For alternative healers, it’s all about the ‘personal connection’

Practitioners say this unregulated industry is growing in size and acceptance

Brad Surette teaches Reiki in as little as one day. (Photo credit: David Lostracco)

In a dark conference room on the eighth floor of the Founders Square building in downtown Halifax Brad Surette places his hands on the top of my head. My eyes are closed and I feel like I’m shaking uncontrollably. I look at my hands but I’m not moving. He breaks the silence by asking if I have had a history of headaches behind my left eye. I answer yes.

I ask how he knows this and he says, “I felt a pain in the same place.”

After just five minutes of pulsing heat coming off his hands I feel dizzy and strangely emotional. Surette is demonstrating the ancient Japanese medical practice of Reiki.

Reiki is a non-invasive healing practice that deals with the spirit. Surette is a massage therapist, Reiki practitioner, yoga master and psychic. He devotes his life to healing and teaches others about the mystical healing practice.

Surette offers one-day Reiki courses in Halifax for people curious about the practice. His program is broken up into four intervals; each interval requires a one daylong class.

Surette worked as a bureaucrat for more than 10 years with the government of Nova Scotia when he says he was called to a career change.

Surette says, “The word Reiki came to me in a dream.” He looked into it and reoriented his career path to a life of healing others.

He went through a two-year, 2,200-hour massage therapy certification at Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy and began his practice.

Since then he practises massage therapy, teaches Reiki classes, and performs psychic readings. He even teaches an innovative style of yoga for senior citizens that can be done in an office chair.

He says he has trained more than 150 would-be Reiki practitioners and has inspired 10 new Halifax-area Reiki businesses in his six years of teaching.

He says his students come from a variety of backgrounds — nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists and just about every other field — from bankers to teachers.

His entry-level classes are designed for those who want to practice Reiki on their friends, but his advanced classes are designed for aspiring professional healers.

“Reiki level one isn’t really that hard to learn, but the advanced levels take a little more time.”

Surette followed his dream career (literally) because he felt unfulfilled in his government job.

He says, “My friends were telling me to stay with the government — it was a secure career with a pension.”

But Surette says his longing to help and cure people combined with his spiritual calling led him to this interesting career

Thinking of a career in Eastern medicine?

With no official holistic medical body regulating Nova Scotia’s estimated 600-800 alternative medical providers, Surette knows there is a level of skepticism surrounding what he does. Surette urges would-be Reiki patients or aspiring practitioners to check out their instructor and do their research. He recommends that they find a practice with an advanced knowledge of human anatomy.

But when it comes down to it, Surette says best results come to those who suspend disbelief.

Several options exist for anyone who wants to explore a career in alternative medicine.

Jennifer Stuart, executive director of Halifax’s Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy says it’s a rewarding, flexible career in a growing industry. The school specializes in college level programs that prepare students for careers as massage therapists.

“When I started massage therapy in 1992 there was only five schools teaching it (in Canada) and four were in Ontario…now there are over 50 schools scattered across the country.”

She says the growing acceptance of the treatment and insurance coverage in Canada has led to its growth.

Four provinces, British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, all have official regulatory bodies for massage therapy. She says the standards for official accreditation are so high in these provinces that certified massage therapy practitioners have endless options to work in Canada and abroad.

She says, “It’s an exponentially growing industry…our institution alone graduates 50 or more students a year and most of them don’t spend long periods looking for jobs.”

Statistics Canada reported in 2005 that 12 per cent of Canadians used an alternative health provider that wasn’t a chiropractor. Eight per cent used a massage therapist, two per cent used a naturopath and one per cent used a herbalist.

She came to the industry after completing a pre-med degree and was looking for an alternative to medical school. “I talked to a few massage therapists and I envied both their lifestyle and the passion they had for healing and I decided to pursue it as a career.”

She says one of the best ways to find out if a career in alternative medicine is right for someone is to talk to professionals and go for a treatment.

She says one of the biggest hurdles is being comfortable.

“A lot of people want to do this as a career but you have to be comfortable touching people. It sounds strange but a lot of people don’t think about that part of it.”

Massage therapy is an in-depth and personal connection with a patient.

She says, “It’s a unique opportunity in the world of medicine to be able to spend a full-hour session and really work to help them. It’s a chance to make a personal connection to your patient that might not exist in Western medicine.”

What other options exist?

Dr. Scott Fitzpatrick, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, says he completed an undergraduate degree and wanted to try something “exciting” after playing professional baseball.

Scott completed a four-year post-graduate degree in traditional Chinese medicine at East Tennessee University and is the owner and operator of Nervanah Herbal Medicine.

He says, “It’s similar to a medical degree. We take a lot of the same courses especially in the first two years. After that we specialize a lot more and focus on treating the whole body and the spirit.”

Fitzpatrick says a lot of his patients are “medically well.” They have been cleared by western medical doctors and nurses and they just don’t feel 100 per cent healthy.

He says, “It’s my job to cure them after they’ve run out of options.”

Fitzpatrick works with a number of practices: doctors, nurses, physician’s assistance and alike who refer patients they cannot help.

He says, “We don’t claim to be able to cure cancer, but we can help with chronic pain, labour induction and end of life care.”

Fitzpatrick uses herbology, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and a host of other treatments to heal patients.

When asked about choosing courses or a possible career in healing he says, “You should find an accredited instructor and fully commit yourself to not only completing the course but also commit yourself to learning as much as you can about the human body and the spirit”

Fitzpatrick sees a meshing between Eastern and Western medicine in recent years.

“It’s not uncommon to see a doctor, or nurse venturing into acupuncture or holistic medicine and people from these walks of life have plenty of success healing people with a combined approach.”