Langara’s Holistic Health Centre offers students alternative ways to learn and heal

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Jen Yan, 26, shows off her expressive arts therapy projects. Screenshot from video by: Gillian Hames

It starts with a prompt. Something like, “Your ideal self.”

That was the theme that inspired Jen Yan, an expressive arts therapy student, to write on a canvas, “I am love,” followed by a drawing of a heart. She then surrounded the image with squiggly lines in colourful pastel.

After that, Yan’s instructor told her to write an imaginary letter from the picture to herself.  She and her classmates then attempted to “embody” the images they had created by acting them out.

“Say [the image] is a dark circle,” Yan said. “It’s a feeling, so you might come into a circle-type shape” — she lifted her arms and hunched her body to make a circle — “embodying a darkness or lightness.” The process is meant to give the patient a deeper understanding of her emotions.

The course may seem unusual, even quirky — it’s the only certified expressive arts therapy program in the province, the college says — but some students say it’s the best thing that’s happened to them.

College offers many courses to heal the mind, body and soul

The program is one of many offered at Langara’s Holistic Health Centre, which is part of the college’s Continuing Studies department. The centre had a promotional event last week to celebrate one year at its location on West Broadway. Other programs on offer at the centre include: yoga instruction, energy healing, style advising, aromatherapy and professional dog walking.

Yan was one of the presenters last Thursday who told the audience of classmates, instructors and prospective students about why she likes her program.

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Expressive arts therapy student Carla Shirley examines a mask one of her classmates created in a class called Personality in Performance. Screenshot from video by: Gillian Hames

“I always knew I wanted to be a therapist of some kind,” she said. When a friend told her about expressive arts therapy, it seemed a good way for Yan to combine her psychology background with her creative flair.

The expressive arts therapy certificate program is a two-year, part time course. It costs $11,142, not including books and the minimum 20 hours of therapy that students have to undergo at their own cost.

Langara’s Holistic Health Centre has its critics

Fields such as energy healing, which the centre offers as a two-year, part-time certificate program, are controversial in the medical and scientific communities. Energy healing is based on the idea that someone with proper training can channel beneficial energy into a sick person.

“[Students] explore the concepts underlying the human energy field, and its ability to restore balance, and promote physical and emotional healing,” a promotional pamphlet says.

The British Columbia Medical Association(BCMA) said Langara’s holistic health courses are pseudo-scientific and potentially harmful. Dr. Lloyd Oppel is a critic of alternative therapies for the BCMA. Energy healing could cause someone with a serious medical ailment to delay effective treatment, he told The Globe and Mail.

Instructor Ruth Lamb, who is a registered nurse, defends the practice.

“Body and mind, energy and spirit, and the environment, all impact our lives,” she said, adding that energy healing is recognized in the health care profession.

Fraser Health Authority has approached the Holistic Health Centre to do a research project at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Lamb said. Energy healing students will work with forensic nurses—specialists who work with patients that have suffered severe injuries. Sometimes these nurses suffer “vicarious trauma,” a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.  The holistic health students will help see the nurses through the stress of their job.

Are there jobs available in the holistic health field?

Putting aside whether holistic treatments are effective, another important question for potential students is, will I be more likely to find a job after investing in this course?

It’s an important question – more so than for previous generations.

More than one in three Canadian college and university graduates between 25 and 29 work in low-skilled jobs, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This at a time when about 60 per cent of students graduate with an average debt of $27,000.

About 300 students have graduated from the energy healing program over 15 years. Although the centre doesn’t have statistics, Linda Turner, manager of health and holistic studies, says most graduates go into private practice, while registered massage therapy “will be a bona fide job.”

The massage therapy course is currently going through the college’s approval process. If it passes, Langara will be the first post-secondary institution in B.C. to offer a registered massage therapy course.

Ruth Lamb, the energy healing instructor, estimates about 15 per cent of students in the program are from the health-care profession, including therapists and counsellors. “A lot of nurses take it back into the hospital setting,” she said.

The Voice asked Turner how many expressive arts therapy graduates find a job in a related field.

“I would say 100 per cent because they wouldn’t take the program unless they had something lined up,” she said. Turner also noted the course leads to a master’s program in Switzerland.

Jen Yan isn’t sure what she’ll do after the course; the master’s program is expensive.

“I’m not too concerned, for some reason. With the practicum, they get you jobs in schools,” Yan said. She hopes things will turn out if she works hard, she added.

Reported by Kevin Hampson

Watch a video of the one-year anniversary party of the Langara Holistic Health Centre’s Broadway location. Music by Theda Phoenix.

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