By Lisa Bakewell
Heather Heffernan was one of the winners of ABMP’s Massage is for EveryBody 2022 contest, and we wanted to share more of her story, which exemplifies the inclusive values of this campaign. Please join us in celebrating Heather!
Traditional talk therapy—putting words to experiences—has historically proven to be an important step in healing emotional trauma and pain. Heather Heffernan, a massage therapy student in Lincoln, Nebraska, agrees with that notion, but also feels that energy and bodywork are essential keys to unlocking the emotional healing of trauma.
“The very basic structure of our physical being—the cell—holds trauma and emotion,” Heffernan says. “So it makes sense to me that it would require more than just words to help unlock and release [the trauma and pain].
“Our bodies hold emotion, trauma, and stress at a cellular level, thus creating a root cause of many physical symptoms, illnesses, and disease. Physical touch and the manipulation of both tissues and energy are vital components in offering a safe, effective, and well-rounded approach to our truest ability to find healing and wellness.”
Struggling as a child and teen with perfectionistic tendencies—and then developing unhealthy coping mechanisms (disordered eating and exercise habits)—Heffernan began searching for a healthier way to gain control over the chaos in her life. “I started seeing a mental health counselor, and while my sessions with her were helpful, the most impactful result of our time together was her suggestion that I see a massage therapist. I remember not really understanding the suggestion but being intrigued by the idea. So I scheduled an appointment,” she says.
That first massage appointment began Heffernan’s healing journey—for herself, her children, and others. “Instantaneously, I was drawn to learn more,” she says, “and eventually to share the physical, mental, and emotional gift that touch therapy is—with whomever would listen—and finding a way to bring the benefits of touch therapy to so many who were either unaware, or to whom it was inaccessible due to financial, geographical, or other such barriers.”
Inaccessibility is a word Heffernan is all too familiar with. Not only does she come from a chaotic, financially insecure background, but she also raised her own children in a primarily single-parent, single-income situation. And, as history often likes to repeat itself, Heffernan’s children also lived under the “heavy load of trauma and unrest—the result of living with a family member with a ferocious drug addiction,” as Heffernan describes it. “One day, when I was in a state of physical, emotional, and mental desperation, massage therapy came back into my mind and heart. And although my budget didn’t really accommodate it, I booked a session and have never looked back.”
Heffernan also booked appointments for her children with a massage therapist, a Reiki master, and an acupuncturist. “Since insurance did not cover these [therapies],” she explains, “I worked four jobs in order to pay for them. These therapies have single-handedly been the greatest source of healing in our lives—to the degree of literally saving both of my children.”
After setting her dream of becoming a massage therapist aside for 30 years, Heffernan passed her MBLEx and is on her way. “Although delayed, I know I would not have the deep sense of passion and understanding I have developed were it not for every difficult step of the journey up until now. If I can play even the smallest role in helping others with massage therapy, as it has helped my children and me, every moment of the journey will be worthwhile."
As she envisions her professional future, Heffernan wants to share her work with everyone. “In an absolutely ideal world, I would combine body and energy work with sound healing in some type of natural outdoor setting, as I believe sound and nature to have powerful healing benefits. I would be able to find a way to reach anyone and everyone—not just those who can monetarily afford, or who have had the privilege of having access to this type of work.
“I believe [massage] to be vital and worthwhile for the health of our greater communities but unfortunately is still too often unavailable to so many,” Heffernan says. “If we can heal and connect to ourselves, we are better able to nurture our relationships and create a healthier, more loving world to coexist.”
• Massage is for EveryBody is ABMP’s annual celebration of massage therapy and the philanthropic efforts of our members. Read more about the event, and the guiding principles that drive it.
• Read the winning essays from 2022’s Massage is for EveryBody celebration.