179228917When massage therapist Kelly Sontheimer worked with hospice patients, she noticed patients wishing they had known sooner about massage’s ability to relieve anxiety, pain and depression. “I wanted to reach people before the terminal stage, to help them as they progress, and to help with pain and depression,” she said.

So Sontheimer and her sister-in-law, Pat Kerber, who is also a massage therapist, founded Wellspring Journey, in 2011, to provide free massages to patients with life-altering illnesses, and to patients’ caregivers. The organization of volunteer massage therapists has touched more than 1,300 people.

Wellspring Journey’s primary focus has been on individuals healing from cancer and receiving cancer treatment, but the organization has also worked with individuals with ALS, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. The organization has two branches, in St. Louis, Missouri, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Sandra Fjerkenstad-Budel, a Wellspring Journey client, has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for years and experienced relief through massage. “Massage brings me back by getting my blood flowing, easing the pain instantaneously and soothing my mind.” 

Kerber provides massage at the Minneapolis branch studio and in hospitals or homes of immobile patients, while Sontheimer provides massage in clients’ homes and hospice settings. Patients are often referred by nurses and social workers.

Kerber and Sontheimer incorporate oncology massage, Compassionate Touch, craniosacral therapy and manual lymph drainage in massage sessions. 

Both Sontheimer and Kerber have noticed improvement in clients’ anxiety levels. Kerber said she has seen patients “sigh, sink in and relax,” and experience immediate calmness.

The massage therapists said providing massage and self-help techniques for caregivers transfers to patients. It allows a caregiver to be “more present for his or her loved one,” said Sontheimer.

Kerber added, “I’ve seen massage relieve the physical stress of caregivers and give them a break to mentally wonder off.”

Kerber and Sontheimer also teach caregivers how to perform simple massages to provide support and care for loved ones, which Kerber described as wonderful experiences.

Sontheimer said working with ill clients has taught her to be present when there is nothing she can to do make clients feel better, while Kerber described the release in clients as gratifying, adding, “as I put my hands on them, I can feel the anxiety drain out.”

Kerber and Sontheimer plan to continue growing Wellspring Journey by adding more massage therapists and providing training on working with clients who live with illness and other physical challenges. 

Maegan Sharp is MASSAGE Magazine’s marketing and editorial assistant.

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