Making cancer touch therapies work in spas

Published 02nd Feb 2024 by Eve Oxberry

Emma-Jane North, spa director of Y Spa at Wyboson Lakes, tells us why cancer touch therapies are central to her business and how spas can be more accessible 

Why are you passionate about cancer touch treatments?

“It goes much further than cancer, it’s about accessibility really, but cancer is a big topic and something I feel strongly about because I’ve had a personal experience of it.

“I was turned away to have a treatment at the point I was at my complete lowest. I’ve got a whole spa team who would have fallen over themselves to help me here but I was very vulnerable, and didn’t feel that I wanted to put myself in my business at that particular moment so I went somewhere else, and the answer was just a flat no. I came out really deflated.

“I’ve been advocating for accessible spas for a long time though. We used to do treatments for guests who had cancer at Ragdale Hall [where North worked for over 20 years until 2010].

We had an enlightened insurance company that allowed us to do soft touch therapy but the thing I came across time and time again was that the team didn’t feel confident because it went against their professional training. Colleges were still telling them you cannot treat somebody who has cancer, so I think additional training is so important to boost that confidence.”

Where can therapists go for cancer treatment training?

“To start off with, I would guide anybody towards the SATCC (Standards Authority for Touch in Cancer Care), which is the charity that governs cancer treatments. They’ve got many trainers they work with and can suggest options – whether you’re a mobile therapist or you’ve got a group of several spas, and whether you want to do it online or in person.

“At Wyboston, we’ve worked with Made for Life Organics, which is the lovely Amanda Winwood, and she champions throwing the spa doors open wide. She’s got an organic brand, which we stock, but she teaches the cancer touch therapy completely separately, so it’s not linked to the product range.”

How else have you made Y Spa at Wyboston Lakes more accessible?

“We took out the medical questionnaire at arrival and went with UK Active’s health commitment statement instead, which just confirms you’re over 18, you’re an adult, you’ve read the contraindications if you needed to, and you’re safe to use the spa as far as you and the medical people who are looking after you are concerned.

“Of course, when a guest goes for a treatment there is a personalised questionnaire and we ask the relevant questions, but it enables us then to just do an adaptation menu. If they have a certain challenge, we don’t turn people away, we’ll just adapt and customise the treatment, and the therapists have so many tools in their toolbox now. That’s been such a success and has changed the way the team feel, and the confidence levels they have.

“It’s just about kindness. When we are in a situation and we don’t know quite what to do, sometimes we default to, ‘well, I can’t do it then’. But actually, you’ve got lots of opportunities to say, well, maybe we can’t do a deep tissue, for example, but we can do something else instead.”

Which particular therapies can be good for clients going through cancer?

“Reflexology is a very accessible treatment for a lot of people – they do reflexology while you’re having chemotherapy. You can also work with some of the energy therapies. Reiki is very supportive and very gentle so you’re not massaging the body at a time when maybe somebody is feeling sore or challenged.

“Personally, I love sound therapy and mindfulness, but touch is so valuable, and when you’re getting into massage and body work, really you’ve got to go back to the parasympathetic – the soft and gentle work, because you’ve got to be very careful of things like lymph nodes so I definitely advocate training for that.”

Read more about how spa directors are transforming spa treatments into wellness experiences.

And check out our expert's guide on how beauty therapists can help to detect early signs of skin cancer 

Eve Oxberry

Eve Oxberry

Published 02nd Feb 2024

Eve Oxberry is head of editorial for Professional Beauty and Aesthetic Medicine magazines and editor on PB. She oversees the company's print, web and social media content and writes reviews, news, features and more. Contact her at [email protected]

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