A true pioneer of therapeutic massage, Sister Rosalind Gefre has created a network
of schools and clinics of massage in the Upper Midwest that is to be respected:
five schools located in West St. Paul, Rochester, Mankato, Saulk Rapids and Fargo;
clinics in those five cities, as well as in the Highland Park neighborhood of
St. Paul and Burnsville; and sites that offer deep tissue massage, chiropractic
services, acupuncture, chair massage, reflexology, sports massage CranioSacral
Therapy, acupressure, Hot Stone Therapy, Myofascial Release, Trigger Point Therapy,
Rehabilitation Therapy and consultation on essential oils, nutritional supplements
and skin care products.
An inaugural inductee two years ago into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame in Pensacola, Fla., Sister Rosalind cites massage as the therapy that healed her after years of living with unexplained chest pain, and since then her life’s work has been to heal others – and teach others to heal – with love. Her healing practice, now in its 25th year, has never been separate from her spiritual practice, for she heals others in service to God.
"We don’t just say we are a Christian ministry," Sister Rosalind says. "Our motto is, What Would Jesus Do? From every part of our organization, we keep this in mind. When someone walks into the office or into the reception area, how do the therapists deal with them? It needs to be respectful, loving and caring. We’re not just here for your money, and you are here because I respect you, I love you, and I want to help you.
"When I massaged, I prayed a lot. Some days I’d probably pray with seven or nine clients a day. Some days I’d pray with none. And the reason it made that difference is people came in and they were really hurting. They get on the table and the first thing they’re doing is crying their heart out. I’d let them cry for a while and then I would just say, "Can we pray?" I found only one person all these years who didn’t want prayer, and she was a very angry woman. She simply said she didn’t believe in prayer anyway, but you can pray with me if you want to.
"And I said, ‘Well, I really don’t believe in forcing my beliefs.’ I definitely prayed with her in the silence of my heart, but I didn’t pray out loud. Of all of the people I have given massage to, that was the only resistance I had ever gotten. And if it didn’t happen right then, they’d say afterwards, ‘You know, it’s such a difference now that you prayed with me.’ Even 25 years later, when people see me they say, ‘You remember, I came to you and I was just on the verge of a divorce’ or ‘I just was diagnosed with cancer, and you prayed with me.’ People remember and are grateful. That’s been my experience."
Sister Rosalind, accompanied by Peter Fahnlander, president of her schools and clinics of massage, spoke with Edge Life from their office in West St. Paul.
Was holistic healing part of your culture when you were young, perhaps from your family who came from from Germany and Russia?
Sister Rosalind: It really was. We got sick and mom knew which peppermint or spearmint to give and how to do it. If you had a cold, you knew what kind of poultices to put on the chest to throw out a cold. If you had a big sliver in your hand, maybe it went through the hand, you simply were not taken to doctors. Family or friends knew what to do about that.
I remember when I was 10 or 11, and I had an earache or sore throat. At that time, the only time you used aspirin was for headaches. This one day, a boyfriend of my sister came and he said, "Why don’t you take an aspirin?"
I said, "An aspirin? You take that for headaches."
And he said, "No, you can take it for earaches and for sore throats."
The next day I took an aspirin. I had to stay home from school because I was so sick, and all day long I was lying in bed wondering how that aspirin knew how to take care of my earache or my sore throat. Somehow it did, because I got better. We used the green peppermint, and you knew when you put in on a teaspoon of sugar or whether you put in hot water or cold water depending on what the problem was. There were certain oils you’d put in the ear for earaches. That’s really how I grew up. So unlike today. Now people run to doctors all the time for the dumbest things. And they use too many drugs.
Why is your God-given mission to heal people through massage?
Sister Rosalind Gefre: It was only after I got involved in it, started working, when I realized how much people need touch. As I keep saying, people are God-hungry and skin-hungry. I don’t claim physical healings for people, although that does happen, because massage is wonderful. But I think sometimes people need to talk to someone. I feel people are very free to talk with me, so they can open their hearts. Because people are so skin-hungry, you can lay hands on them, you can massage them, you can pray with them, and by doing that people often are healed.
I understand that you were physically healed from a massage.
Sister Rosalind: That’s very true. That’s why I’m in massage today. And I have no medical reason for it after all these years of massage. I just spent 15 to 20 years sitting in a chair or on the bed or walking the floor with internal chest pain. I was in and out of the hospital practically every year all through those years with all kinds of tests. They came up with nothing. And then one day, long before massage was popular, my mother said, "You know, there’s a lady who does massage down the road. Would you take me?" So I took her.
We also got to practice foot reflexology. That was a new item at that time. And for whatever reason, one time when I came for foot reflexology, the woman said, "Oh, let’s not practice that. Tonight I’ll give you massage." I didn’t say anything to her about what was going on in my life. I just had the massage – and that night I had no pain, and none the next night, and the next night, and for what is now 30 years, I haven’t had that chest pain. So, my own healing came through that.
What does massage do for the body?
Sister Rosalind: All we continually hear is that it helps you to relax. I think that’s very true, because all of us are carrying the world on our shoulders, but I also believe what it does is help the blood flow. Look at headaches. Normal tension headaches are really easy to release. What happens is that our muscles get all tightened up, the blood gets up to the brain, and because we’re all tightened up the blood can’t flow back and forth, so we get the headaches. Now, you let blood flow to the brain, open these channels, the arteries, the veins, so on and so forth, and the headaches disappear, because the tension disappears and the body can function.
I assume that you would consider therapeutic massage a healing practice.
Sister Rosalind: I would. I also think people change in the midst of massage. With the chair massage, sometimes people sit down and they’re sort of down and out, and by the time the massage is finished, their whole attitude changes. They become alive and happy. I see that a lot.
How far away are we from having the mainstream public think of massage in that way?
Sister Rosalind: I don’t think we’re that far away. When I started here in St. Paul in 1983, you didn’t see massage chairs around or massage clinics. You simply didn’t know where to go. But now you look and there’s massage chairs here, and there are signs of massage on buildings. I think the public is very aware.
Look, for instance, at the St. Paul Saints baseball team. When I started offering massage at Saints games 16 years ago, just nobody would sit on those massage chairs. It took quite a few massages to really bring people to try it. Now we go out there and people are standing in line. You see the same thing in companies. When we started offering massage in companies, people were reluctant. Once we were asked to do foot reflexology for a telephone company. The company flew their employees here and we went to this hotel and started massaging. The first ones who came said, "No thank you, no thank you, no thank you," but once one or two people started having foot reflexology or a foot massage, then the rest of the people heard about it and then they came back to try it. We did nothing to spur them on. The word got around, so now they’d be standing in line. That’s how it’s changed.
I think the public is ready, but insurance is not yet ready. That’s my next big issue. Hopefully insurance will start accepting massages, because they could save themselves millions of dollars if they started looking at massage or bodywork.
Do you have a plan on how you’re going to help get insurance companies to look at massage more?
Sister Rosalind: It’s a grassroots thing. People need to start calling their insurance companies and say, "You know, I’ve had this forever and now I don’t need surgery for my carpal tunnel." I know that it works, because several years back I did massage for a couple people for carpal tunnel. They have not had to have surgery now and have absolutely no problem, so I know in fact that it works.
Peter Fahnlander (president of Sister Rosalind Gefre’s Schools & Clinics of Massage): I think insurance companies will respond once there’s a standard of education in massage therapy. The insurance company wants to make sure that if they’re paying someone to do massage, the therapist is qualified. Once the standard of 600, 800 or whatever hours of training in these levels of education is standard, then you may see the insurance companies respond.
Are we getting closer and closer to that with all the growing number of vocational and technical schools that are teaching therapeutic massage right now?
Peter Fahnlander: We’re getting there. Many of those schools teach about 500 hours, and we’re at 800, so they’ve got to catch up a little bit, get the hours up there with more specialized training.
Sister Rosalind: There are many schools teaching massage now, but they don’t necessarily specialize like we do, with carpal tunnel, on whiplash and frozen shoulder. About a week ago, I was with a friend and she couldn’t raise her arm. I gave her a massage and the pain disappeared.
With a growing number of students going to more vocational settings to learn massage, is it making it harder for new graduates to find work when they come out of school?
Fahnlander: Not right now, because of the number of massage clinics opening up. It’s such a new industry. Even hospitals are adding massage. I do not see a saturation in the market anytime soon, not for a long time. I don’t see it on the horizon in the next 10 to 20 years.
What trends are affecting the teaching of massage at this time?
Fahnlander: It’s becoming more institutionalized, in the big colleges. We’ll see what happens in the future. We specialize as a Christian school, so that’s our niche. For the other massage schools that are still out there running independently, I don’t know what will happen with them. The trend for the near future is that vocational schools are going to continue to monopolize the markets. There are about 44 massage schools in Minnesota and North Dakota. A few years ago you never would have thought of it as a vocation. Schools wouldn’t touch it, but since 2002 or 2003, massage education has started becoming more mainstream. In the last five years, so many schools have cropped up.
That’s good for massage, because more people are being introduced to it. There are now many different types of massage and programs. I think in the next 10 years you’re going to see a revolution in massage. It’s going to change and evolve to become commonplace. Everyone’s going to know about massage or have had a massage. It’s growing that fast.
Sister Rosalind: For several years, we would be out at career fairs and we’d be the only massage school. And when people walked by our booth, they made nasty remarks and they laughed. And they’d bring their friends back and say, "Oh, look at it!" I felt continually humiliated the way the students acted. Now you go out and some of them come in and say, "Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for! That’s all I want." No longer do you hear any of the nasty remarks.
The old stereotypes about massage.
Sister Rosalind: When I’m in the public, people who don’t know me would ask, "What do you do?" No longer do I get that giggle and snicker. They just say, "Oh, I had a massage."
Do you think the old stereotype about massage is totally gone now?
Sister Rosalind: Prostitution as a cover-up. I don’t know if it’s exactly gone, but I think people know the difference.
Would you say therapeutic massage is a good career field to enter right now?
Fahnlander: It’s a very good career. It’s not for everyone, and not everyone should be a massage therapist. Somebody has to have a caring heart. It’s for somebody who wants to make a difference in someone’s life and put the person ahead of the career, or the money that comes from it. Those types of people usually will be very successful and grow and find fulfillment in what they do.
Sister Rosalind: Keep in mind that not all the therapists around get the same training. That makes a difference, too, when people experience a variety of massages. Some massage therapists do not have the best training. But if you go to someone who is really specialized, who knows the anatomy, knows the body, there is a world of difference. If you do massage just to make money, I think clients will pick up on that and they will not return.
I’ve had comments quite a few times from people who paid a high price, but they say the therapist didn’t know what they were doing. There are some outrageous prices out there. I think that’s going to make a difference whether therapists will stay in the business or if they have to move out because they do not know what they’re doing.
What should people ask about before they get a massage from somebody so maybe they can separate people who don’t know what they’re doing from those who do know?
Fahnlander: Ask if the therapist has a certificate from a school or a diploma of a level of education of at least 500 hours. Get a referral from someone who has had a massage from a specific person or clinic. Reputation is important. Does the therapist continue his or her education with continuing education credits? Or do they just take what they’ve learned and that’s it.
The cheapest price doesn’t mean you’re getting the worst therapist, nor does the most expensive massage say that you’re getting the best therapist. You really need to talk to people and friends who have received one. If you don’t know anyone, then try a few out to see whether they meet your needs. Education is a key point. Know what they have. The more education, usually the better the therapist, because they’ve been exposed to more training. Some people are very book smart, but have two left hands.
We’d like to see eventually a licensing of massage therapists. There’s a great divide whether you need a license or not to be able to practice the art of massage. Maybe we can license a massage therapist who has a particular level of training, and those massage therapists who don’t will still be able to perform their massage, but they will not be licensed. Then the public will know the qualifications of licensed massage therapists. In the future, you may see something like that, because that would help the public separate those therapists with a lot of training verses those without. As we continue to have the growth that we are experiencing in this industry, there needs to be a way to ensure that it’s taken care of properly.
You will not have widespread approval now among the therapists on the issue of licensing.
Fahnlander: No. Everyone has their own ideas of what protections should exist and there is a division in what massage therapists think should be done. I think everyone – massage therapists, lay people and schools – should be involved in developing the procedures. We can all come together to create a basic standard. But I think you will have to make it possible for those who don’t have a lot of formal training to still practice what they do. They just won’t have the title – such as medical massage therapist – that distinguishes a licensed role from an unlicensed massage therapist. Then the threat is gone. You’re not fighting each other. As the growth in schools continues, the call will come out from the professional therapists saying, "We want protection and we want to make sure that what we do is guarded and appreciated and that somebody who is not trained isn’t at the same level in public, because it hurts everyone."
That will help the public ensure that the therapists they are visiting are less likely to use unprofessional procedures.
Sister Rosalind: That is a very important factor, because people can be hurt. Way, way, way back, I was on what was something like the board of massage. There were no rules at that point, and improper touching was not as much an issue as it is now. Some people came to us and said they had had a massage from so-and-so, and according to these people who came to us, there was some inappropriate touching going on. We confronted the therapist, and basically what we heard back was, "You’ve got your beliefs, I’ve got mine, and I can do what I want to do." In the meanwhile, people were hurt. But as we move forward, I think that would not be allowed.
For those who haven’t had massage, what keeps them from experiencing it?
Sister Rosalind: Some people who have had a massage would say, "The massage is so soft that you’re wasting your time and your money." That’s keeps some people away. For others, I think it’s the touch. Some people are untouchables, and in order to get to that person, they have to have confidence in you as a person. Some people are fearful. There have been lots of people who have had all kinds of inappropriate touching experiences in life, not in massage, but sexual abuse and such. Those people are definitely very hesitant.
They don’t want to be violated again.
Sister Rosalind: Yes. It’s very important to make sure that we are very delicate and very sensitive to the client who comes to us, because we have no idea of what their past experience has been. We teach that private areas are always covered, that there’s no touch, no nothing. Not every therapist out there is cautious about clients being draped. All that person needs is one of those experiences.
For instance, I was massaging this woman one time. I had no idea of her background, and I was massaging her throat. All of a sudden, she just about went crazy. She had been raped at the point of a knife. We need lots of sensitivity with every client, and that includes men and women. I’ve also worked with a man who had been tremendously sexually abused by his mother. It took forever for him to open up to the touch, and then finally he started sharing. I know that man received tremendous healing through that massage. He was about 50 years of age, and he never shared what had happened to him, but I think the fact that he could begin to share is when healing started to happen.
I’ve had counselors call and say, "You know, Sister, I’m sending you so and so, but that’s all I can tell you." The reason the counselor sent them to me was because they couldn’t open to counseling. And after I was finished massaging them, they’d simply get off the table and go to their counselor and were able to open up. After 35 years of massage, I’ve learned a lot.
Massage for you is more than just moving someone’s body with your hands. It’s a very holistic experience, a spiritual experience.
Sister Rosalind: Very true. You can massage and massage and get nowhere. I think the person has to enter the process. It’s almost heart into heart, as it were, I don’t know how else to express it. Clients don’t want to be just moneybags. Clients needs to be dealt with as respectable people.
In terms of your students praying with their clients, as you have done with yours, is that something that you encourage?
Sister Rosalind: Yes, many students are open to that. Many people come to study with us because it’s a Christian school. We’re not a Catholic school, and we don’t try to convert people. But my staff members are good, spiritual people, and I think many of them are Christian people. Even though you don’t preach about it, it filters down. People often walk into our school after having checked out other schools and say, "Oh, I just, there’s something different here. I’ll go to school here." Or they may say, "Well, you know, the minute you walk in you experience, you feel Jesus’ presence." That’s who we are and that’s what hopefully will continue. Many Christians like to work with us for that reason.
Fahnlander: We try to provide a spiritual environment, and wherever you’re at with your walk with the Lord, just beginning or towards the end, you can fit right in. So, we have prayer before class. On our health form you can check if you want prayer with your massage. We make it available. Just by having that environment, it makes a difference with the clients and the students and the staff.
What are your plans for the future?
Sister Rosalind: Personally, I intend to be in massage for many, many years. And I hope that every person who experiences therapeutic massage will be dealt with integrity, and dealt with dignity.
For information on Sister Rosalind Gefre and the Sister Rosalind Gefre Schools & Clinics of Massage, visit www.sisterrosalind.org.