Students Discover Unexpected Reward At The Acupressure Therapy Institute

Students Discover Unexpected Reward At The Acupressure Therapy Institute

by Bob Olson

Upon attending an open house at Barbara Blanchard’s Acupressure Therapy Institute(ATI), I discovered an unexpected benefit to learning about energy. I went to the lecture and demonstration anticipating a rather predictable discussion on the benefits of acupressure shiatsu. What I learned, however, came as a surprise. I discovered how students of acupressure shiatsu gained much more than an education toward a new fulfilling career; they also gained an education about something that would forever improve their personal lives, as well.

The open house became a remarkable testimonial to the benefits of being a student of energy. In two fast-moving hours, I witnessed students and teachers alike enthusiastically expressing the personal benefits—not just the vocational benefits—gained from their education. Interestingly, I don’t think the speakers this day were aware of the impact their words presented. The open house was clearly not rehearsed. In fact, ATI program director, Barbara Blanchard, told me she was lucky just to get everyone to show up on such a beautiful day—never mind rehearse the presentation, too. I believe the spontaneity of these testimonials is partly the reason they came through so inspiringly. I am grateful to have experienced this story of which I am about to share.

It was a Saturday and I was a little weary from the two-hour drive from my home in Kennebunkport, Maine to Canton, Massachusetts. I was sipping my medium-size Dunkin Donuts’ iced coffee when I arrived at the Acupressure Therapy Institute—pleased at how easy it was to find. I parked my car in the shade and walked into the school with my notebook, camera and my iced coffee. Barbara Blanchard greeted me at the door.

Barbara was accompanied by one of the school’s instructors, James Coyne (pronounced Coin). James is one of Barbara’s former students from another school, and apparently quite a success story. Based on his accomplishments with his private practice in Plymouth, Massachusetts, James teaches business management for bodyworkers at ATI. This is a course to equip students with the tools needed to duplicate James’ success.

After hearing a basic rundown of what James teaches in the course, I was most impressed with some of his creative marketing strategies. As a former marketing consultant myself, it was immediately evident why James has met with success. He has applied his knowledge of general marketing techniques to the specific practice of bodywork. If you’re a bodyworker looking to maximize your success, this business management and marketing course offered by the Acupressure Therapy Institute sounds like a goldmine of information.

After Barbara showed me around, I found a chair from which to observe the lecture and demonstration. Most people were sitting on large futon-like mats on the floor that are used for the acupressure shiatsu therapy, but I snagged a chair so I could take notes more comfortably. Once everyone arrived and got seated, Barbara started her talk.

Barbara’s introduction made me realize why her fifteen-month course on acupressure shiatsu has a reputation as one of the top curriculums for this style of Asian Bodywork Therapy. First, even the national standards of The American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia (ABOTA) were originally modeled after Barbara’s curriculum at her first school for shiatsu, The New England Shiatsu Center. Today, Barbara takes great pride in knowing her current curriculum at ATI is even more extensive. For instance, ATI is one of the only schools in the nation that teaches the Extraordinary Vessel Acupressure technique.

Aside from her twenty years of teaching experience, Barbara offers one of the most comprehensive training programs for Asian Bodywork Therapy in acupressure shiatsu. After graduating, students will be both knowledgeable and practiced in assessing, evaluating, treating and following the care of clients. Barbara quotes her brochure in saying, “Students will be able to give a treatment that will encompass local therapy for balancing symptoms of a presenting condition, and also, that will balance the deeper energies of the constitution.” In short, when Barbara’s students graduate, they know what they’re doing.

Something I immediately recognized about the ATI students at the open house was that they came across as exceptionally knowledgeable in their field, more so than some working practitioners in this line of work. I’ve met some Asian bodywork therapists (not trained at ATI) who were unable to explain the difference between Acupressure Shiatsu and Zen Shiatsu. In fact, one practitioner I’ve met wasn’t even sure what style shiatsu he was using. This wasn’t the case with ATI students. The students at this open house were obviously well-trained and confident with the in-depth knowledge they had acquired—and they still had a couple months to go before graduation!

In case you were wondering, acupressure shiatsu is quite different than massage therapy (many people confused the two). Acupressure shiatsu focuses on using the body’s energy to heal and to create balance and harmony for ongoing health. Different than massage, the practitioner applies firm, although gentle, pressure to certain areas of the body called acupoints or meridian energy centers. The purpose of this therapy is to balance the “Qi” or energy in the body. I have heard people refer to acupressure shiatsu as acupuncture without the needles, although I’m sure some acupuncturists would find fault with that description.

Barbara explained, “What we do as acupressure shiatsu therapists is basically detective work. We don’t just learn form and repeat the same movements on every client. We first discover what is happening energetically with each person—what is needed to balance their body’s energy. Then we determine the best way to help that person based on that assessment. Even three migraine sufferers could be treated three different ways. Each person’s healing needs are unique regardless of the symptoms they may be experiencing. The symptoms merely clue us in on what might be going on in their body energetically.”

Many massage therapists take shorter clinical courses at ATI to become familiar with the benefits of acupressure shiatsu and to incorporate some basic techniques into their work. But the full certification program requires 720 hours to fulfill educational standards set by two national professional associations: the AOBTA* & NCCAOM**. This is the fifteen month course.

After Barbara’s brief introduction, another of her graduates, Carolanne Chiang, talked about the work she does at the Massachusetts Hospital School on adolescents and young adults with physical disabilities. Students of ATI have the option to work with these children as part of the school’s supervised clinical training program. Carolanne’s presentation was an emotionally charged illustration of how acupressure shiatsu therapy can lead to a fulfilling career. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke about the use of acupressure shiatsu therapy as a pain and stress management technique for the physically disabled children she treats. It was a rousing testimonial to the satisfaction possible from doing work that helps others.

Carolanne also discussed the coming acceptance and use of acupressure shiatsu in hospital settings. This was an inspiring presentation for all holistic practitioners who anticipate the day alternative therapies will be more commonplace in mainstream medicine. Although still too early to draw predictable conclusions, Carolanne explained that studies are being done to offer scientific evidence of the benefits offered by bodywork therapy such as acupressure shiatsu.

The message that most prominently emanated from Carolanne’s words and body language was the satisfaction she receives daily from the gratifying work she does. If more people shared Carolanne’s passion for the work they do, there would be a great deal less people discontent in their careers. Carolanne’s enthusiasm set the stage for the next presenter.

Peggy Balmaseda was next to speak. Licensed in both acupuncture and shiatsu, Peggy is the head of the Pain Management Clinic at the Massachusetts Hospital School (MHS), supervises the ATI student clinic at MHS, and is a faculty member at ATI. One of the reasons Peggy uses shiatsu in her work—and not just acupuncture alone—is due to her belief that “a patient’s energy thrives on human touch.” She emphasized the point that “People respond to shiatsu in a way that isn’t possible with acupuncture alone.”

Barbara Blanchard is also licensed in acupuncture, and admitted that she prefers the way people respond to acupressure shiatsu. “It hasn’t achieved the respect in the medical community that acupuncture has, but the public is becoming knowledgeable about this acupuncture alternative and many individuals prefer the gentle yet firm pressure we apply using our hand, elbow, knee or foot to specific acupoints,” said Barbara. “In fact, traditional acupuncture theory is part of the foundation for the assessment skills and treatment planning that we do,” she added.

“Is there a certain type of person who is drawn to acupressure shiatsu,” I asked.

“Take me for instance,” said Peggy, “I come from a Latino family. We love to hug! That’s probably why I was drawn to shiatsu.”

Peggy’s fervor for the healing properties of touch got me thinking about the studies done on newborn babies that showed how babies who received the most human contact grew faster and more healthily than babies that received little human contact. Peggy’s statement that, “I’m a firm believer in the power of human touch” made me wonder why some people avoided or feared human touch for one reason or another. Perhaps these people need human contact more than anyone.

“What about patients, like at the Massachusetts Hospital School, who are uncomfortable being touched but don’t have much choice in the matter?” I asked. “It’s one thing if you call a practitioner yourself, but if your doctor recommends the therapy and you are uneasy about it, what then?”

“We are always careful to respect people’s boundaries,” said Peggy, “That’s something Barbara teaches—how to touch clients with respect. We work on people who are fully dressed, and we ask permission before we palpate (touch the body to assess problem areas). Plus, it’s a firm pressure we apply to specific meridian points, not a light fluffy touch all over the body,” she concluded.

This encouraged a brief explanation of how shiatsu works. According to Peggy, her job “is all about moving energy.” This is why she recommends the curriculum at the Acupressure Therapy Institute. ATI’s curriculum integrates different bodywork styles through the experience of a varied group of instructors. Peggy explained that Barbara’s program arms students with both knowledge and hands-on experience to better understand the body’s energy. She added that it’s important to get this variety of education and experience. Study offers certain benefits, while hands-on training offers completely different benefits to the student. It’s important that a student be trained using both methods.

At this point, Peggy became sidetracked in her presentation and began talking about how students experience radical positive changes in their personal lives because they internalize what they are learning about energy and balance. As she diverted from her lecture on shiatsu as a career, Peggy began to reminisce about her days as a student of acupressure shiatsu. She touted the rewards she gained from getting worked on by the other students as they practiced on one another, and pondered how she missed that near-daily realignment of her energy.

“Therapists gain energy by helping people find balance,” said Peggy, “It is a dance of energy between practitioner and client.” She added that students receive these same benefits by practicing on the other students; only they doubly gain by getting worked on themselves.

I realized from listening to Barbara, Carolanne and Peggy that learning acupressure shiatsu offers a more empowering advantage than simply being taught a new skill. Students change on a personal level even if they don’t go on to be a working practitioner. I recognized that although I have no desire to become a practitioner myself, there could be equally important personal reasons for attending ATI. A current student of the Acupressure Therapy Institute described it perfectly in an email she recently sent me. Here, in her own unedited words, are several reasons why anyone might consider enrollment:

Dear Bob,

Interestingly enough, I have been thinking about [how attending ATI has affected my personal life] since the day of the open house you attended.  When Peggy Balmaseda made that remark about it being a life altering choice, I was in full agreement.  Her remark rang with the clarity of truth.

From that day I have thought of how my life has changed and in what ways.  There is nothing in my life that has NOT been affected by my studies in shiatsu acupressure.

First of all, let me say that I have suffered no illnesses, bugs or flus since I have started school.  In practicing on each other, I have built up a strong immune system which has carried me through the fall, winter and spring germs.  Everyone in my office has been sick at least twice and I have not been ill once.  My children have brought home illnesses from school and work and still I did not fall susceptible to any of these germs. This is a first in my life.

Secondly, I have always been a very driven and ambitious person that was unable to slow down or separate myself from the stress in life. In the last ten months [while attending ATI], I have experienced a transformation in what affects me because I have found that my whole attitude has changed.  There is nothing I can’t do, nothing that can’t be faced head on, and nothing that I will let shake my world.  This was not how I felt a few months ago [before I started at Barbara’s school].  I have developed an inner strength that I am still in awe of.  I am not a religious person and I would not say I am very spiritual and yet I have more faith in our own abilities to heal and an unending wealth of power within ourselves to handle anything in a non-stressful manner.

Third, I have a lot more patience and tolerance for all people than I ever have before.  I always thought I was patient and yet now I look at people and instead of seeing an angry person, I look at that person and wonder what it is that can be treated to help them ease that uncontrollable anger that is controlling them.  I see these things almost like an illness that can be treated and because of this I see hope for all people to be well.  This has made me a better listener and observer of people and animals alike.

Fourth, my personal life has and still is taking on major transformations.  I don’t know where it’s going but my relationships with my children, significant other, family members and dear friends are all evolving.  I have greater respect for myself and expect the same from others.  Surprisingly, they are seeing and feeling these changes and coming into line also without any strong arm tactics.  It is so true that when we learn to love ourselves that others will do the same.  Do not get me wrong, these people have loved me and I have loved them but I believe a truly healthy relationship is based on truth, respect, honesty and unconditional love.  I always thought that people needed me to love me.  I have begun to learn otherwise to my surprise.  Now I have no fear that I must do as they say or not be loved.  I can be loved just for being me.

So I see myself becoming healthy emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.  These are gifts that I never thought I could give to myself but through education under the leadership of Barbara and her staff, I am now evolving into a self-actualization that I never dreamed possible for myself.  I thought it was only for guru chasers and mantra chanters of which I am not.  I did not think to look for this and never expected to find it through the grueling schedule I have set for myself between a full time job and heavy school schedule.

I am currently in the sales profession for a chain of hotels and find this totally unsatisfying as I will never see the world change for the better with anything I do here day in and day out.  But with shiatsu acupressure if I can give to one person the escape from pain that I found after 20+ years of migraines, then I will have made the world a better place and I will be a happier person.  There is a selfish aspect to all of this you see, I can only improve as I bring relief to others.  What better gift to give myself and others?!

Thank you for considering my thoughts and opinions, Bob.  I know for a fact that I have found the right path in life for me and I couldn’t be happier.


Dawn L. Ciavattone, student at the Acupressure Therapy Institute

This is what I love about my job. I go to an open house expecting a mundane lecture; yet I leave with a refreshing new insight on how to balance your life, career and relationships. Who would have guessed your personal life could become so empowered by going back to school? Personally, if I didn’t live two-hours away, I’d be attending Barbara Blanchard’s next class starting this August. I’m not interested in changing careers, but I sure would love to have the harmony and strength evident in Dawn’s letter above. Whatever your motivation might be—fulfilling career or personal empowerment—I recommend sitting in on one of Barbara’s open houses, or even one of her classes, to see if The Acupressure Therapy Institute is for you. Tell the nice folks there that Bob Olson sent you.

* AOBTA: The American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia
** NCCAOM: The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
For more information on The Acupressure Therapy Institute contact:

Acupressure Therapy Institute
One Billings Road, Quincy, Ma. 02171