This article was first published in "Sideroads", the Summer 2009 edition
Karla Struyk has gained a whole new perspective on life since learning to do Therapeutic Touch.
“It has given her a new way to connect with people on a level that doesn’t require speech,” says her mother Cathy Foyston. “It has also made her much more mature and confident.”
Twenty-five-year-old Struyk, who has Down syndrome, has always been an active contributor to the Huntsville community. A former student of St. Mary’s and St. Dominic’s schools, she volunteers at the Early Years Centre, Huntsville and District Coop Nursery School and Huntsville Animal Shelter. However, her mother says Karla sometimes felt distanced from those around her, either because of people's reaction to her differences, or because of her underlying sense that other people “got things” more quickly than she did. Her experience with Therapeutic Touch changed that.
Therapeutic Touch is a contemporary interpretation of several ancient healing practices in which hands are used to facilitate healing by directing the flow of energy in the field around someone’s body. The theory behind this practice, which was developed in the 1970s, is that human beings are open energy fields and physical illness can be viewed as an imbalance in this energy field. Reiki, Tai Chi and acupressure all share similar philosophies.
In Therapeutic Touch, the person receiving the treatment remains fully clothed, in a sitting or lying position. The practitioner usually moves his or her hands at a distance of a few inches from the body, although touching can be involved.Those on the receiving end cite various benefits such as relaxation, healing and pain reduction. Practitioners also report a feeling of increased wellbeing. Therapeutic Touch classes have been available in Muskoka for at least 15 years.
Karla was first introduced to the practice while visiting her friend and mentor Mary Jane Phillips’ house with her mother and uncle. A retired occupational health nurse now focusing on healing arts, Phillips took her first Therapeutic Touch course about two years ago.
“Karla’s uncle has a chronic illness and was obviously in pain,” recalls Phillips. “I offered him a Therapeutic Touch treatment and he accepted.”
When Karla came into the room and saw Phillips doing Therapeutic Touch on her uncle, she became agitated. “Karla was grimacing as if she was in pain,” says Phillips. “I stopped, went to her and asked if it was hurting her. She said yes.”
It occurred to Phillips that Karla might be able to see the energy being moved and even feel the pain being released from her uncle. She asked Karla, “Can you see his lights?” and Karla again answered, “Yes.”
“Then you can see that what’s coming out are things that don’t help him,” Phillips told Karla. She then explained to Karla how to avoid absorbing that energy.
About a month later, an elderly artist rented Phillips’ studio to do a workshop and Karla attended on the second day.
“The woman had respiratory problems, and I asked her if she would like Karla to see her lights,” says Phillips. “I expected Karla to show me where the problem was, to come to me for help, but instead she put her hand over the woman’s heart, took a deep breath and focused." The artist, who had had a wheeze for 15 years, began to breathe easily. “To think I came here to teach,” she said to Phillips.
That’s when Phillips decided to talk to Karla’s mother about enrolling her in formal Therapeutic Touch instruction. Foyston signed herself and Karla up for a Level 1 course last fall.
“At the course, Karla was doing it naturally,” says Foyston. “Working with energy really levels the playing field. People in the group struggled to centre themselves and she’s just centred. Some of the skills we were just learning she already has.”
Afterward, at regular practice sessions, Karla did treatments on people who were quite knowledgeable about Therapeutic Touch and they were amazed at what she was able to do.
“The treatments Karla gives are short but extremely effective,” says Foyston. “She has an uncanny ability to see where people need healing.”
Foyston, who owns an equine centre, uses Therapeutic Touch on her animals and says that Karla’s expertise sometimes comes in handy when she's not clear what exactly an animal needs.
When asked why she likes to do Therapeutic Touch, Karla says, "I like to make people feel better."
Karla enrolled in the Therapeutic Touch Level 2 course over the winter and Level 3 in June. After completing that course, she hopes to put her Therapeutic Touch skills to use as a volunteer at Muskoka Landing.
According to Pamm Reain, the activation and volunteer coordinator at the facility, Therapeutic Touch practitioners have been making regular visits to Muskoka Landing for almost two years. "They do it for staff as well as residents," she says. "I feel that the treatments are very well-rounded and therapeutic. They benefit residents with all diseases, from dementia to poor circulation. We have residents who look forward to it every week."
Reain gives the example of one resident with severe dementia who had a history of calling out repetitively during the night. "It has been very successful in decreasing those behaviours," she says, adding that the man has had two treatments so far, and after each one he slept soundly.
Foyston says learning to do Therapeutic Touch has given Karla the chance to be appreciated for her contributions.
“Sometimes people focus on inability," she says. "The other people who attend practice sessions respect Karla for her ability, and this is a real gift.
Phillips agrees. “People born with the biggest handicaps have the greatest gifts,” she says. “We’re just not looking for their gift. This whole experience has changed the way I relate to Karla and to everyone. She’s been my teacher as much as I’ve been her's. I look for the gift now when I meet someone new.”
But most important, Phillips says, is the effect learning Therapeutic Touch has had on Karla. “It's brightened Karla’s life. It's brought her joy, purpose and acceptance.”
This article was written by Paula Boon, who is the daughter of one of our Recognized Teachers, Shirley Boon.