KirstieSegarra Head Shot

The healing arts at UNM-Taos

By Bill Knief

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I sat down with Dr. Kirstie Segarra last week to talk about the Integrative Health and Medical Massage program at UNM-Taos. About four years ago Jim Gilroy and Dr. Marty Hewlett got together to reorganize Holistic Health and Healing Arts courses, and the outcome was an umbrella program that encompassed both medical massage and holistic health; two distinct tracks that lead to certificates and licensure in healthcare fields.

Dr. Segarra moved here in 1998, has been with UNM-Taos for eight years, and recently completed her doctorate in integrative medicine. For three years she was the head of the New Mexico Massage Board. She began her career in Bali, living with a family while studying music, dance and art, and how they integrate with the spirituality of the region. She began apprenticing with traditional healers, and then decided to return to academia.

“I decided to go get my license so I could practice what I had learned in Indonesia,” she explained. “Over there you don’t need a license. That’s a very Western concept. In Bali, a traditionalist determines that you are ready to practice, and that’s all you need. But once you come back here, you can’t do anything without a license. So I went back to school to increase my scope, and bring my skills into more of an academic realm, and decided to get my master’s and doctorate in integrative medicine. So now I am the lead instructor, a movement therapist, medical massage integrator and I’ve trained in the traditional healing arts as well.

“What makes the UNM-Taos program really stand out from other programs is that we are heavily involved with anatomy, physiology, pathology, and how to treat specific conditions in the body. We’re not really geared toward teaching how to do a relaxing, full-body massage. We offer that through the Introduction to Massage class under the Holistic Health and Healing Arts program run by Jean Ellis-Sankari.”

Segarra explained that Holistic Health and Healing Arts classes can be found in the UNM-Taos Class Schedule and Enrollment Guide with the prefix HHHA, and these classes can be taken by anyone. On the other hand, to take classes with the prefix MAS, you have to either apply to the program or get special permission. Students must be interviewed to be accepted into the program, and there is a one-time fee of $1,000.

“It’s not something to enter into lightly,” Segarra cautioned. “The interview process isn’t designed to dissuade anybody; there are no prerequisites except for having a high school diploma or equivalency. It’s designed to screen applicants so they know what they are getting involved in, because the Medical Massage Program is heavy into anatomy and physiology. It is a very challenging field, and requires not just mental clarity but emotional and spiritual clarity, along with physical strength. I encourage people who do not have experience in hands-on health care to go into the Holistic Health and Healing Arts program first, and see if it is a good fit.

“The power of the Medical Massage program is that it gives you a license to work with people within a wide array of health care fields. The basic integrative massage therapy certificate is 650 contact hours and 44 credit hours. Put that together with a Holistic Health and Healing Arts certificate and you will have 1,000 hours total training, which you can take with you to apply for a license just about anywhere.”

Segarra emphasized that this is in direct contrast to practicing under New Mexico’s Complementary Alternative Medicine Act, or CAM, which is fairly unique to New Mexico, and was designed to recognize and protect the traditional Native American and Hispanic healing culture of the region. However, if you leave the state, you might not be able to practice elsewhere as an unlicensed practitioner. On the other hand, the UNM-Taos Integrative Massage Therapy program reports to the state massage board as well as the cabinet-level Higher Education Department, and uses scientific evidence as the basis for teaching the wisdom tradition of medicine that has been around for centuries.

“Our program is pretty unique in the whole country,” she said. “We teach a lot of ethics in our program and practice high ethical standards in our training. Because we are an academic institution I feel like we should be held to a higher standard, and we hold our students to a higher standard as well.

You can reach Dr. Segarra at ksegarra@unm.edu.

About The Bill Knief

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