JSB Vol.3 No.4

  Journal of Spiritual Bodywork

    Vol. 3, No. 4                                 ISSN 1079-8390                              March 1998   

Be doers of the word and not hearers only. - James 1:22




Rev. Albert Schatz, Ph.D.



Tracy Williams, who is not a massage therapist, has made a major contribution to the massage profession. Her program in Tucson, Arizona,  is a model of a unique and important community service.

Tracy graduated from the University of Arizona with a master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.  She voluntarily dedicates time and expertise to coordinate Touch/Ability.  Her  experience living with a rare congenital disability gives her insight and compassion. 

Tracy was born with Hypophosphatasia and developed severe scoliosis. At age fifteen, an orthopedic physician offered her two options:  surgery or slow death.  Scared and vulnerable but trusting, she elected to have a complete spinal fusion.  The operations were lengthy, painful, and expensive.

Aftercare, in a totally traditional medical framework, was humiliating and dangerous. She then determined to find a natural way to take care of herself. This led her to the world of complementary/alternative health care.  Bodyworkers and fitness trainers helped her loosen the tension that was associated with her pain, immobility, and partial paralysis.  Their guidance and hands-on techniques were a welcome relief and contrast to what the medical establishment offered.  Since then, alternative therapies have become a necessary and rewarding part of her lifestyle. She looks forward to sharing them with others.

Tracy has developed social service programs at Independent Living Centers in Arizona and New Mexico. For five years, she was a member of the Desert Institute of the Healing Arts where she taught the Massage Therapy for People with Disabilities course, provided counseling and guidance to students, and was a guest lecturer in numerous massage and shiatsu classes.  Tracy is a Continuing Education Provider approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and an allied member of the American Massage Therapy Association.



Touch/Ability Introduces People with Disabilities to the Healing Arts

Touch/Ability community service organization connects the art of touch and healing to people with disabilities.  It also offers alternative health care practitioners an opportunity to learn to work safely and effectively with individuals who have special needs due to loss of strength, mobility, and/or sensation.

In Tucson, people with disabilities are discovering natural ways to improve the quality of their lives.  Tracy has designed a model experiential learning program that encourages people with disabilities and special needs to develop a healing relationship with themselves and their community.

People with special needs have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.  Their physical conditions range from arthritis to quadriplegia, from blindness to epilepsy.

As people with disabilities experience touch therapies, they begin to take charge of their emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness.  Current literature highlights numerous benefits gained by individuals who use alternative therapies. These benefits include prevention of injury and illness, reduction of the stress response, and relief of pain.

Many disabled people claim alternative therapies help them deal more effectively with chronic tension, depression, and secondary complications that result from their primary condition.

As one might expect, people with disabilities are interested in anything that might improve the quality of their lives.  Alternative therapies have much to offer physically challenged individuals, both mentally and physically.  Persons with congenital conditions, such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, experience relief from chronic pain.  Survivors of traumatic accidents with head, neck or spinal cord injuries have discovered that massage therapy and hypnotherapy relieve stress.

People with neuromuscular degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy find that bodywork improves flexibility and range-of-motion.  Aqua-therapy, acupuncture and shiatsu have helped seniors with arthritis and other conditions.

 Healing Arts Program

DIRECT Center for Independence offers project director Tracy Williams the use of their facilities to conduct the Touch/Ability Healing Arts Program.  Since March 1997, Touch/Ability has conducted 32 group sessions. 

Over 30 volunteer practitioners have given over 200 individual treatments to 42 people with a variety of disabilities. A full waiting list indicates community interest in the program.  More and more disabled people are seeking holistic methods for their personal growth.


All Touch/Ability practitioners complete a thorough application and screening process to establish their credentials.  The practitioners outline their specific goals and objectives to learn while in the program.  They receive individualized training in a supervised group setting.  All massage therapists must meet the local licensing criteria and agree to adhere to the professional standards outlined by the American Massage Therapy Association's Code of Ethics.

Until the project acquires equipment and supplies, the practitioners provide their own.  These trained practitioners witness exceptional people transform and move beyond their perceived limitations.


The project director interviews all applicants and evaluates their readiness to participate in theprogram. All clients take the following steps prior to enrollment.

First, they complete an Intake Interview by telephone and/or in person to assess their condition and needs, outline specific goals, and discuss the nature of receiving bodywork.  Secondly, they sign  Commitment Contracts and  Release Forms.  Thirdly, they seek documentation of their condition, prior to receiving bodywork, from their physicians, chiropractors, or other primary care providers.  Finally, all clients agree to fill out a Bodywork Evaluation after each session.

In exchange for services, clients make a donation to the program.  In Tucson, the approximate cost for a one-hour massage therapy session is $45, so a suggested donation of $5 to $25 for the two-hour session is reasonable for most clients. 

One regular client, who owns a silk-screen business, donates custom printed T-shirts with the Touch/Ability logo on the front. Practitioners seeking continuing education credit pay a fee for the training and materials.

Join their on-going continuing education workshops in Tucson or contact Tracy for informaton about bringing Touch/Ability to your community.

Tracy Williams 

3161 W. Mojean Street

Tucson, AZ  85745

Phone: 520/743-7566

e-mail: dh25734@goodnet.com.




"If our hands are prayers, then touching another person, as in Massage, the Art of Anointing, is indeed an embodied way of praying our care for another person. 

"When we take time to touch ... the handicapped, ...we leave a wondrous and lasting heart-print that says, 'I care about you; I honor you; I am here with you.'

"Such a touch should never be underestimated. Not only will it soothe physical aches and pains, but it will anoint inner psychic and spiritual wounds as well.

" A sacred touch reinforces a positive self image that may be tarnished due to unkind remarks about our bodies, to physical/sexual abuse, to invasive surgeries and scars, to disease and inevitable aging.

" A respectful touch creates a fresh openness and trust in relationships, whether they be intimate, parental, ministerial or therapeutic.

"A wise touch anoints the scars we all carry from thoughtless and careless touches that we have received and also given.

"A gentle touch can make up for the touches we never received."


"If massage is an art of anointing, it is also an art of compassion. One definition of compassion is 'the desire to be with the suffering of another.'

"Compassion becomes an art when our action, in this case, touch, informs our way of being with another person while they are experiencing  some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives.

"Often I have settled the warm palm of my hand over a frightful looking scar and silently been with the person as they descended into the darkened tomb of that wound in search of its healing power.

"Silently, I am here with you, sheltering you through my hands with my own vulnerable and wounded loveliness.

"This is the touch raised to the art of anointing, the art of prayer and the sacrament of caring."

*From the article In Praise of Hands: Massage as Contemplation and Compassion by Mary Ann Finch. (Personal communication) Mary Ann Finch has master degrees in theology and communications and is a licensed massage therapist. She is founder and director of the Center for Growth in Wholeness. She has taught embodied spirituality and massage: the art of anointing for nearly a decade and incorporates massage and bodywork into her private practice as a counselor and spiritual director.



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