Cora Van Wyck started working as a nurse more than three decades ago, but she’s always had an interest in alternative health. As she gained more and more experience in the field of clinical nursing, her passion for complementary therapies grew.
“For a time, I worked as a clinical nurse educator teaching nurses in critical care, and one of the areas I was responsible for was the recovery room,” Van Wyck explains in a phone interview. “Over time, I thought, ‘We’re missing things with respect to traditional medicine.’ It’s a fabulous modality and none of us can live without it, but people would come in with abdominal pain and we’d do simple exploratory procedures, we wouldn’t find anything, and then we’d send people home. We would never explore what other things might be playing a role, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to combine the emotional and spiritual components with what’s happening in the body?’ ”
Having learned about therapeutic touch back in the 1980s, Van Wyck eventually studied integrative energy healing when it was first offered at Langara College in 2001. She’s gone on to teach it, and other complementary methods, in addition to being a program coordinator of Holistic Health Studies within the college’s continuing education division of Health and Human Services.
Just as public acceptance of complementary therapies has expanded over the years, so too has the range of certificate courses available in Langara’s continuing education program. Take expressive arts therapy, image consulting, Thai massage, and yoga teacher training, to name a few. The newest addition to the program is an intensive two-year registered massage therapy certificate program, with Langara being the first public institution in B.C. to offer such training.
“We’re super-excited to have registered massage in a public college,” says Linda Turner, manager of Health and Human Services. “There’s such a demand for registered massage therapy, and…our students are welcomed into health-care system because they do a lot of practicum training.”
That practical experience is part of many of the college’s other holistic-health courses as well, such as the aforementioned integrative energy healing, with students working in hospitals, community settings, and alcohol and drug treatment clinics. Van Wyck says energy healing can be useful in addressing pain, reducing stress, and fostering relaxation.
“Touch is a beneficial modality, and it’s natural to human beings,” Van Wyck says. “Mothers naturally rub their children’s wounds if they’ve hurt themselves, and we all feel better with it.
“[Integrative energy healing] students are taught to remain centred and grounded, so that they’re in a place of neutrality when working with a client,” she adds. “And they’re taught to use touch very respectfully and always with the permission of the client on the table.”
The integrative energy healing program is teaming up with the Fraser Health authority to do a study on the effectiveness of the therapy in treating nurses who have experienced trauma.
“We’re very excited to have the chance to evaluate its effectiveness in a research protocol,” says Turner, who also has a nursing background. “We’re interested in bringing effective complementary therapies into the mainstream of health care.”
People with a background in health (registered massage therapists, shiatsu practitioners, nurses, doctors, and chiropractors, among others) can earn a certificate in cranial sacral therapy at Langara. Just as with integrative energy healing, Van Wyck uses the technique in her own private practice and has taught it in the past.
Cranial-sacral therapy involves gentle, hands-on body work aimed at balancing the body’s craniosacral system, which includes the bones, nerves, tissues, and fluid surrounding the brain and spine.
“Cranial-sacral therapy…requires very subtle palpation skills,” Van Wyck says. “It’s more popular in Europe than North America, but it’s gaining popularity here.”
Van Wyck developed the program herself out of a desire to ensure that people who practise it are well trained and qualified to do so.
“This is not a regulated profession yet,” Van Wyck says. “There’s no college, and so people…can call themselves a cranial-sacral therapist with hardly any training, which is scary. One of the reasons I developed the program was because people can take a four-day course and say they can do cranial-sacral therapy, but they really don’t have enough experience and didn’t have any mentoring. Our program has a skill-check process, an exam, and a mentoring program that lasts over a year.”
Although Van Wyck is a firm believer in the power of complementary medicine, she emphasizes that it is just one part of the bigger picture.
“If people have chest pains, we tell them to go to emergency first and not for energy work,” Van Wyck says. “Our primary responsibility as health providers is to always have the safety of the client in mind, and this would never take the place of traditional medicine.”