By Efrat Livny, Certified Zero Balancing Practitioner and Faculty
When I was enrolled in massage school in 1997, cancer was considered an absolute contraindication in textbooks and practice alike. So perhaps it should not have come as a surprise to me that when I received my diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer in 2001, none of my colleagues were willing to offer me bodywork. It was a sobering moment when the connection and support I so craved in the midst of challenging treatments and a frequent sense of disorientation and isolation were not available to me.
Fast forward to 2004, when I took ZBI and instantly became an avid student and practitioner. By that time, with the experience I had had on my own cancer journey, I had sought and completed training in Oncology Massage. This new specialty was rapidly gaining traction, opening new avenues of care for both clients and practitioners and being incorporated into medical centers that were pioneering a more integrative approach to cancer care. I was working with clients living with cancer in my private practice and as part of a University of Wisconsin integrative medicine program. Additionally, I was teaching Oncology Massage in several massage schools in the Madison, Wisconsin area. It was, therefore, quite disorienting for me as a fresh ZBer to find out that cancer, again, was considered a red flag, and basically contraindicated in the practice of ZB.
It took five more years of advocating for a change, writing detailed state-of-the-art reports and seeking guidance from the founder of Oncology Massage, before the ZBHA Board of Directors was ready to announce a change in the official policy. In 2009 the third edition of the ZB Study Guide “downgraded” cancer to a “Condition of Concern and/or Caution” specifying that:
For non-certified practitioners, cancer continues to be a contraindication.
“For the certified practitioner who has the scope of practice and has training to work with clients impacted by cancer, certain essential protocol modifications regarding pressure, site and positioning are available”
“For the certified ZB practitioner who has NOT had thorough training in the use of touch with clients impacted by cancer, additional training is strongly recommended. Training resources are available upon certification through the ZBHA”.
This was definitely a step in the right direction. It not only better aligned ZB with other touch modalities and the new "industry standard", but offered ZB practitioners a much more tenable and realistic position.
Cancer is essentially the epidemic of our times. Statistics published annually by the American Cancer Society show that the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer is 45% for men and 38% for women. This means that one of almost two men and one of three women who are currently our clients or that will be our clients, either had, has or will have cancer. Additional statistics reveal that while our ability to cure cancer remains elusive, improved treatments have led to a decline in cancer deaths and an increase in the number of people who are living longer with cancer. So, in truth, systematically excluding these clients from our practice would be close to impossible.
Admittedly, ZB was never designed to address specific illnesses. It is not a curative intervention and our role as practitioners is not to focus on disease. Our role is, in the words of Dr. Fritz Smith, "to provide a holistic body-mind therapy that amplifies each person's experience of health and vitality on all levels".
How do we reconcile these two premises - working with people who, inevitably, may have a significant health challenge and our commitment to connect and collaborate with the innate wholeness in each person?
Additional questions arise when we examine the current ZB policy as presented above. What are the specific issues that cancer presents that require modifications to our work? What constitutes a scope of practice or sufficient training that would render a certified ZB practitioners qualified to work with people with cancer?
The answers are complex and, at times, seemingly paradoxical. In order to understand and see wholeness we must first examine and understand brokenness. A basic understanding of the disease and its progression, treatment courses and medical terminology is essential to being able to providing safe and effective ZB treatments to people with a cancer diagnosis. Moreover, cancer exists in a very dense field of personal, societal, archetypal and spiritual constructs that affect our clients' experience as well as our own attitudes. Understanding these constructs and examining our own beliefs and personal relationship to cancer, is vital to our ability to provide a safe space and clear interface to our clients. We must begin with our Donkey first.
Ten years after the establishment of a new policy, the time is ripe for us as a community to delve into these questions and to better define the specific skills we need to build and refine. It is my experience that doing so can greatly enhance our presence, confidence, and bringing a clear mind and an open heart in our work.
There are two upcoming opportunities for us to engage in this exploration and skill building.
1) Community ZOOM call:
Building Bridges with ZB focusing on ZB for people affected by cancer
Monday, October 7, 12:00 noon PST, 2:00 p.m.CST, 3:00 p.m. EST
Questions: Katie Chase firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Advanced training: BRIDGES TO WHOLENESS: Zero Balancing and Those Affected by Cancer
November 7-9, 2019 (18 CEUs)
For more information and to register click here
I invite you to join the conversation and consider this training as a way to explore your questions and to increase and deepen your ZB skills!