Story by CVT volunteer Patricia Busse
It was a common scenario at Utah’s Health and Human Rights.
A client would come in complaining of pain in their joints and their neck, and additional pain medication wasn’t helping. Their doctor had told them the pain’s root was psychological, not physical—a tough diagnosis for the client to accept.
But clinical director and therapist Brent Pace didn’t have answers either. He wished he had something to offer beyond the traditional treatments.
That all changed when the Salt Lake City center started bringing in psychiatrists and massage therapists on a regular basis to treat clients psychologically and physically.
“It’s interesting how the relationship to our organization changes when they know that we’re willing to try anything that helps,” he said. “We have this other option that I think takes things to a completely different level in terms of my relationships with the clients because I feel like I’m meeting their needs.”
Treating clients holistically is part of the center’s philosophy, Pace said, and that includes ensuring that each client has a primary care physician regardless of insurance coverage. Staff members at the Utah center work with clients’ doctors throughout the course of treatment, he said, and even work in the community to build the capacity of other agencies and health professionals that treat survivors of torture.
Grant money from the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Intermountain Healthcare funds the psychiatry clinic, held twice per month at the center, Pace said, and 77 clients have been to see a psychiatrist there. Having the clinic on site allows the clinic’s therapists to talk with the doctors, and helps the clients feel more comfortable about seeing a psychiatrist. Most clients are prescribed medications that address both chronic pain and mood stabilization, he said.
“It’s been a very successful and helpful addition to our program,” he said.
Volunteer massage therapists come into the clinic two to three times each week, Pace said, and their results have been impressive.
One man who couldn’t lift his arms over his head before starting massage therapy said his range of motion increased dramatically, Pace said. Fifty-eight clients have been to one of the therapists thus far.
Massage therapy has been especially beneficial to those who’ve experienced torture and abuse. “It’s been very effective for clients who’ve experienced sexual trauma to have this safe kind of touch that’s reintroduced into their lives,” he said.
Massage therapy is also a great alternative to pain medications due to their risk of dependence. “If I can avoid that particular issue by having massages as an option, I feel really lucky,” he said.
A newer option at the center, available for less than a year, is acupuncture, provided by a volunteer offsite.
It’s just one more way the center is trying to address the holistic needs of its clients.
“All of those things are helpful for our clients to have options other than talk therapy and case management,” he said. “We try a lot of different things.”