Tiana Allen’s massage table has seen a lot of pain.
For the last 13 years, Allen, an Atlanta-based massage therapist, has worked closely with domestic violence survivors through her nonprofit, The Journey Institute of Wellness.
“My table has held a lot of tears, literally,” said Allen. “My table has seen some hurt.”
While the domestic violence suvivors may feel helpless, Allen’s mission is to bring healing—even if just a little bit—with therapeutic touch.
Sadly, domestic violence issues aren’t uncommon in America.
Every minute, an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners. That’s more than 10 million victims each year, according to a National Coalition Against Domestic Violence fact sheet.
While those numbers are staggering, massage therapists like Allen feel called to offer support and love for those who have been hurt.
Affordable Holistic Treatment
Through The Journey Institute of Wellness, she offers discounted rates to veterans, cancer patients and pregnant clients. A large majority of those she serves are domestic violence survivors as well, a population Allen feels strongly about helping.
Allen estimates a quarter of clients at her private practice, The Wellness Sanctuary, are domestic violence survivors.
She regularly works with Atlanta’s Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV), serving as the lead massage therapist at pop-in events at their shelters. Often, she’ll bring a Mary Kay representative to do makeovers, and sometimes extra massage assistants to give 15-minute chair massages.
In 2013, Chanté Dent worked alongside Allen during a “Hey Lovely” pop-up spa day event at a PADV shelter. Dent, a Mary Kay consultant at the time, provided the women mini facials and makeup samples.
She watched as Allen repeatedly made women feel at ease with a gentle touch.
“Tiana puts the survivors first. It is evident that she passionately wants each survivor to enjoy their experience and to know that they are important and of great value,” said Dent. “Tiana is extremely professional. She ensures her patients are comfortable and well-informed.”
For many domestic violence survivors in shelters, it is their first time experiencing a holistic wellness treatment. Often, limited funds and the need to go into hiding prevent women from seeking spa services.
“I rarely see people from the shelter outside the facility,” said Allen, noting security issues of leaving the shelters. “I have to go to them.”
Allen offers the services for free at shelters because the work is so meaningful to her. The women are always thrilled to see her, she said.
The results have been uplifting and touching, said Nancy Friauf, president and CEO of Partnership Against Domestic Violence.
“Women leaving a domestic violence situation usually feel scared, broken, worthless and lost,” said Friauf. “Massages and pampering play a beautiful role in helping them know they are special, important and cared for.”
Comfort During Painful Times
Asking what clients are comfortable with and communicating while working through a massage are keys to a healthy session, Allen said.
“If they’re comfortable with you, it’s easy for someone to share their secrets with you,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why I started primarily working with domestic violence survivors. I knew I had a gift.”
A caring presence, listening ear and cautious touch are attributes she credits to her success in working with such clients. When working with survivors, being mindful that the neck can be a sensitive area is important, she said.
She also refers to them as victors instead of victims.
“For some reason, my presence, my energy and my healing touch is able to brighten someone’s day,” she explained. “They gravitate toward me.”
One long-time client’s story is something she thinks of often.
Allen started making house calls as a massage therapist. Despite the appearance that everything was picture-perfect, Allen knew something was amiss.
Her client would joke and laugh with Allen to warm up before the massage session, but as soon as she got on the table, things would change.
“Inside of that house was definitely empty. She was living within a domestic abusive relationship,” Allen said. “When we got on the table, I found out a lot of things about her.”
And while she’s a massage therapist and not a psychological therapist, Allen still listens. She said fully understanding the massage industry’s code of ethics and scope of practice are critical to keep the lines of personal and professional business clear.
Offering up resources and referring out to mental health therapists is a regular practice of hers, and she’s advises it to other massage therapists as well.
Serving a Need
The Journey Institute of Wellness is an arm of Allen’s massage business, The Wellness Sanctuary, as a way to provide holistic treatment to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it at her regular rate.
Instead of $75 an hour, she’ll charge $45. Sometimes, she’ll do events for free.
When Allen started out in the industry, she volunteered a lot of her time to organizations such as Amerigroup. The need to offer affordable holistic services to those on programs such as Medicaid struck a chord in her heart, she said.
With a bachelor’s degree in behavioral studies and a master’s in education, Allen wanted to intertwine her gift of touch with the opportunity to educate.
The nonprofit’s mission acronym is H.E.A.L.T.H, which stands for Help Educate, Advocate and Improve Literacy Through Our Hands.
After spending hours volunteering, she knew services to vulnerable populations, including veterans, cancer patients, domestic violence survivors and others, would be a welcomed resource in Georgia.
And when she made the connection with survivors over and over again in the community, she knew that therapeutic touch could potentially heal an often forgotten population.
“Survivors of domestic abuse, they kind of lose themselves. They have to get back to themselves,” said Allen.
If giving a massage to them at a reduced rate is one way they can find themselves, Allen is glad to do it. Aside from the physical education, Allen also provides literature in her private practice for clients to take, even when they may not feel comfortable opening up.
She honors breast cancer and domestic violence awareness months, and gives out purple and pink bracelets and goody bags to customers. When women do share their stories, it further encourages Allen to keep going in a physically demanding field.
“Working with these women has not only increased my motivation to continue with my nonprofit organization, but has given me have more overall compassion for all my clients as a massage therapist,” she said.
Above all, Allen says being available and open to talking clients about their experiences can be huge.
“You never know who is a survivor,” Allen said. “If I could, I would give my services for free all the time.”
Sometimes a listening ear is all they really need.
Sometimes, they just need a place to leave their pain and tears.
About the Author
Seraine Page is an award-winning journalist based out of Southwest Florida. She enjoys writing about health, wellness and travel. Her work has been published in Discover Kitsap, AAA Journey Magazine, DAYSPA Magazine, Bainbridge Island Review, and others. She has written many articles for massagemag.com, including “A Whole-Family Model of Massage” and “This is How to Get a Job Working on Olympic Athletes.”
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