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Witness the dawn of a healthcare revolution with Healwell, where the nurturing power of touch meets the rigor of palliative care. Join the Healwell team of Cal Cates, Kerry Jordan, Laura Bryant-Earner, Rebecca Sturgeon, and Corey Rivera as we reveal the heartfelt aspirations and bold missions driving our nonprofit organization. Together, we dissect the formidable task of integrating palliative massage therapy into mainstream healthcare, advocating for a future where the art of human connection through touch is not just an afterthought, but a fundamental pillar.
We're not just hands-on practitioners; we're educators, advocates, and most importantly, agents of change, envisioning a world where the healing touch of massage transcends traditional healthcare boundaries. Through our stories, you'll discover how we're crafting a new narrative for massage therapy—one where passion and professional growth coalesce to shape a brighter, more empathetic future.
The episode culminates with a call to join the ranks of those challenging the status quo and fostering a community of growth and camaraderie. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Healwell is a testament to the power of collective action and unyielding dedication to enhancing the human experience. Whether you're a practitioner, a patient, or simply a believer in the transformative potential of compassionate care, your support and participation are the keystones to this healthcare revolution. Thank you for sharing in our journey—a journey toward a more compassionate and inclusive world, one massage at a time.
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My name is Corey Rivera. I'm the Education Coordinator, podcast Producer, online Community Cruise Director and all around Dewar at Healwell.Kerry Jordan:
My name is Kerry Jordan and I am the Operations Director at Healwell.Laura Bryant-Earner:
My name is Laura Bryant-Erner. I'm the Service Director for Healwell.Rebecca Sturgeon:
My name is Rebecca Sturgeon. I am the Education Director for Healwell, and Cal Cates would like me to tell you that I co-authored a textbook called Oncology Massage an Integrative Approach to Cancer Care.Cal Cates:
My name is Cal Cates and I am the Executive Director of Healwell.Corey Rivera:
MUSIC. Welcome to the Rub a Healwell podcast about the world of massage therapy beyond the table. We say the quiet things loud, have a hunger for change and a compulsion to connect the dots. In today's episode, we invite you to meet the people of Healwell and let us tell you why and how we're changing the massage game. Music. Describing Healwell is a bit like trying to describe a beautiful cloud. It changes and grows. It's affected by the light and the air around it. It sprouts unexpected new limbs and tries to grasp nearby interesting objects. Ok, so Healwell is less like a cloud and more like the Kraken MUSIC, but the part about it being difficult to describe is true. I spoke with each of the directors at Healwell to create a picture of what goes on here.Kerry Jordan:
Healwell is like nothing else. I'll give you my sound bite and then I'll kind of break it down. Everything Healwell does is ultimately to create the meaningful integration of specially trained palliative massage therapists into the standard care for people affected by serious and chronic illness. What that actually means, I think, is that we are educating massage therapists so that they can do this kind of work. We're educating consumers to know that this is a thing, we're educating other providers to know what the role of massage therapists can play on a healthcare team, and we're really looking at just changing the landscape of what it means to be sick in this country. I think it sounds kind of grandiose, but one of the things that I'm most excited about the work that we do is like we are really changing healthcare and we are really changing what it means to live and die with serious illness for adults, for children, for other healthcare providers, for lay caregivers. It's pretty cool.Rebecca Sturgeon:
Healwell is an organization that disrupts with love. That's like the you only got to go one floor elevator pitch. Ok, so I live in Chicago Willis Tower, elevator pitch we're going 112 floors. Healwell is an organization that, through service, through education, through research, we question what is with an eye to making it better, more compassionate, more loving for all humans.Laura Bryant-Earner:
The official answer is we are a nonprofit organization that provides massage to folks experiencing chronic and serious illness, where, either in a clinical setting or in their home. We are really changing the conversation around the place of massage in healthcare and having the conversations about providing healthcare to folks who have never had the opportunity to receive a massage before, and being as inclusive as possible to every single person.Cal Cates:
I feel like Healwell, like so many organizations, is an idea at its sort of base, and that idea is why, Like, I feel like so much of what we do is about okay, this is how it is now. Why is it that way? And should it stay that way? What could we do to usefully upend it? How can we shake people out of their complacent stupor? I mean, massage therapy is relatively new in terms of when we look at professionalized massage therapy, but it's been going on long enough that there's sort of a complacency that happens, that people are like this is how we do it, whether it be education or regulation or actually just being a massage therapist. And I think so much of what we do at Healwell is about do you want to do it that way? Does that feel good? Does that feel enlivening and like you're improving the experience of your fellow humans? And if not, like, come with us, because that's why we get up in the morning is to do all those things.Corey Rivera:
Then I asked them about their jobs.Kerry Jordan:
Carrie, the operations director, said my joke not a joke is that I do whatever somebody else doesn't do. So I'm in charge of the sort of daily operations of the organization the finance, the human resources, the really glamorous stuff like running payroll and making sure the lights stay on. I am the staff liaison for the finance squad, for the board of directors. I invoice our partners, I oversee the service and education departments to make sure the various departments are all kind of working together toward the same mission for the organization and I'm the sort of de facto head of development and fundraising. I'm the secret front. I mean I do. I think it's much easier to draw a straight line, of course, from like the work that Cal does, the work that Laura and Rebecca are doing. But even the work that you're doing, I feel like, is a little more forward facing. I mean I think that I sort of imagine myself like in the map room in those war movies, you know, and sort of like there's a lot of flash and lights and like lit up things and I'm writing on an invisible whiteboard, just like. I think that for change, for real change, to happen, there have to be some really unsexy pieces. There are spreadsheets, there are timelines, there are budgets, and so I think that I fight this fight from a front that is sort of like supporting. When I say it out loud it sounds like I'm just like support staff, because I do think what I do is really important and I think it's a little hard to talk about in ways that make it make it sound clear. One of the things that I get to do that I really love having the opportunity to do and sounds more glamorous than it is is I get to write and help design research about the kind of work that that heal well does and about the role of specially trained massage therapists in healthcare. And I think that, particularly when we design research, what I like about designing research is that massage therapies are really hard thing to study. There are so many facets to it and it can be so many different things to so many different people.Rebecca Sturgeon:
Rebecca, the education director, said this I sit at my computer and look for pictures of scar tissue lately because we have a lot of scar classes coming up Now. I sort of oversee the education department. I feel like I don't run anything because we have a really lovely and capable group of humans who can do things without my help. So I do a lot of the administration of the department, the scheduling of classes, everything that goes along with that, including making sure that we're good to go with CEs. Basically, I serve people who want to learn from us. I'm kind of the holder the goals of heal well's education. I don't create them, that's a co-creation but I think that my job is to kind of hold them and to keep them in mind whenever we schedule anything. So that's the director. Part of my job is to remember what we're trying to do here. We teach people things and you know any historical situation in which oppression was involved. The first thing that they go after is education right. One of the first things but yeah, this is how the education department does that is that we remind people and give them the tools and the skills to really stand in the power of what massage therapy can do In healthcare not just for the individual clients, although that's definitely part of it, but it's really about massage therapists who can exist in such a way that the benefits of massage therapy become undeniable.Corey Rivera:
Laura, the service director, is pretty well known for having the hardest job at UOL.Laura Bryant-Earner:
So the service department. We have 15 massage therapists on staff. We coordinate with 10 different locations in the DMV area, virginia, dc and Maryland area. We partner with these medical settings, hospitals, memory care facilities, hospice programs and palliative care programs in the community and we partner with them to provide inpatient, outcall and community-based massage healthcare. We are demonstrating how massage can be part of healthcare and that there is really making the case that massage should be part of standard of care, as opposed to a nicety. It is a nicety and it is symptom management. It is psychosocial support. It goes so beyond a nicety. Our amazing therapists are showing up every single day and one patient, one client at a time, demonstrating the immense value that massage brings to healthcare and to people's lives. You know Healwell's little tagline of we make being sick suck less is true. Our therapists are providing this vital support to people, and not just patients, but their care partners and their caregivers, and to healthcare workers themselves. We provide massage to staff in many different locations that we work at and the stories that the staff members, the team members in the healthcare settings, share with us is overwhelming, like 100% positive feedback, saying you know, I didn't know massage could do this. This is the best part about working here I mean really addressing burnout and fatigue that healthcare workers are experiencing now post quote, unquote, post pandemic.Corey Rivera:
And then there's Cal Cates, the executive director, who kind of likes to downplay their job.Cal Cates:
My job is to talk with policymakers, hospital administrators, to write things that make people aware that the kind of the way that we're thinking about massage therapists and their role in healthcare, in serious illness care in the world is is a thing that's worth considering and that is maybe not what they've understood by just sort of what comes at them from the world about what massage is. So I think, kind of, if you were to look at my job description, I carry the message and the mission of Healwell whether it be speaking, writing, having meetings with people who really have a lot to say about whether we do become part of healthcare and what it looks like when we get there and doing what I can to shape that future and to create those avenues for other people. I think one of the things about Healwell that is really exciting to me is that the base level, my job, is to make it so that we don't need Healwell anymore in 20 years, that massage therapists have careers in healthcare, that or at least that Healwell's role is different. You know that everything I do, I'm thinking about how many massage therapists will benefit from our ability to be at this conference or to publish this paper, or what kind of doors. Can we open for people, so that we're not the only ones doing this?Corey Rivera:
Everybody at Healwell wants to see some kind of change, but everybody's idea about it is a little bit different.Kerry Jordan:
So many things. I want to see a world where massage therapists take themselves seriously, where other providers take massage therapists seriously, where massage consumers take massage therapists seriously. I want to see a world where there is just less pain and suffering. I want a more comfortable desk chair. Yeah, I want it all, Cory.Rebecca Sturgeon:
I want all of it to change All of it Completely, not just dismantling diet culture, but dismantling it, cutting it into pieces, shooting it into space in powdered form and burning it with fire and burying it in the center of the earth. Yesterday, please Eradicated, extinct, and I think that that is one arm of basically dismantling the largest systems of oppression that we're living under right now, which are capitalism and the patriarchy. Yeah, you thought I was going to talk about oncology massage. I would like to change everything in the world that that is designed to make people feel less than, but more specifically with you. Well, I would like to change the way that humans approach other humans. I would love for us to lead with, as Cal often says, curiosity as opposed to belligerence, you know, and to seek to understand as opposed to seeking to be to win.Cal Cates:
Yeah, well, you know, I mean I I do feel like, in a way, nonprofits in general exist because of self interest and because people are so self interested that to make change on a community level and to support each other in what it's like to be a human, we have to form these organizations that sort of have these loftier goals. So I mean I would love to see our world change in a way that individuals are as concerned with community health as they are with their own health and sort of well being. Within massage therapy. I would really love to see a just a broad commitment to stronger education and and really recognizing education that recognizes that massage is a complex psychosocial intervention, that it is something that our foundational education should be borrowing from nursing and social work and psychotherapy and really delving into what does it mean to focus all of your attention on one other human for an hour over and over, you know, as a job, and how do you care for yourself and how do you really show up to that experience? I feel like I would love to see a change where massage therapists are taught about what is possible as opposed to sort of what to avoid. I feel like a lot of our education is about. Well, we don't have time to teach you this thing or that thing or this is out of scope, and so if this comes up, you just sort of like dodged it, and I think that we could really do a much better job of teaching massage therapists about the physiological complexity of the body, but also the psychosocial and emotional complexity of humans, and we are in that intimate space. But I think a lot of us leave school having no idea what we're getting into and thereby sort of not delivering on the promise of massage therapy.Corey Rivera:
Sometimes it's really different.Laura Bryant-Earner:
I would like to see more people start using chopsticks when they eat. Eating salad is so much easier with chopsticks and you can carry chopsticks around with you everywhere. And and yes, I do carry around my own little pair of chopsticks.Corey Rivera:
And with all those different ideas around, of course, we have different things that we wish for massage therapy.Kerry Jordan:
Yeah, I guess I wish massage therapists as a profession. I feel like we're just afraid. I mean, I guess, as humans, we're afraid, we're afraid of change, we're afraid of you know, our own potential. I feel like, on some level, we're afraid of what could be, we're afraid of what is, and so, yeah, I wish, I wish we had a little less fear.Rebecca Sturgeon:
I would like this profession to come together around something real, and what I think of as what is real, that we can come together around is the real impact of massage on other human beings. So we all have our camps about how we do that and what environment we do that and why we think that is happening. We can argue about that later, but I would, I would really like massage therapy and massage therapists to release their ego around what they do and be able to kind of sit together in a room and really recognize what is important. And what is important is not our individual prestige. What is important is the ways, the unique ways in which massage therapy serves the good of humanity, and I would like us to do that first, and from that I hope that we are able to stand up as United Professionals to demonstrate by who we are and how we move around in the world that we are part of health care. We're not asking to be part of health care. We are part of health care and as such, we have a lot to learn, certainly from other people, but we have a lot to teach other people about how to care for other humans.Laura Bryant-Earner:
I think my answer is going to be you know, for any massage therapist, I'm hoping that they find their passion, either whether it's a modality that they love or the population that they love working with or the space that they're working in, you know, finding that situation that brings them joy. I think it's so easy for our profession to experience burnout also, or to feel taken advantage of by corporate world or sometimes clients or you know and can lose parts of ourselves, and so I think what I really hope for is that you know any massage therapist whether you're doing hospital work or working in a chiropractor's office or spa or, you know, in any situation that really is finding joy in their work and being fulfilled with the people that they're serving.Cal Cates:
Yeah, for massage therapists. I wish that we could really just look at what do we want from massage therapy and what's reasonable to expect from massage therapy, and to sort of, I guess, push the limits of what's reasonable to expect. I think if we look around now and we say, okay, what can I expect from a career in massage therapy? The prospects aren't super bright, but I think they could be and I feel like but I feel like we are going to have to engage in creating a future that makes that possible. And I think what I hope for massage therapists is that they start to get the kind of education that prepares them to be advocates and change makers in the world and to really, instead of being I feel like I see a lot of I don't know if I would call it disenfranchisement, but I see people come out of massage school sort of like, oh, this is what it is, this isn't what I thought it was going to be, and it kind of takes the wind out of people's sails. And then you know, so many of the people who find their way to our courses have been doing massage for so long and just sort of say to us like, oh, like I was just getting tired of it. I was getting bored and then I found oncology massage or hospital based massage and I just never knew this was a thing that could happen. But isn't it hard, and how are we going to make it happen? And I would love for massage therapists to come into the profession prepared to create new opportunities and with the kind of support they would need to be able to do that.Corey Rivera:
And, at the end of the day, I really wanted to know what Heal Well meant to everyone personally, oh, man.Kerry Jordan:
what is Heal Well? To me, heal Well is like revolution. To me, heal Well is the way that a small group of really passionate people can actually change the world. I don't want to it can sound like I'm overstating this, but I think that Heal Well is changing the world and I think that Heal Well is modeling a thing that massage therapy and massage therapists can be in the world. And so I think that what Heal Well is is, like I said at the beginning, is unlike anything else that exists at the moment. There's lots of different organization and people who do sort of pieces of what we do, but I think that Heal Well is really unique in that it's bringing together. You know, as you will say, we're like the Kraken, right that Heal Well has all these limbs, but that really what we're doing is creating really profound change.Rebecca Sturgeon:
He'll has been so many things to me like over the many years that I've been sort of in the orbit of heal well, they, they, they get me. This is so. It was like like started as an aspiration, became a place where I could teach and be challenged to teach in such a way that was really valuable and rigorous, and then, during the pandemic, became like one of the top three ways in which I survived, basically with my mental health largely intact, and now heal well is it's a lot. It's this organization that is really doing the work of serving people Like changing healthcare through serving people and is some of like my favorite humans who are just smart and funny and creative and weird definitely weird and understanding and sometimes difficult, because what we're trying to do is difficult but always open hearted place to come and be inspired.Laura Bryant-Earner:
He'll well is my saving grace, is my passion, is where I have found my home. You know I jokingly referred to heal well as my family, but it's really true, you know, heal well as my, my second family. All my friends are here, so I get to go to work with my friends every day. So great, you know, heal well for me is. It just has challenged me to grow and has pushed me in ways that I never thought I could had even imagined of things that I could do. So it's, you know, heal well as a challenge. Heal well is fun. Heal well is the place that I love to work at, the people I love to work with and I, you know, it's really about the people, the people that we serve, the people that we work with, the people that we hang out with. Yeah, you'll all just means the world to me.Cal Cates:
He'll well to me is the best job I've ever had. I've had a lot of jobs in my life. I mean, working in the hospital and at the bedside is pretty close second. But I get to think about how to build community and then work with other people who care about that to make it happen and and I get to like challenge existing systems in a way that hopefully will benefit not just massage therapists but people living with illness and just the way people think about how we organize ourselves. So I feel like heal well is to me. I kind of can't believe I get to work here. It's really fun and an opportunity to be creative and loving and to work with other people who are the same.Corey Rivera:
I've been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say in this podcast and I got to listen to everybody else's answer before they got to hear each other and I think that they said everything that I wanted to say. So the question that was left is what is heal well to me? Heal well to me is the place where I no longer feel alone. I felt so alone before I found heal well. I thought that it wasn't that everybody around me couldn't see the problems. It's that they had no agency to try and fix it. And because nobody had agency, everybody was just standing still and treading water and nothing was changing. And I don't think that heal well knows exactly what to do about it. But I think we're willing to try to fix things. We truly believe something everything could be different and we're willing to work for it and we're willing to try and we're willing to fail and we're willing to try again until something works. I think massage therapists are told their limitations all of the time by everyone by each other, by their associations, by their clients, by the public in general and I don't think those limitations are real. I think it's just what people tell us and I think we can be so much more and are going to be so much more. I hope that heal well can be this place for you too. I hope that if you've listened to this entire episode and gotten to the end to listen to me, I hope that you felt inspired and I hope that you feel a sense of change and you feel a sense of possibility and you feel like there's somebody out there who understands your worry and your fear and really, truly means to do something about it. I hope you join us in the heal well community. I hope you come into our classes. There's a lot of work to do in massage therapy to make things better for everybody that's involved, and that's a lot of people, and I hope that you come join us in this adventure. Thank you for listening.Kerry Jordan:
Heal well is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and so you could support our work and support the revolution and change healthcare for everybody by donating to heal well. Thank you.