Refugees who have survived political violence, patients with pancreatic cancer, infants in the intensive care unit, a woman who was hit by a bus—these are all clients Marcia Degelman, C.M.T., might see on a typical day at work. Her place of employment is the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, where Degelman serves as the facility’s full-time massage therapist.
Integrative medicine draws from both modern and complementary therapies to address patients from a whole-person perspective, rather than seeing the body as a collection of parts. Therapies that are integrated into modern health care include massage therapy, homeopathy, yoga, meditation and herbs.
The U.S. is experiencing a growth in integrative medicine, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, and research in integrative medicine is increasing as well.
Founded in 1998, the Osher Center is part of the renowned University of California, San Francisco health care system, which includes several hospital campuses and four professional medical schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Patients at the Osher Center range from pregnant women, infants and young children to adults of all ages and the elderly. Services span the spectrum from wellness and prevention to palliative care, aiming to integrate modern medicine with established health practices from around the world.
Clients are connected with Degelman in a variety of ways, including self-referral, but she said most of them come through referrals from other practitioners, such as Osher Center physicians and acupuncturists, whom Degelman meets with bimonthly to discuss patient cases.
“I also get referrals from other physicians throughout UCSF, including patients from the UCSF Trauma Recovery Center’s Survivors International, with whom we have been collaborating for three years,” Degelman said. “These patients are refugees who have survived political violence.”
According to Wolf Mehling, M.D., who serves as associate clinical professor in the department of family and community medicine at UCSF and also sees patients at the Osher Center, massage therapy can deliver big benefits for patients with anxiety, whether that anxiety stems from political violence or the process of undergoing cancer treatment.
“At the Osher Center, we have conducted studies with hospitalized patients undergoing cancer-related surgery and children undergoing bone marrow transplantation and have shown that patients [who received massage] had less pain, less depression, found relief from the hospital stress and were better able to relax and fall asleep,” Mehling said. “We believe that massage can bring patients out of their worried minds into a more relaxed body, where they feel they have—and can tap into—resources in their body to help its healing process.”
Degelman says she thinks of herself as a generalist. “I see all kinds of patients, from 90-year-olds who are having their first massage ever to doctors with pancreatic cancer to people with fibromyalgia, MS, scoliosis,” said Degelman, who has been providing massage at the Osher Center since 2004.
“We see a lot of people going through cancer treatment and a lot of cancer survivors dealing with side effects of treatment,” she added. “One of my patients was hit by a double-decker bus, and her improvement has been dramatic. Each treatment is individualized to every patient.”
A Typical Day
For Degelman, a regular workday begins at the Osher Center Clinic, where she sees four to six patients and charts each session in the facility’s electronic medical records. From there, she hops on the UCSF shuttle and heads to the hospital’s Mission Bay campus, where she sees children in the pediatric intensive care unit and babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, charting each session electronically.
“After taking Tina Allen’s pediatric massage therapy training last spring, I’m now able to work on the children and infants, as part of the Integrative Pediatric Pain and Palliative Care Team,” Degelman said. “The infants’ needs vary. Usually, I’m trying to calm down their nervous system from being so stressed by being in the hospital, using nurturing touch and energy work, but some babies need to be stimulated by percussive movements.”
A Range of Techniques
For her diverse list of clients in other areas of the UCSF medical system, Degelman said she tends to shape each massage session using her own intuition and experience, along with the patient’s needs and electronic notes from other UCSF practitioners. Degelman said the techniques she uses range from deep tissue to light touch, with the latter being her general go-to for people with issues such as cancer and migraines.
“Basically, I want people to feel at home in their bodies, comfortable in their own skin,” she said. “The 90-year-old woman I worked with said she felt comfortable for the first time in years after the treatment.”
About the Author
Brandi Schlossberg is an avid bodywork client and full-time journalist based in Reno, Nevada. She has written on many topics for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Grant Supports CAM Health Care for Cancer Patients.”