Helping people cope with life and trauma

“I have always volunteered; often the victims of terrorism or cancer survivors were not in a position to pay.”

(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Ricky Ben-Shimol works with women who have undergone the most traumatic experiences, such as cancer survivors, victims of incest and violation, and survivors of terrorist attacks. She uses a combination of medical massage, rehabilitative touch therapy and group workshops teaching mind-body techniques for stress reduction and pain relief.
She mastered the life-saving techniques she uses today through the study of ergonomics, which she practiced for many years before developing touch therapy.
“It’s a system whereby you adjust your living and work space to personal needs,” explains the 60-year-old, who moved here from Scotland in 1970.
“For example, many women complain about lower back pain from working hours at the kitchen sink or doing other household tasks like ironing. I suggest that they open the kitchen cupboard doors and stand closer to the sink, perhaps with a foot on the shelf below. Or, when ironing, put one foot on a phone book or brick, then change to the other foot periodically – simple remedies, but they work by taking pressure off the lower back,” she says.
Ben-Shimol was 21 when she decided to make aliya alone from Glasgow. She had been in Habonim (a Zionist youth movement) for years and the intention was to come to Israel, study to be a qualified youth leader and then go back for two years to work as a movement leader.
But meeting her future husband in Jerusalem soon after making aliya changed all that. Avi was working as a technician at the Alyn Orthopedic Hospital and she soon joined him there doing odd jobs. She also had a brief stint working at The Jerusalem Post. She and Avi married in 1974.
Soon after her first daughter was born, Ben-Shimol decided she wanted to study for a degree.
“I did art therapy and English literature and for the whole of my first year the baby came with me to all the lectures,” she recalls.
In 2000, she finished her bachelor’s degree and was beginning to be fascinated by the ideas of massage techniques for developing mind-body equilibrium.
“I studied Chinese medicine, tuina, acupuncture and Swedish massage,” she says.
All the time she was studying alternative medicines, she continued the job she had begun before university, as the national administrator of the Royal Academy of Dance in Israel.
This involved scheduling of exams for dance students, coordinating the teachers’ certificate program and promoting the continued education of dance teachers in Israel. She did this job for more than 15 years.
“I got to my interest in body and mind work through my experiences in the ballet world,” she says. “I was fascinated by the blood, sweat and tears in rehearsals, in how the young girls got to achieve what they did.”
She was continually adding to her qualifications as a massage therapist.
“One year a teacher came from the States, and taught a system that really appealed to me. It’s called ‘cross-fiber corrective muscle therapy’ and I became one of the few practitioners of this in Israel,” she says. “Rather than dollop on oil, you work to restore the flexibility of the muscle,” she explains.
Last year she left Jerusalem where she had lived for more than 45 years and moved to Kfar Saba to be near her children and grandchildren. She carries on with her medical massage practice but also devotes much of her free time to volunteering in the community.
“I have always volunteered; often the victims of terrorism or cancer survivors were not in a position to pay,” she says.
Now settled in Kfar Saba, she has been busy volunteering with ESRA (English-Speaking Residents Association), holding workshops on a variety of topics.
These include “Listen to Your Pain,” a six-session workshop on living with chronic pain; “Old Age Ain’t for Sissies,” a self-care program for women; and “Care and Share” for women challenged by cancer now or in the past.
“Each week I teach a different skill, whether it’s correct breathing, meditation or guided imagery,” she says. “Within these frameworks, the patients feel that they can grow and feel better.”
Ben-Shimol passionately believes in the power of touch therapy, not only to reduce pain, but to improve the quality of life of the patient.
“Massage brings mind-body benefits at every age and every stage in life,” she says.