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When you visit your massage therapist, you probably prepare for a healing and wellness experience that begins with the physical massage itself. But behind the experienced hands are often therapists with true dedication and compassion for your overall wellness.
One such therapist is Michelle Blanchard. Michelle has been practising for 15 years in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She has always been fascinated by anatomy and all the workings of the human body.
Michelle has also always been driven by her innate compassion for people and her love for animals. These aptitudes and talents have been obvious since childhood. One story stands out for her.
"In grade 9, we were doing different stages of embryotic development and at the end of the term, we had two different chicks that hatched. All of the girls put their name in to get a chick, and the understanding was that if one of the girls won, one of them would bring it home."
Michelle won the chick. When she got home, her father had built a pen for it. "I realized that I couldn't eat chickens any more. That was one big deciding factor in my life — treating all things with compassion."
Although she didn't realize it at the time, this compassion and aptitude for understanding all living things would lead to her career as a massage therapist.
When exploring career opportunities, Michelle's life took another directional change. During a visit with her cousin in Ottawa, who was very involved in the Metis Association, she was introduced to the Elders, one of whom was a medicine man.
"He just looked at me, and he took my hands and said you're a healer. That's what you're meant to do." When Michelle returned to Winnipeg, she decided to sign up for a massage therapy program.
Michelle treats her clients' physical health, but she is also provides a safe place for them to talk, without judgment.
She particularly remembers one patient, who first came to her after she had a double mastectomy.
"She was very apprehensive about treatment. She was told to come in for lymphatic work by her doctor. I assured her about the importance of her comfort, and that I would just work with whatever she was comfortable with. We just talked for the first session."
The next session, Michelle saw a dramatic change with the client. "The next session she was ready to be undressed, and the treatment was in a chair. She didn't want to lie on the table, which was fine, and next time it was a little bit more."
Michelle gave her client the power to make her own decisions, "It was just giving her that confidence and giving her the power to make her own decisions and to decide her own direction, which she felt had been taken away with previous treatments."
While Michelle believes it's important to empower her clients to be more proactive about their health, she also believes in the importance of self-care.
Oftentimes, when massage therapists are just entering into the field, there is a tendency to overextend themselves. This can lead to burn out; some therapists only practise a short time before they injure themselves or retire from practice.
She advises students or new massage therapists to "Make sure you're taking time for yourself and know and just believe that that's what the universe wants."
As to the future, Michelle is passionate about volunteerism, something that was instilled at a young age by her mother.
She has previously served as the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada's (NHPC) Board President, and has played an active role within the organization since 2005.
There's not one day that Michelle regrets her decision to become a massage therapist. "I'm going into my fifteenth year of practising. Ninety percent of my patients have office jobs and are under so much stress from their employers. I'm just glad that I'm able to help them. I love my job, and I'm just so thankful."