Stephanie Shrum is a massage therapist/bodyworker who weaves her touch, sense of timing, and body awareness together to create highly nuanced and individualized healing sessions for her clients. The duration of her sessions are what she describes as “Hour and a Half Plus” – having at least 90 minutes of hands on work allowing the time and patience to address specific issues and still treat the body as a whole.
Stephanie has logged over 1800 hours of extended massage education, which was driven by her inner curiosity and joy of working with the body. We spoke with her today to learn more about her practice.
Stephanie, thanks for talking with us. Can you please introduce us to your practice Co-Creative Healing. How long have you been in business and how long have you been in Ashland?
I first started doing massage/bodywork fifteen years ago in New Orleans, LA. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that I have been doing this work for over one third of my life. My curiosity to learn from the people I work with helps to keep things fresh for me. Over the years I have practiced within various settings including spa, chiropractic, and retreat centers, but I have always had my own private practice. I moved to Portland five years ago and just relocated to Ashland this summer.
You discuss several elements of your work that is different from traditional massage. Can you tell us more about what makes your work unique?
Mainstream massage tends to focus more on the muscles. I consider my work to be more diverse than just massage and falls more in the bodywork category. At times I work with people on a massage table, at other times I will work with them fully clothed on a mat on the floor. I like working with the muscles, fascia (connective tissue), the organs and various systems in the body such as the cranial system. I love to interact with the body three dimensionally. When indicated, I will move limbs, create range of motion in joints, and stretch and twist clients. When I work with someone, I feel like we are going on an exploration together. At times I feel like this exploration resembles a dance, where sometimes the body is leading me, and other times I am guiding the body.
You approach time differently than many therapists. Will you please tell us about the time you take for a session?
Ever since I was in massage school, I always found it challenging to do a head to toe massage in an hour while also addressing specific symptoms. I found having the clock control the session to be frustrating, both as a receiver and also as a therapist. Eventually I stopped offering sessions in specific time increments, and just started charging by the session.
When I work with the body, I am listening with my hands for when is a good moment for you do be ‘done.’ An ‘Hour and a Half Plus’ session gives me the freedom to find each person’s appropriate closing moment. Having this flexibility is such a blessing for both me and my clients.
You have stated giving your clients an opportunity to fully embrace and relax into the session is an important aspect of your work. How do you go about preparing for and supporting individuals to fully embrace each session?
When people book with me, I normally encourage them to set aside at least two hours. Before the session my clients have a chance to explain what is going on in their body and their goals for our time together. There is also time after the session to address questions or for me to make ergonomic or self-care suggestions to help support the change we created.
My own relationship to my practice and work is also something that ensures my clients get a quality session every visit. I only see three clients in a day and I give myself a full break between each client. This ensures that I am fresh for them each and every time they come. I cannot healthily serve my clients unless I take care of myself first.
You talk about the sensitivity of your hands, but I understand you use more that just your hands when working, correct?
You are right. I make full use of all the tools I have. With clients permission, I often will get up and down off the table so I can use my own body effectively. I regularly use my elbows, knees, feet or my own body leverage. It may sound odd, but I learned a wonderful technique in Thailand to help release tight hamstrings by sitting on them. Of course, I would not do this without a client’s consent, but the technique offers perfect combination of deep, broad and warm pressure that large muscle groups need to release with ease.
I know many people will relate to not being able to fully relax during a massage because they feel that the practitioner might not be able to pace the treatment properly, thus forgetting other parts of the body that still might need to be attended to.
This is another perk to working by the session and not by the hour. I hold the greater context for the session and treat my clients holistically. My clients never have to worry about if I will have time for their feet just because I am being patient with specific spot in their back. For some of my clients, my treatment room is the one place in their world where they don’t have to worry about time.
Can you discuss how it is to work with clients ongoingly and some goals you may have with them over time?
I gladly work with people who are just visiting from out of town, but I prefer establishing relationships and working with people over time. The great thing about working with people over time is that I can often help walk them out of a long held pain pattern. Most people have patterns in their life that keeps them from their optimal health. For those who have the pattern of putting others needs before their own, sometimes setting aside time for a massage session can be an invitation for them to start a healthier pattern of putting their needs first. For people who have repetitive injury or poor posture patterns, not only do I physically undo the micro-adhesions in the body, I also offer stretching or ergonomic suggestions so they can prevent symptoms from coming back so quickly. For those who have chronic pain patterns, I break up the old adhesions that are like hidden tangled webs in the body. Some of these patterns may take time to unwind, but each session leads to a deeper and more lasting release.
Many recipients of your work have experienced more than just temporary relief from their treatments. Will you talk to us about some of the lasting effects you have seen come from your work and why you think this has happened?
Many of the people I have worked with thought that they had to live with daily chronic neck or back pain. Many of my clients who are chronic pain sufferers have said it has been years since they felt so good after working with me.
For the athletes I work with, reducing the tension that exists within their bodies often increases their performance. A specialty I do is with TMJ and jaw tension. For some people, issues with the jaw can be the missing piece that effects headaches or neck pain. The work is unique and extremely effective.
The reason why I feel the results are more long lasting is due to the co-creative nature of my sessions. Most clients do not passively receive a session. I may ask them to engage physically. Other times I invite awareness to the melting holding pattern. When a client brings their consciousness to the areas as we work with them, the client gets to personally own the changes within their body. This conscious ownership of and participation in the healing process is key to more lasting results.
Stephanie, on top of running a busy practice you also teach and lead continuing education classes for other massage therapists and body workers. What courses are you currently offering?
I have a new series of courses themed “Around the Table, Around the World” which offers massage techniques inspired from my studies around the globe, including a “Magic of Side-Lying Massage” class. I will start to offer these classes in 2013 in Ashland, Bend & Portland. I may also offer a “Thai Massage for the Table” class if there is enough local interest.
You have just moved to Ashland from Portland where you had previously established a successful practice. What prompted your move to Ashland?
For the past four years I had been traveling to Ashland monthly for my own emotional and spiritual practice. During that time, I developed some sweet friendships and the charm of Ashland kept growing on me. For years, I had considered myself as a ‘city girl,’ but that has changed for me so much now that I am here. I love that Ashland has a lot of the food and cultural perks that a bigger city has, but a calmer pace that serves me. I love all the natural beauty around, especially my hikes and walks through Lithia Park.
How would you describe your ideal client and what types of conditions are you best suited to assist them with?
I appreciate working with people from all walks of life, but the one thing in common about my favorite clients is this: their willingness to be to be a part of their own healing process. They are people who are willing to experience moments of intensity in order to have more lasting results. They are people who are willing to try things that may be out-of-the-box or unconventional. I love working with people who are curious and appreciate that every session is different. Although I can mix in all of the yummy tricks of a spa – such as hydrotherapy and essential oils, I don’t really offer a regular ‘spa’ massage. People who are drawn to my work usually come because they are looking for longer lasting change in their body.
Finally, will you share something interesting about your practice that we might not find anywhere else?
I do not take for granted the trust that someone extends when they allow me to touch their body. I hold the work I do with my clients with reverence. Clients can expect to be treated with deep care, presence and respect on every visit.
Gift Certificates are available for the holidays. If you are interested in booking a session you may call Stephanie directly or book online. To be placed on her e-mail list for upcoming continuing education classes please e-mail her.