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Health & science

Learning to let go

Healing Touch helps patients remember to relax.

Suzanne Skowronski soothes without physical contact.
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Published 6/30/1999

When Healing Touch practitioner Suzanne Skowronski got through with me, I felt just as nurtured, relaxed and energized as I’ve ever felt after a professional massage.

Yet Skowronski, who practices at the Thea Bowman Nurse-Managed Center in Highland Park, had barely touched me.

Instead, Skowronski works with the energy fields that surround each person, to find blockages, reduce pain and, most of all, teach patients what it feels like to be relaxed.

The idea behind Healing Touch (also called therapeutic touch) is that once the patient experiences relaxation, she or he can re-create that feeling at home, to the benefit of their blood pressure and a host of ailments.

Skowronski explains that energy fields are not just what New Agers call your "aura," but physical manifestations of heat and electromagnetic energy, created by the movement of your muscles and your body burning food.

"When a person is anxious," explains Skowronski, who is a registered nurse as well as a nun, "they pull the field into their body and it sits there. Sometimes it’ll sit in the head or the neck, the stomach or bowels. And in a relaxed state the person learns how to let go, to release that sense of tension or holding things in. That’s how your body should feel normally."

Through deep breathing, says Skowronski, a trained patient can get back to the relaxed feeling. And the endorphins secreted during relaxation act as painkillers – "about as effective as aspirin, not as effective as morphine."

At the center, the patient lies on an examining table fully clothed, with various pillows and supports for comfort. Skowronski plays a tape – it gave me a head start on relaxing, because she used the same music I had listened to for yoga years ago.

"It’s like riding a bicycle," says Skowronski. "The feeling from the music doesn’t go away. You can hear it and be right in there again."

Chinese acupuncturists theorize that meridians of energy run through the body, and use needles at key points to stimulate the energy or release it (see related story next page). Healing Touch practitioners, however, use the palm of the hand to very gently cover several meridians at once.

"Holding them for a while serves to balance them; it’s possible to feel the energy like a wave going back and forth," says Skowronski. "If a person has a headache, you can actually feel heat around the area.

"The field from the hand interacts with the person’s field, to wake it up and help the energy to flow. If there’s an area of congestion, you can simply move it away."

All this is done with the healer’s hands a few inches from the patient’s body, or sometimes touching and softly rocking the body part in question. Skowronski moved my beleaguered kneecaps back and forth with the tiniest of motions and made small circles at the base of my skull. She says skeptical patients are reassured by touching – "They feel something is going on."

Skowronski studied holistic health in California – Indian medicine, acupuncture, Chinese dietary medicine, massage and polarity therapy – as well as quantum physics and field theory. When Sister Rita Brocke and others launched the Thea Bowman Center in 1997, dedicated to a different way of practicing medicine, Skowronski saw it as a chance to use her skills among patients most in need of a healing touch.

Even so, Skowronski has met some resistance to Healing Touch. "People might be a little wary because of the way medicine has treated them – we’re so mechanistic," she says. "And then all of a sudden here’s someone who says you can heal yourself. Follow the medicine, follow the diet, but you also have to participate. And some of them are … ‘give me a pill and I’ll go home.’"

One area where Healing Touch seems to be particularly effective is with hypertension, which affects a third of the center’s 920 patients. (A recent study of Detroit teenagers found hypertension even in middle-school girls.)

Skowronski, who also works with cancer patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Pontiac, says she’s found the best treatment for hypertension is a combination of medication, counseling and at least five sessions of Healing Touch. The counseling is necessary because one cause of hypertension is suppressed inner rage.

"It’s not medication alone," says Skowronski, "because people just continue to go through the same lifestyle."

This rings true for patient Geneva Copeland. She worked two jobs, for the Detroit Board of Education and Farmer Jack, until two heart attacks forced her to quit. She calls Thea Bowman "the best thing that ever happened to me." With no income for the present, she comes in every two weeks to get her blood pressure and diabetes checked, and she tries "not to get stressed out too much ’cause it’s not good for none of my health."

Co-operative wellness

Highland Park clinic offers healing alternatives to low-income patients.

The Thea Bowman Nurse-Managed Center, tucked away inside a medical building on Glendale in Highland Park, is for patients with neither insurance nor Medicaid.

Not a drop-in clinic, it functions as the patient’s regular primary health care provider, treating acute illnesses and stabilized chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, heart trouble and asthma. Patients see the same doctor each visit and pay what they can afford.

The volunteer staff runs a collaborative practice among physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives. Providers are scheduled so a family practice doctor can immediately refer a patient to a nurse-midwife, for example, or vice versa, rather than the patient having to come back for a second appointment.

"We organize services around the patient instead of around the convenience of our professionals," says founding mother and family nurse practitioner Sister Rita Brocke.

Most patients are employed or recently unemployed; most pay $5 or $10, and some volunteer time doing clerical chores.

Says Cassandra Washington, director of patient services, "We try to change the mind-set of people to take some responsibility and be accountable for their own health. Instead of depending on someone to make you well, why don’t you practice keeping you well? So we do a lot of patient education."

The Thea Bowman Center needs medical volunteers of all kinds. Call 313-866-2415.

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