Women In Wellness: Ginger Peer-Spencer of Heart Felt Touch Massage Therapy On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Build a vibrant, diverse community of people who can love, teach and support you. We are not wired to do life alone, nor are we equipped to handle it. Get a mentor, see a therapist, connect with like-minded folks who understand and relate to your life. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you need human connection. Invite others in!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ginger Peer-Spencer.
Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) and Owner of Heart Felt Touch Massage Therapy, LLC, headquartered in Gloucester, Virginia, Ginger Peer-Spencer is marking 2022 with her 10-year business anniversary. Her passionate plea for the critical need for physical touch began with her travels to East Africa, and she has extended her heart for those least touched to her work in Virginia, providing (and teaching) Compassionate Touch to those navigating later life stages, hospice, and palliative care.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
God planted the seed that would grow into what has become Heart Felt Touch Massage Therapy way back in 2004.
The name was intentional, the vision clear. The heart was to be felt, both given as the therapist and received by the client. Physical touch is healing, restorative and so much more than biological attention to our bodily needs, although that is absolutely critically important for our health and wellbeing. I believe physical touch is required and is at the essence of our humanity. A lifeline to love, intimacy and community with others.
Yet so many are aching for that touch. That is where the dream began.
I found myself in East Africa, desperate to live out my childhood passion through ministry service, even while working as a flight attendant and having just barely gotten my license as a massage therapist. It wasn’t until a return trip to Uganda in 2008 that God aligned my passion with His purpose. He revealed the sea of faces that yearn for human touch during a visit to an AIDS clinic that was integrating holistic alternative therapies in their practice.
I know there were people who were on the outskirts of the community, ostracized for their disease, left overlooked and alone, in deep physical and emotional pain. I felt my calling come to life.
When I returned home, I found myself wondering about the least touched people in my own community. After researching who were the least touched in my community, I realized that it was our elders. So many who are lonely, who have lost, and who are aching for a warm smile and a gentle touch. Simply being present with them made my heart soar. Being able to touch them and provide pain relief, connection and love moved my mission far beyond anything I had ever imagined for myself.
I leapt into my training for Compassionate Touch, focusing on those navigating later life stages, hospice and palliative care. I received my business license in 2012, enabling me to go into personal residences, hospitals, nursing homes and hospice care when those in need could not come to me.
Every hour I have spent offering hand massages in Alzheimer’s units has been a blessing. As that tiny seed God planted so long ago continues to grow, I’ve offered workshops for caregivers of those with Alzheimers highlighting the power of touch, and have recently become a certified educator of Compassionate Touch, which has opened doors to new opportunities to teach caregivers and nursing home staff. More recently, I traveled to both North Carolina and Ohio in 2018–2020 to train staff at over 20 different care facilities in power of touch and other techniques to help alleviate expressive behavior in those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. I also teach Dementia Live, a class where caregivers can experience what it feels like to have dementia so they are better equipped to serve by way of a deeper understanding that elevates the care experience for both the person and the caregiver. My heart continues to pour into those who are hurting through additional training I apply in hospital settings for post-surgery, oncological and end of life care.
I continue to study how physical and emotional traumas affect the body and how to apply TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) to serve those who have experienced trauma. Whether our elders, our neighbors in Africa or our friends, trauma is so often a part of our story, and I am committed to doing all that I can to serve, support and help others heal through touch.
Heart Felt Touch Massage moved into our current brick-and-mortar space in November 2015, and I am proud to work alongside six additional therapists (LMT) and serve up to 200 clients every month. Every single member of my team brings a unique approach and skill set that has allowed us to serve a far greater range of needs than I could on my own. This is the beauty of human touch. Each therapist is uniquely wired to serve those people that need them most, and as the business owner, I get to watch those bonds form and see the results of their handiwork as lives are changed and bodies are restored. Seeing God’s tiny seed of a dream blossom into a flourishing garden of tender, loving care overwhelms me each and every day. I am grateful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Of my many unforgettable moments and memorable encounters, one particular gentleman stands out in my mind. I met him by chance, as I would pass his room weekly to provide therapeutic massage to an elderly woman weary with Huntington’s Disease. I soon learned he had experienced a stroke, leaving him unable to communicate. I would stop by for a few moments to rub his back, and while he sometimes tried to communicate with me, our visits were largely nonverbal. I loved him and our time together.
In conversation with a nurse, I learned some things about this gentleman and his life that challenged my love and respect for him. I wondered how I could love him so deeply and still serve him compassionately, knowing what I now did. I realized that my mission was to love him where he was today, with a clean, fresh slate and pure intentions. It was not my role to exact judgment, and even more so, it was my responsibility to serve him with compassion and tenderness, regardless of his past.
We all need love, care and human connection. It is not up to me to determine who deserves it, or better stated, who does not. God has called me to love and love well, pouring my heart and energy into the people I meet through the work of my hands. I take that responsibility very seriously. This is sacred work.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh gosh, I’m not sure it was the biggest mistakes that were the most challenging. Often, it’s the daily missteps that get sticky over time. I’ve had a full range of experiences — flat out failures and blazing triumphs — in the last six years with my brick and mortar. Transparently, I went from an LMT (licensed massage therapist) to a business owner practically overnight, with literally no business experience. At most, I had some basic tools from an introductory 8-week business and financial course. That’s it! Even now, there are many days where I still feel like a bird who is learning to fly.
Perhaps my biggest mistake was the purveying sense of fear that I allowed to choke my candid conversation with my employees and business associates. In hindsight, I realize my fear of having tough, but necessary conversations ultimately hurt the business and people that I loved. I’ve learned the hard way that business owners must speak confidently (with grace, dignity and respect) and then release any sense of responsibility for how others respond. I still struggle with candor from time to time, and I also passionately and fiercely protect my integrity. When I filter tough conversations through my commitment to integrity, those conversations get easier every time.
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Touch is essential. Without it, people fail to thrive. You are likely familiar with the reality of children struggling to grow and thrive in environments devoid of nurturing and healthy touch. You may not have considered that we are all vulnerable to the effects of “touch deprivation” and “skin hunger.” Whether you are 2, 12, 42 or 82, lack of physical touch can directly impact your quality of life.
There is a general awareness that the vulnerable, especially elderly, populations are at risk, even while resources and solutions are not easily accessible to all. With the entrance of a global pandemic, for the first time, we are living in a world that often discourages human connection, proximity and touch. I worry about the mental and emotional impact in this desert of human touch, as many have been driven to loneliness, anxiety, depression and fear. I pray the negative impact of skin hunger and touch deprivation does not prove more dangerous than the virus itself.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Be aware of your body, specifically as related to any trauma you have experienced or chronic stress within your life. You must prioritize time and energy to work through these challenges, or you risk moving your body into a constant state of survival. Constant bodily alertness impacts sleep, muscle tightness, digestion…the list goes on and on. You must give yourself permission to craft a life which allows your body’s nervous system to naturally return to a state of rest.
- Sleep, sleep and more sleep. Once you have made space to address the challenges in my first point, prioritize sleep. Your body needs it and you’ve earned it. Be kind and generous to yourself.
- Stimulate your mind! Whether you read, listen to podcasts, or work on puzzles, find a way to challenge your brain. A great mental stretch often translates to bodily health.
- Stay connected to God. You are a masterpiece from head to toe, inside and out. You are so loved, valued and purposed. Embracing that love, provision and faithfulness naturally extend to your body’s ability to rest and restore.
- Build a vibrant, diverse community of people who can love, teach and support you. We are not wired to do life alone, nor are we equipped to handle it. Get a mentor, see a therapist, connect with like-minded folks who understand and relate to your life. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you need human connection. Invite others in!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This is a fun one for me, because I get to actually share that I’m in the process of building what I hope will bring the most amount of wellness to the most people, at least related to my little corner of the world. One of the exciting adventures I’m embarking on as I mark this 10-year milestone in business is the development of a nonprofit agency that will provide free therapeutic massage to those in later life stages, those aging alone and who lack the resources. I’m still taking baby steps on this journey, and I hope to build an international network of massage therapists who are standing by to serve in someone’s greatest need, simply by providing compassionate touch.
On a daily basis, it’s the small stuff, right? Don’t sweat it. Be generous with your smile. Love well.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- No one expects you to know it all when you’re just starting out. I was so incredibly intimidated, not only as a new massage therapist, but later as a business owner. It takes time, and sometimes a lot of it. Be kind to yourself. As long as you are seeking to learn and grow, you’re on the right path. A small note for my fellow LMTs out there — We’re not wired to understand and serve every body. We each have our own skills and modalities, many of which are still developing! People respect honesty. When you’re out of your depth, be honest and know when it’s time to enthusiastically refer them to another therapist who is better equipped to meet their unique needs.
- Your learning is only just beginning when you finish school, get your license and dig into your career. The real learning happens on the job! Stay open to the reality that you don’t know it all and embrace the journey. Whether that’s learning how to cultivate trust, when to speak and when to stay silent, how to listen with your hands and heart — your life and career in therapeutic massage will be a lifelong evolution of your talents, gifts and human understanding. Lean in!
- Silence the comparison narrative running in your head. You have to confidently and humbly walk your own path. I spent a lot of time trying to mimic other massage therapists. It took me a long time to embrace what makes me special in this industry. It took me even longer to realize that being myself made me the best massage therapist I could ever be.
- Sorry, folks, but you aren’t going to get rich your first year in. In massage school, I was told that my six-figure career was right around the corner. That simply isn’t true. It takes work and it takes time, just like everything else! Roll up those sleeves. There is no easy button.
- This will be the most rewarding opportunity of your lifetime. The reciprocity and reward of cultivating human connection through physical touch is immeasurable. I did not expect to receive as much as I gave. I am truly blessed to be a blessing. To me, therapeutic massage is ministry. Healthy touch reminds people that they matter. Delivering that message to each and every client is my life’s goal.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health. Lack of human connection and physical touch leads to diminished mental health. Period. Through my work, I have the great honor to contribute to improving mental health every day. This is not a responsibility I take lightly. Everyone deserves mental health and wholeness. Whether it’s physical touch, access to therapeutic care, medical regimens, etc. — many pockets of our society are lacking access to the resources that will fuel their mental health. This is unacceptable.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Follow the new nonprofit as it comes to life! https://www.instagram.com/heartfelt_community_gloucester/
Thank you for these fantastic insights!