On Mental Health Awareness Day in 2007, Kate Mackay, Uli Packer (deceased) and myself, three newly qualified practitioners, gave short Shiatsu sessions at an NHS mental health drop-in centre in Brighton, UK. I stayed on afterwards, offering Shiatsu to their clients one afternoon per week, for a number of years. I have maintained this relationship to the current day, with one gap of less than a year, while awaiting funding. Eventually, they managed to obtain this and paid me for two hours a week. The NHS then sold a lot of their out-reach work to other organisations.
This particular centre was taken over by Southdown Housing Association, who continued to fund my Shiatsu. Currently, I am paid for four hours a week, one of which has developed into a Shiatsu self-care & movement class, first created during the lockdowns. The association now allocates funds to pay for several complementary therapy workers. All are self-employed without contracts, but we have become a regular and normal part of their activities. This is not a ‘project’ as such, but rather what people want: clients of mental health centres, accessing very low cost or completely free complementary therapy.
In the Spotlight
Claire Gilliver MrSS
Initially trained in fine art, Claire has had life of constant physical work from cleaning, café work, metal work, design & construction, running a shop, managing a bakery distribution department and special needs teaching. Since qualifying as a Shiatsu practitioner in 2007, she has had multiple jobs, but consistently maintained her Shiatsu practice. During this time, Claire has worked with Shiatsu within a Mental Health Centre, joined a charity that took complimentary medicine into a hospital, where she worked with maternity staff, and even into community projects providing Shiatsu to youth workers.
In 2018, Claire returned to the Shiatsu College Brighton to start teacher training and qualified in 2019. She also qualified as a Qigong teacher in 2021. She eventually took over the leadership of The Brighton branch in 2021 and is currently also Continuity Teacher at the Shiatsu College’s London branch. Claire is a Shiatsu Practitioner and Teacher, Qigong instructor, artist, metal worker, mother and grandmother.
During my time with this organisation, the centre has changed it’s name from ‘Drop-in Mental Health Services’ to ‘Mental Health Recovery Centre,’ and more recently to ‘The Wellbeing Hub’. This has coincided with a shift from coping with mentally ill, often ‘lost’ people who used the centre as a day shelter, through an emphasis on attempting to ‘mend’ people, to the current ‘a centre to access support for those living with mental health issues’. This means that I probably see less rough and unkempt individuals than I used to.
The clients are the centre’s, not my own private clients. I ask a simple set of questions regarding ailments, mainly for safety reasons but also to pinpoint their needs. In that sense, it is like any other clinic; I might see someone once and then never again, whilst others I have been seeing for years. I only know whom I will be treating, when I arrive at work.
I practice Zen Shiatsu, which I think is a blessing. I trust the Shiatsu, I trust my Hara diagnosis and do my best in 30 minutes to ‘hold’ the client in a bubble of acknowledgement, safety and care. A lot of the mental health issues are chronic – it’s about living with them, managing them and negotiating society with the client’s current state of being.
Complaints range all the way from suicidal thoughts and attempts and self-harm through various levels of depression to anxiety, psychotic episodes, schizoid paranoia, multiple personalities and heart break. These are mixed with physical symptoms, often multi-rooted from present and past trauma. Some find that lying down is not an option, so they choose to sit on a chair to feel more empowered. The wonder of using cloths and blankets to surround and secure vulnerable clients is a blessing in this kind of work.
Clients come as regularly as they can, and we simply pick up their ‘stories’ from the last session together. To encourage change or stability, especially when emotions are running high, I sometimes introduce ideas from Shiatsu and East Asian medicine. This helps to make sense of seasons and associations and also to introduce ideas for mini life implementations.
I use kindness and listening to create a safe place to talk and receive body work – this is sometimes the only place they receive any physical touch. It is a non-judgmental environment and I try to remain unfazed as we unravel their pain, understanding that it is good to talk about spirit and how upsetting medication can be, especially when it makes one fat, or simply the injustice of society. In other words, my days at the centre are just like working at a normal, all encompassing Shiatsu clinic.
It is a non-judgmental environment and I try to remain unfazed as we unravel their pain.CLAIRE GILLIVER