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Q&A with Kelly Cross – Massage Therapist at Duke Integrative

October 22, 2019

Hear more about practitioners at Duke Integrative Medicine as they discuss their work in their own words. Get to know Kelly Cross, a massage therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine with more than thirty years of experience. He is especially skilled in working with older adults, cancer patients, and those suffering from PTSD. Kelly aims to make his clients feel comfortable and relaxed during every session, whether they are new to massage therapy, or have been receiving its benefits for many years. Learn more about Kelly and discover if his approach would be a good fit for you.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a massage therapist.

I’ve been a massage therapist for thirty years. My previous work history is eclectic. I owned a retail linen and bath store, and a freelance photography business after getting an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. My undergraduate degree was in Religious Studies from The University of North Carolina. Eventually, I realized what I wanted was to work with people one-on-one. I considered learning some form of psychotherapy but decided I wanted a career with a more hands-on approach. I took a Reiki class before deciding to study massage therapy.

2. What do you like about working in massage therapy at Duke Integrative Medicine?

Working at Duke Integrative Medicine affords me a wide array of clients. Some clients are looking for total relaxation, others want help recovering from illness, and others want assistance while going through medical treatment. The atmosphere at Duke Integrative Medicine is relaxing. The waiting room (also called the Quiet Room) has the gentle sound of water running down a glass wall. Bamboo plants and skylights add to a tranquil and light ambiance. The care providers and staff at Duke Integrative Medicine are incredibly professional and there’s a feeling of support and collaboration there. Often someone who comes to see me also is seeing or has seen other practitioners in the building.

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3. You have several specialty areas, including Reiki, Reflexology, Cranio-Sacral, Thai massage, Rosen Method, and working with people with PTSD. How do these specialty areas affect your work?

I sometimes incorporate elements of the above modalities into a regular session. I would say that the Rosen Method training informs most of what I do, even though I don’t see that many people for strictly Rosen sessions. Rosen Method training is mainly about being present with another person and letting them lead the way. It’s about being receptive and allowing whatever needs to come forth. The Rosen Method itself is more focused on emotional holding in the body and the unconscious and allowing unfelt
feelings/energies to rise to the surface. That isn’t the primary focus of my work, but it does influence my openness to whatever clients present as their physical and/or emotional difficulties and needs. Sometimes we have a conversation, but sessions can also be done in silence or with low music in the background. I enjoy working with people of all ages, and have developed a fondness for working with older people, especially since I’m joining their ranks!

4. For 11 years you worked with cancer patients. How did that experience change you as a person and a massage therapist?

My work began with giving foot massages to cancer patients who were receiving transfusions. Gradually I began going to patients’ rooms and giving more of a table massage while adapting to the special needs of each person. I also gave private table massages to outpatient clients, their caregivers, and sometimes hospital staff. Every patient was doing their best and it was crucial to support them and let them be where they were emotionally, which was sometimes scared or discouraged. Often providing a safe space for feelings and emotion can help a person move toward acceptance and serenity. Eventually, I began to work with children as well as adults. I also worked with the parents of children who had cancer. These experiences helped me be more comfortable with grief and better able to support people who are in the throes of it. I am also a survivor of heart failure. It has furthered my sense of mortality, which I think can only be helpful as a practitioner. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad. A sense of my mortality lessens any sense of having control over the ups and downs of life. When I work with people who are facing serious medical concerns, my experience has helped me to be more in sync with them, to relate to their experiences, and be willing to face the unknown with them.

“I am also a survivor of heart failure. It has furthered my sense of mortality, which I think can only be helpful as a practitioner.”

5. How have you seen massage therapy affect and change your client’s lives? Can you share any specific stories?

I find it rewarding when clients begin to feel more at home in their bodies. Often they have discomforts that are alleviated and they experience a feeling of support for a larger healing process. I like to think of a massage as a mini-vacation. It’s a time away from phones and meetings and all the complications of life. A time for the mind to calm down and the body to relax. Sometimes there can be conversation addressing current concerns, but sometimes massage is more of a more physical experience. I’ve had
clients who have worked through traumas related to the body, such as PTSD from previous life experience, also including even living through a wartime. Other clients experience a general sense of physical integration and well-being. Life has its instincts toward healing, be it physical and/or emotional, and sometimes my work is about helping people get out of the way for that to happen.

Call to make an appointment for a 30, 60, or 90- minute session.

6. What do you wish people knew about massage therapy? Especially those who have never experienced it?

I wish people knew that massage could be such a wonderful and comforting experience. And it is non-threatening. The body/mind needs what I like to call “Vitamin T,” or touch. People can become touch-deprived. I’m happy that massage can help alleviate that deficiency and grateful to be a part of the process. There is a feeling of trust that can deepen over time between a client and a massage therapist. So many of us live in our heads and this is only exacerbated by all the screen time involved in modern life. The experience of massage is an opportunity to sink deeper into the body and get in touch with the more basic, grounded elements of our being.

“I wish people knew that massage could be such a wonderful and comforting experience. And it is non-threatening. The body/mind needs what I like to call “Vitamin T,” or touch.”

7. What can a new client expect at a first massage therapy session with you?

When I first work with someone we sit and talk facing each other in a relaxed way. I try to learn why a person has come to try out massage. I want to be able to address whatever is most concerning for them. After a short conversation (or a longer conversation if the client wants to talk longer) I will leave the room and let the client undress to their level of comfort, which sometimes means not taking anything off. They lie on the massage table and cover themselves with a sheet and I always keep them draped except for the part of the body I’m working on. In rare cases when someone isn’t comfortable lying down it is possible to use a massage chair instead. A sense of safety and security is key. Then I gradually progress from light to medium pressure until the client’s desired depth is reached. Occasionally there’s very little pressure, as when Reiki is in the mix (Reiki is a form of energetic healing). A normal session is about 50 minutes in total and it can be a full body massage or the session can be more concentrated on
areas that need the most attention. I sometimes incorporate elements of reflexology, cranio-sacral, and/or Thai massage. At the end of the session, I go out and let the client get up at their own pace and open the door when they’re dressed. There’s a ‘leavetaking’ and possibly a short discussion of what the follow-up could be in terms of further sessions.

Experience a massage therapy session with Kelly Cross or with several other highly qualified massage therapists at Duke Integrative Medicine. All massage therapists are trained in both medical and therapeutic massage and cater to individual needs.

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