachment theory. The dynamics of “shared states,” or more simply put, the price we pay for being connected, or disconnected, as the case may be.

For a person who is at a crossroads in a medical treatment or other life transition, spa can be that paradoxical place where you can “tune in” and “tune out” at the same time.

As the Buddhists might say, all phenomena come from “dependent arising”: all things are in relation to each other. The more secure a spa or a wellness facility is in its relationship with medically challenged clients, the more the spa can work its magic, and the more clients can relax and enjoy!

Wellness for Cancer, the first organization to provide, standardized cancer-focused criteria for spas and wellness practitioners has recently partnered with Spafinder Wellness 365 to create a list of locales that have been certified as “Cancer Aware Basic” or “Cancer Aware Comprehensive.” (Businesses or practitioners can go to Spafinder.com/wfc to find out more about the verification process.) The “Cancer Aware” categories are expected to be launched and searchable on the Spafinder Wellness 365 site in the first quarter of 2015.

Intuitively, the medical field and clinicians embrace the complex healing powers of spa. While it may be difficult to know whether the actual treatment—massage, manicure, facial, etc—or the anticipation of the treatment as one waits in a soft robe in a beautiful lounge—is more “effective,” in a way, it does not matter. The placebo effect is powerful, as is the “no-cebo effect. When people with cancer are turned away or treated poorly by a spa or wellness facility, the negative psychological impact on the client can be profound.

On the positive side, the soothing, yet stimulating backdrop of a spa can help one transition to a more relaxed self-state, and even a place of reverie. D.W. Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, spoke of the power of the “facilitating environment” to create more capacity for self-expansion and self-reflection. The restorative space of a spa can be as important as the actual treatment. (In the psychotherapy world, often it is the texture or tone of a therapeutic comment that is more helpful than the so-called insight of it.)

In spa-time, the boundaries between past, present, and future can blend and soften in a curious, meditative way. One’s life, and life in general, can be experienced in a more open, freer way. For a person who is at a crossroads in a medical treatment or other life transition, spa can be that paradoxical place where you can “tune in” and “tune out” at the same time.

While that first spa experience of mine was so many years ago, I would hope that as old and well, or unwell, as I or others may be, that the spa world can create a space to allow all stages of life to bask in its gracious hospitality. To take in the fluttering of light, scent and touch that makes life—however long or short—so very worth it.

An Insider’s Guide to Spa Care for Cancer Patients

•In the first quarter of 2015, the Spafinder Wellness 365 website is to host the launch of “Cancer Aware Basic” and “Cancer Aware Comprehensive” categories as certified by Wellness for Cancer. In the meantime, “I Care” egift cards are available for purchase at: spafinder.com/wellness365.htm

(Wellness businesses and practitioners, can apply for “Cancer Aware” certification at spafinder.com/wfc)

•For those who have had cancer or a serious illness, checking in with your doctor or hospital support team about appropriate Complementary Alternative Medicine is a good place to start. From Restorative Yoga to Chi Gong to Reiki a range of practices can be an important part of your healing.

Medicinehands.com can help you understand how different types of massage may be appropriate for treatment. The book Medicine Hands: Massage Therapy for People with Cancer by Gayle MacDonald has been well-received by medical and non-medical authorities.

Montyscorner.org is a rich source of information for children exploring wellness services.

•There is a website for a Hospital-Based Massage Network under construction. Google HBMN.com or email: editor@HBMN.com or call: 970-407-9232

•For those interested in a makeover: Look Good Feel Better can help boost your spirits. lookgoodfeelbetter.org

There are so many wellness paths to enhance one’s journey. Getting curious is just the start. Please share what you have found helpful in your exploration. Email: lily@ insidersguidetospas.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juliet Heeg

Juliet Heeg

Juliet Heeg, LCSW-R, is a psychotherapist who practices in Manhattan. She is a member of The International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP). Juliet looks forward to expanding her work with those who are struggling with loss, meaning, and the journey towards healing. For more information: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/44591.