When Richard Farrell retired in his mid-50’s from his longtime position as a UPS driver, he knew he’d be looking for a second career. Top priorities included something that he could do for years to come, a job that offered versatility of skills and flexibility of hours as well as something he could travel with if he moved in his retirement years. Among other things, he considered working at Costco. But when he began looking into massage school and contemplated a career in massage therapy, he says “he connected with something else he didn’t have words for at the time.”

Looking at three different schools, Richard said, “from the moment I walked into Oregon School of Massage, I knew it was the right place for me. Something about the feeling of the place — what I now know to be the love and support I’ve experienced since my 2019 enrollment.” Richard points to “the balance he’s found in the OSM programs, the curriculum and even the ideas that you hear in the classes.“ He champions this as the school’s special sauce that “makes lots of different people feel welcome there.”

We Heal Ourselves in Order to Heal Others:

Richard is quick to admit that he’s in it partially for his own healing, although he didn’t really understand this at the beginning. Having experienced a major depressive disorder in years past as well as an ongoing, generalized anxiety disorder and anorexia, Richard has learned the healing power of massage.

During his descent into depressive states — the first in college in the 1980s and then again, five years ago in Seattle — the seeds were sown for Richard’s path toward massage therapy. Looking back on these two mental health crises, Richard says, “I barely survived those episodes and recovery took a year. But it did wake up a compassion in me and I realized I wanted to help others who suffered mentally and physically.”

As he now knows firsthand, and numerous medical studies will point to, massage therapy literally changes brain chemistry. In Richard’s experience, “it effects brain chemistry as well as a pill, or maybe even better.” Medical studies highlight the decreases in stress-induced cortisol levels, and increases in the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, often referred to as D.O.S.E.

In his past experience with injury as a UPS driver, he would receive physical therapy, chiropractic treatment and massage. It was the medical massage that most impressed him. According to Richard, “I found it encouraging and uplifting. It really helped me feel like I was improving and getting better — like I wanted to go back to work.”

Strengthening the Mind, Body Connection:

Meditation and other learned techniques through cognitive behavioral therapy have helped Richard to regulate his overall health, with attention on the mind, body balance. “I have learned to be aware of my thoughts, my mood and my body,” he says with emphasis on the body. Massage has helped him connect to the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety. “Can I place it in the body? Oh, there’s my heart pounding, here are my hands getting clammy.” Richard continues the check in and observes, “these are just symptoms and I know it will be OK. They will go away and it is the awareness that allows them to go away.”

Healer or Helper:

Continuing to refine his skills in maintaining a healthy balance, Richard outlines the self care regimen he practices and says he knows he will eventually find a way to share these with his future clients — from monitoring quality of sleep to incorporating regular exercise to paying attention to nutritional intake, and of course, a diet of regular massage.

Ultimately, he says, “it’s about body awareness and developing the ability to identify the physical sensations in the body.” And although he says he is not quite yet comfortable with the title of healer, he knows he is here to help others and believes massage is an ideal avenue for him to fulfill this desire.

All the Bells and Smells:

Richard mentions his sister and explains that he was inspired by her work as a LMT and Reiki practitioner. Like her, he says he always likes to light a candle before he begins a massage. “I enjoy the soft lighting, aromatherapy and anything else to support the nervous system. I call this the ‘bells and smells,’ he says.

In massage, we do a lot with mechanics, break up adhesions and move lymph and blood. We touch the tissues, but we are really working with the nervous system.” According to Richard, “I’m not a fixer. I don’t want to get under the hood. I’m more of a nurturing type.”

When asked if he was partial to any one modality or massage technique, Richard responded that he was very taken with the Reembody Method of movement therapy he was learning from Kevin Moore. He disclosed to me that he had discovered he was a closet ‘lefty’ once he tested his side dominance with this program.

Although primarily trained in Swedish massage, Richard says he has really enjoyed his reflexology class and that studying aromatherapy with application to specific points on the feet and body “was powerful” and he found himself really drawn to that work.

What You Say and How You Say It Matters:
Another area of focus that Richard has prioritized is communications because he says, “that’s part of the healing too. From the moment you meet a client and shake their hand, straight through to the end of the session.”

He’s found OSM’s Ethics and Communications class has been very helpful in defining healthy boundaries and assertion skills while identifying the aggression/submission dynamic that can sometimes develop with therapist and client. In Richard’s view, the communication skills are “as important as the massage skills and he would like to continue to develop this proficiency and competence.”

Finding the Calling:

Richard pointed to the age-old, three-pronged prescription for happiness that states that all one needs are: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. “I have all these things now,” he says. As an added bonus he states “I now wake up happy, because I am not depressed.” Beyond that, he’s grateful he’s happy, that he’s found OSM, and that he’s found this work to do.

When asked if he fears that he could encounter another bout of depression, he responds, “I hope I don’t have a major depressive episode in my future, but if I do, I know I am more aware now, knowing what to pay attention to, and knowing when to take break.” Richard is looking forward to being licensed as a massage therapist by summer of 2021, and with that he says he “hopes to be in a position to contribute to the healing of the communal quarantine,” suggesting divine providence may be at work and there might be a very good reason he is coming out of school at this time.

Richard Farrell can be contacted at rfarrell62@me.com.

Liz Howell writes about health, wellness, and sustainability. She can be contacted at elizabethhowellpdx@gmail.com.

Submitted 3.23.21

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