Discover Unexpected Reward
The Acupressure Therapy Institute
by Bob Olson,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
there a certain type of person who is drawn to acupressure shiatsu,” I
me for instance,” said Peggy, “I come from a Latino family. We love to
hug! That’s probably why I was drawn to shiatsu.”
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?!
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.
L. Ciavattone, student at the Acupressure Therapy Institute
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
more information on The Acupressure Therapy Institute contact: 617-697-1477
Mention that you read about Barbara and ATI on OfSpirit.com.
articles by Bob Olson, visit www.ofspirit.com/bobolson.htm