Mastering the Mind-Body Connection with psychotherapist Silvia Stenitzer

By Hope Katz Gibbs, massage therapy student, Bodymechanics Santa Fe

It is one thing to know what is ethical as a massage therapist and another to have the maturity, professionalism, and insight to put those personal and professional ethics into practice constantly. To manage this fundamental practice, it takes an experienced guide to show you the way.

That’s why it is an honor to introduce you to our ethics teacher at the Bodymechanics Santa Fe school, Silvia Stenitzer. A massage therapist since 1989, this native of Austria shares that she has been on a path of helping others through touch since embarking on her healing journey at 31.

“My parents owned two hotels in Austria, and they worked incredibly hard 12 months a year,” Silvia shares. “To keep them going, there is a tradition in my country called Kur — a stay of several weeks at a health care resort with a daily structured program of medical treatments specifically prescribed by a Kur doctor. They’d go twice each year to get treatments massage, hydrotherapy, mud baths, cardio exercise, and daily swimming sessions. These treatments helped heal their bodies and strengthen their minds to prepare them for the year-round 7-day workweek they endured.”

It also turned Silvia onto the remarkable power of bodywork and the body/mind connection. In the late 1980s, she moved to Santa Fe and enrolled in the Scherer School of Massage (which became the Santa Fe School of Massage before closing during the pandemic in 2020. The building is now the home of Bodymechanics Santa Fe).

After graduating in 1989, Silvia went on to study with Donald VanHowten, owner of Life Impressions Bodywork in Santa Fe and author of Ayurveda and Life Impressions Bodywork: Seeking Our Healing Memories.

“With Van, I learned techniques of postural integration and deep connective tissue work to address the physical impact of life experiences onto our bodies,” adds Silvia. She continued her quest to gain as much knowledge as possible. Her next subject was to study cranial sacral therapy at the Uplenger Institute. She then went on to also become a yoga and Pilates teacher. She then turned her attention to psychotherapy, and in 2006 graduated with a master’s in counseling from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM. In the fall of 2022, Silvia plans to continue her education. She’ll be pursuing a Ph.D. degree at Southwestern with a focus on Visionary Practice and Regenerative Leadership.

And still, it is bodywork that continues to capture her imagination. “When you touch and are touched, you go underneath the noise in your mind. Touch is our very first “language” and a basic human need for healthy brain and personality development. Touch therapy “talks” to different systems than talk therapy. Both are essential modalities of healing. However, touch helps connect us with our deepest inner being and truth. I think that is simply amazing!

Plus, Silvia explains that she loves doing bodywork because “something happens to me when I touch the client. I feel more connected to myself and life and more grounded. Perhaps most importantly is that bodywork gives me hope — hope for a better world with the recognition of the interdependence of all beings, for touch fosters self-knowledge and self-healing as well as an understanding of each other on a deep level, one body at a time.

Silvia is passionate about teaching all that she has learned with the students at Bodymechanics Santa Fe. “When it comes to being an effective massage therapist, the guiding principles of what to do and not to do, are essential,” she insists. “In addition to adhering to the law and professional codes of ethics, knowing and honoring our personal codes of ethics is what guides, grounds, and centers us. The willingness of ongoing self-inquiry and self-reflection is crucial for our ethical development; our work as massage therapists reflects who we are.

She adds that transference and countertransference, and dual relationships are also important concepts to understand and honor. “But we are all human. We will sometimes be attracted to the person on the table, and they might be attracted to us. The key is always to be a professional and never let the temptations get the better of us. Yes, this means we are held to a high standard. But it is our job to master ourselves to be of the highest service to our clients. After all, these people are willing to be vulnerable and naked on our tables. It is our responsibility to do our best to help them heal.”

For Silvia, the importance of being ethical is what will guide the future of massage. “You know when you are on the massage table, and the hands of a massage therapist are touching you, that you are vulnerable. This place is where change can happen. And it is critical that when you are the therapist that you imagine yourself as the client. We are one.”

“Massage is more necessary than ever in our world of dramatic and rapid change to help people stay calm, centered, and healthy, and well in their bodies. Pain is often the gateway that lets clients know of their need to be touched and healed with the help of our hands — which have tremendous healing power. Indeed, our hands are extensions of our hearts. As we connect with this awareness, we find places in our clients’ bodies that need support and awaking of their healing. This concept of oneness is what Silvia believes will help heal the world.

Silvia believes that through touch, we tell our clients: “you are important, you are safe, you are loved, you have a place, you belong. “All of this is translated when someone touches you in this nonverbal way. Clear verbal communication is also essential for safety in a session because it involves the logical part of the brain and helps connect both hemispheres of the brain. Touch, however, is where the process starts.”

Thank you, Silvia, for being our teacher! 

My Lessons Learned in Month 4

As has been my tradition in each column, I share my observations in the fourth month of the Bodymechanics School of Massage Santa Fe program.

  1. What I learned this month — I am starting to see where this beautiful content ties together. Each day, our instructors teach us more about kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, pathology, and of course, massage therapy and practice—and the repetition of knowing where the 206 bones and 600 muscles help it become part of me. I don’t pretend to know anywhere near as much as I hope to in the months to come. But I am starting to believe that I will eventually master this program. Teachers like Silvia are here to teach us and are also here to help and support us through our journey.
  1. What I want other students to know — Don’t give up! On Friday, Nov. 5, our class had the privilege of doing our first hands-on practical massage exam, and Silvia was my client. Hearing her body talk to me enabled me to know which spots needed attention. Our important academic classes are the icing on the cake of this educational experience, but knowing where my hands need to go to help my clients find relief is the key. I feel increasingly able and willing to sink into the process. If you are struggling, I invite you to breathe into it and enjoy the ride!

Next month: We’ll shine a spotlight on another Santa Fe instructor and share more insights into Month 5 of the Bodymechanics experience. Until then, wishing you endless health and wellness! — Hope

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