Alex McBride sat up on the edge of the massage table and let out a soft sigh.
“That was awesome,” he said.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran had just spent about half an hour lying face-up on the mat with his eyes closed as Mickey Stephan performed a Reiki session at the Reiki Center, a natural wellness facility on the Northwest Side.
Stephan had held his hands about an inch above various parts of McBride’s body, often applying light touch and at one point dangling a pendulum — a small piece of blue quartz on a chain — over him.
“It really grounded me,” McBride said. “And I had a general sense of well-being.”
McBride, 34, of the Northwest Side, said he’s had the technique performed four times, and it has helped him manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a brain injury and anxiety.
“It relaxes me and helps me feel just at peace with myself,” he said.
Stephan works with McBride for free as part of the Reiki Center’s nonprofit arm, the Stone Soup Project, which links volunteers skilled in natural-wellness techniques with people in the community who might benefit from them.
Though the project provides some limited individual work, the thrust of the initiative is to have volunteers visit social service groups and other agencies in the community, said Reiki Center Director Linda Haley.
Practitioners have volunteered at various organizations to provide free services to veterans, people with disabilities, individuals with mental illness, trafficked women, the elderly and Alzheimer’s caregivers. Hospice staff, breast-cancer surgeons, immigrants, government employees and animal-welfare workers also have been helped. A goal is to help clients manage stress and pain.
Along with Reiki, other services include hand and body massages, craniosacral therapy involving the cranium and spine, and a movement-based therapy called Trager.
“We partner with agencies that don’t have the funds to be able to provide wellness, or they want to bring wellness in a different way to their members and constituents,” Haley said.
She tells stories about the trust given by Somali women, the dissipating anger of a homeless veteran and the opening up of a woman who had been trafficked.
“We’re breaking down so many barriers, people who feel like they’ve been disenfranchised, people who don’t feel like people want to take the time to listen to them. Just holding their hand and giving them a hand massage might break down a barrier,” Haley said. “A lot of people are not used to being touched in friendship and compassion.”
The project has been visiting the Chalmers P. Wylie Veterans Affairs Ambulatory Care Center for about two years, attending monthly Veteran Connections events, said Colleen McSweeney, care coordinator. The services always draw a line of veterans, family members and staff, she said, and can help decrease symptoms of PTSD and depression.
“We do a really good job at the VA taking care of the medical needs of our veterans, but sometimes we need to add some complementary therapies and treatments,” she said. “The whole goal is mind, body and spirit.”
At Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Stone Soup volunteers have provided Reiki to staff who work in behavioral health and at the Center for Family Safety and Healing, said Kari DuBro, employee wellness program manager.
The positions are stressful, she said, and Reiki is offered to promote mental well-being and prevent burnout, exhaustion and compassion fatigue.
“We try to build resiliency and provide opportunities for staff to decompress, providing some opportunities for self-care,” DuBro said. “By doing so, they’re going to be more focused and compassionate to the patients and families they’re serving.”
Stephan has been volunteering with the Stone Soup program for about nine months. Along with helping McBride, he’s visited various other sites, including the VA hospital, offices of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, OhioHealth Kobacker House hospice-care center and the Alvis 180 Degree Impact halfway house.
“I’m retired, and I felt that I wanted to be doing service work, doing volunteer service work for people just to try to make life better for them,” he said.
McBride started visiting the Reiki Center shortly after he moved to Columbus from North Carolina in September. A barber school student, McBride said he wouldn’t be able to pay for the treatments.
He said his PTSD stems from the roughly four years, ending in June 2006, that he spent in Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine Corps infantryman. He suffered a brain injury in 2007 after a vehicle he was driving was hit by a tractor-trailer.
He had an initial Reiki session with one volunteer practitioner, then another with seven Stone Soup volunteers. On his third visit, he started working with Stephan.
“It’s helped me a lot,” he said. “Being able to control that emotion is priceless. It’s helping me to get back to myself.”
The Stone Soup Project, founded about five years ago, has been largely funded by the Reiki Center but also has received donations. Costs include a van to transport massage tables, other equipment and supplies, and gasoline. Haley’s next goal for the project is to hire a full-time, paid executive director to handle the increased requests for services.
She also hopes that the project becomes a national model replicated elsewhere.
“We’re moving form a small group of little guys who just wanted to change the world to, I believe, a force that is going to be the future of wellness,” she said.
This content was originally published here.