What is Grief Massage℠: 7 Years Later PART 6
This 6 part blog series is based on an article I wrote in 2017 titled “What is Grief Massage: 7 Years Later” to reflect on the 7 year anniversary of www.griefmassage.org. Find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here and Part 5 here. This final post, Part 6, reflects on my vision for the future and the hopes I held for the evolution of this work at the 7 year anniversary of the website.
As you read, I encourage you to reflect on where you hope to be in 7 years. How do you envision your work and your calling unfolding over time? It’s okay to have no real idea where you are heading…but perhaps there is a hunch, an intuition, or a sense of where you would like to be in the future. -AJT
Coming Full Circle: Answering the Question “What is Grief Massage?”
Now as I approach the seven year anniversary of founding this website, and going very public with my Grief Massage work, I am circling back to the question of what this work actually is.
“Googling” Grief Massage back in 2010 (when this website was first created) yielded very few results, but today I can “Google” Grief Massage and see a number of websites specifically listing Grief Massage among their services.
Many are students who took the early online pilot version of The Joy of Grief Massage℠, connected with me via Skype or attended my live class in-person. Amazingly, I even see some folks who have not connected with me talking about or offering Grief Massage.
What was Born
As was my goal, I am now seeing that Grief Massage (intentionally spelled with a capital G and a capital M) is becoming a real thing. It’s a “real thing”! I feel that an important part of my life’s work was accomplished with this simple fact.
Note: Of course, it is important to acknowledge that massage therapists were surely helping grieving clients prior to my introduction of the Grief Massage class and concept – and I know that other massage teachers such as Lyn Prashant and Mary Kathleen Rose were teaching students how bodywork could help bereaved people long before I began my own work.
But, the particular ideas and vision behind my work – and the particular name Grief Massage – were successfully birthed into the world by me over the past seven years. And, I have to say that I am very proud of that.
As the Grief Massage modality grows and public awareness of the benefits of massage during bereavement increases, more and more people will ask what, exactly, Grief Massage is. I know many of my students come to The Joy of Grief Massage class with questions about whether or not the goal of the session is to release grief (and if not, what is the point of calling it Grief Massage?).
Spoiler alert: the goal is not to release grief – or anything else. Actually, my approach emphasizes that the massage therapist should have no goal at all for the session – other than simply providing a safe and gentle shelter for the grieving client.
So, in answer to the question of what Grief Massage actually is: I have come to believe that Grief Massage, as I have practiced and taught it, is primarily a philosophy and approach that caters gentle massage therapy to early grief.
The Philosophy and Approach of Grief Massage
In the most current version of The Joy of Grief Massage, I take massage therapists through a five step educational process that aims to increase empathy for the experience of early grief (i.e. the high stress levels, the physical effects, the particular daily life “loss reminders” and cultural expectations that grieving people face) while also preparing them for the practical details of offering Grief Massage to clients.
I teach them to make the entire process of receiving a massage (from the simplest details of intake and scheduling, to the creation of a “cocoon-like” treatment room atmosphere) very sensitive to the reality that grieving clients face. We address boundaries, emotional release, and staying in scope of practice.
And, while my Grief Massage sequence originally consisted of 20 minutes of light therapeutic work in an area of tension, followed by 40 minutes of gentle Swedish-style relaxation work for the back, calves and feet, arms and hands, and face and scalp, I have since moved in an even gentler direction with the sequence.
The current version of The Joy of Grief Massage includes instruction in an extremely gentle massage with no therapeutic aspect. The sequence I now teach is 60 minutes of relaxation-only work to the back, calves and feet, arms and hands, and face and scalp (a sequence that I call Safe and Gentle Grief Massage℠).
I teach my students to work slower and more gently than they might initially feel comfortable doing – and I teach specific meditative and visualization practices to help.
It’s all about releasing that very human impulse to “fix” and to trust the power of genuine compassionate presence. It becomes very real in practice and I’ve been honored to watch students move from initial discomfort to wonder and understanding.
When I talk about Grief Massage today, and when I teach my particular sequence (Safe and Gentle Grief Massage), I often refer to the massage table as a cocoon. In truth, the entire massage room can be considered a cocoon.
My philosophy is all about helping the massage therapist to create the absolutely safest, “no pressure”, “no expectations allowed” sanctuary.
In a world and culture where grieving people feel pressure to grieve “correctly” or to “think positively” or to “move on” quickly, I am encouraging students to resist the cultural weirdness that currently exists around death, loss and grief.
I am asking them, as massage therapists, to create important cultural change by offering pockets of refuge where grieving clients can simply show up as they are (i.e. exhausted, sad, disconnected, overtired, or even grouchy) and collapse onto the massage table in an atmosphere of complete and total acceptance. I’m teaching the value of gentle touch with no agenda.
That, to me, is Grief Massage. That is my work.
Whether or not my students follow the exact sequence I teach, or call it Safe and Gentle Grief Massage, is far less important than the fact that they walk away with a sense of how important empathy, respect, acceptance, and NOT “fixing” things is when they work with grieving clients.
The commitment to empathy, respect, acceptance and NOT “fixing” things is the truest essence of Grief Massage.
Bringing Grief Massage into the Future
So where will we be in three years, when this website reaches the decade anniversary? How about another decade out into the future? Where will we be at the fifty year anniversary, in 2060?
My hope is that this work will continue to grow and expand, and that my Grief Massage classes will empower massage therapists to grow and develop their own versions of this work. I hope that by the time we reach the fifty year anniversary, Grief Massage will be a modality that thousands of massage therapists teach and practice.
In service of this goal, I am preparing to put myself “out there” in a new way, by launching a podcast called “Grief Massage Conversations” this summer (2017).
I have also outlined a series of new classes for alumni of The Joy of Grief Massage, and I plan to start offering these advanced trainings in the near future. These classes for alumni will be called The Heart of Grief Massage℠ and Creating Grief Massage℠.
The Heart of Grief Massage
The Heart of Grief Massage will take my introductory Grief Massage training to an even deeper level, offering a deep exploration of public health and psychology research on bereavement and the body (sourced from my thesis paper on grief and the body) as well as in-depth practical training and the opportunity to earn a professional certification in “Safe and Gentle Grief Massage”.
Students will have the opportunity to work with grieving clients in their own private practice or community and receive mentoring while completing case studies as part of this advanced course.
Students will learn specific daily practices and tools for releasing the need to “fix” on an even deeper level and will also develop their own customized Grief Massage talk or presentation for use in their community (helpful for connecting with referral sources or potential clients).
Creating Grief Massage
Designed for alumni who have successfully completed both The Joy of Grief Massage and The Heart of Grief Massage, the final course will be called Creating Grief Massage.
This very advanced course will be designed for students who would like to train in developing their own unique Grief Massage approach and teaching it to others.
Through this course, students will receive personalized mentoring in the unique process that I used to create my original course (including recording their ideas that need to be shared with the world, translating those ideas into text and organized course material, citing sources properly and writing with transparency, copyrighting the material, creating a “beta” or pilot version of the course, and applying with the NCBTMB to become an Approved Provider).
Students who do not wish to create their own Grief Massage modality MAY be able to train as teachers of The Joy of Grief Massage (applications to train in teaching The Joy of Grief Massage will be evaluated on an individual basis).
I believe that the future growth of Grief Massage– this philosophy and approach of catering gentle massage therapy to early grief – is rooted in community.
Massage therapists who practice Grief Massage are (in my opinion) going to be part of important cultural change. I believe that Grief Massage practitioners can help change the world – by making it a gentler, kinder, softer place for people in pain – one massage session at a time.
Personally, in service of my calling to bring Grief Massage into the world, I will be continuing my own education - my graduate coursework begins this fall (2017).
I am confident that my graduate studies will serve to deepen my work as a teacher and Grief Massage practitioner, while also preparing me to eventually serve as a licensed counselor. I plan to also pursue doctoral level training in the future, and hope to conduct academic research around Grief Massage.
I have found that academic pursuits provide a beautiful balance to the deeply personal side of my Grief Massage work, and I am honored to be able to share the fruits of my educational pursuits with all of my students. Being a student truly makes me a better teacher.
You Are Part of the Grief Massage Paradigm Shift
Whether you’ve visited this Grief Massage website once, or one thousand times, over the past seven years, I am grateful to you for being here now and for reading these words.
Your interest in Grief Massage is part of the cultural change I envision.
Yes, cultural change happens slowly, but let’s take the long view.
By thinking about Grief Massage, talking about Grief Massage, or even making Grief Massage a “real thing” in your town, city, or community, you are making the world a safer and gentler place for grieving humans.
Over a relatively short period of time (just seven years), this website has enabled Grief Massage to grow from a very obscure concept that was commonly misheard as “Grease Massage” to something that can actually be “Googled” and obtained in several cities across the United States (and elsewhere).
It’s a very “real thing”!
This growth of Grief Massage has certainly required me to put myself out there and “let other people read my diary”, but this calling is well worth the cost and I intend to keep doing it.
So now as we approach this seven year anniversary of www.griefmassage.org, and as you ask “What is Grief Massage?”, my question to you is:
Won’t you join me, in whatever way you feel called?