For this month’s spotlight, we’re celebrating National Physical Therapy month and spotlighting a volunteer who has lent her holistic approach to the practice to patients at the Old Town Clinic. Senior Director of Primary Care at the Old Town Clinic, Barbara Martin, had this to say about Anita’s work:
"Anita August has been an ongoing volunteer with Old Town Clinic, bringing in expertise on both general physical therapy as well as specific types of therapy to help with pain, such as persistent back pain. She has been flexible with figuring out what might work best for our patients, including group options or one-on-one appointments. She has also worked around our space and time constraints to help us make the most of her generous gift of time. She is positive, helpful, and supportive of our patients."
Read on to hear about how Anita got involved with CCC, how her practice of physical therapy has evolved over time, and what she admires about the work that goes on at the Old Town Clinic!
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Peter: How long have you been volunteering with Central City Concern?
Anita: I would say over five years, maybe close to six years.
P: And how did you find out about the agency or the opportunity?
A: Well, I lived in the neighborhood and I was very interested in the Old Town Clinic (OTC). I came to the open house for the new building, where I met Geoff, who was the Occupational Therapist here. We got to talking and our ideas were so similar I said “I would love to be a part of this.” And he said, “We can do that!” So that’s how I got involved.
"It takes courage sometimes just to get up in the morning and I’ve found many of the people at Old Town Clinic are courageous."
P: What is your role here now?
A: My role is physical therapy, but not the tradition physical therapy that I have been doing for over 50 years. Some years back, I began to be dissatisfied with how I was treating people. Mind and body are really one entity and that was what I was not accessing in this traditional type of PT. You “fix” a shoulder or a knee, but you haven’t changed the things that were behind that injury.
I went back and took a training course about four years ago in Alexander Technique. This is a system of working with people that is very congruent with Physical therapy. It looks at the way you can change habitual patterns of behavior. That could be how you sit, how you stand. Do you move so abruptly you “glitch” your joints every time you move? Does your posture have the habitual fear or startle tension patterns? Do you fall because you move impulsively and lose your balance? It looks at the subtle, hidden patterns of reaction. How do your react when someone accidently bumps into you? Are there people or circumstances you unthinkingly react to that are not helpful to you?
So that’s Alexander Technique, I think it is the best thing since sliced bread and I tend to go on and on about it. It works really well with Physical Therapy. There is just no gap between the two approaches for me. Alexander Technique may seem more indirect. I see you for a sore shoulder and I work on how you sit and stand to start. But in many ways I think it is actually more direct for getting better.
P: It sounds like it is kind of preventative in a way rather than restorative?
A: Both! It is preventive in a big way. For example, if somebody wants to take up yoga, often people go to a class and after the first or second time they go, they can’t move; they are really hurt. They haven’t known enough to be mindful of how they work to be able to manage themselves in the class.
P: And that’s an interesting thing because we often recommend yoga as a wellness routine despite the fact that there can be that barrier for some folks.
A: Not all Yoga is created equal! Out in the community there are different competencies of instructors. Here at Old Town, I have watched the classes and they are safe and wonderful. But in some community general classes, your instructor gives you instruction and you completely go into that without thinking. You don’t think, “Okay, stop, I’ve had back problems so let me be sure that my head and neck and torso are in a good place. Let me see if I can move that way with healing ease of movement.” Do I go as far as I can, especially if the person next to you is a pretzel, or do I keep good use of myself rather then going headlong into the movement?
But it is not only that; it’s many things. It’s how you react to somebody at work giving you a new task. Do you get so tense that all you can think about is “I have to do this right”, instead of stopping [and thinking], “Okay, let me see what this part is and step one, and step two, and step three.” This keeps you safe and also allows you to do a better job!
"I hear how clients are treated [at the Old Town Clinic], what happens here, and I think it’s exemplary. I think it’s something that should be a model. And I’m really delighted to be a part of that."
P: And is that physical carrying of tension something you see a lot with the population that we serve here?
A: Very much. But it’s not just here! People I see here have been through a lot. They’ve been up and down and they’ve dealt with some tough, tough things in their life. So in many ways, Old Town Clinic clients are more able to understand what I am talking about.
P: Was the population that you served before OTC the same as the one you serve now?
A: I’ve really been around. One of the PT jobs I had was working for a company that did ergonomics, so I was on the floor of Nabisco bakery and Costco. I loved this job! I learned about Dough Jams and loading cocoa into giant vats. I went home smelling like Ritz crackers!
I had interesting jobs in Hospice and ran a chronic pain clinic for a while in Pennsylvania. I also was administer of MacDonald residence, down the street, for a short time after it opened.
P: Do you see any differences between the folks you’ve served in the past and your clients at OTC?
A: It’s all the same to me. I like working one-on one, sometimes I like classes but my favorite is one-on –one. In so many ways everyone is the same and everyone is different.
P: Any stand-out moments during your time here?
A: Many of our people here, as I’ve said, have been through a lot. I often feel a strong connection, great affection, and enormous respect for those I meet here. Dealing with problems and aging is not, as it is said, for the faint of heart! It takes courage sometimes just to get up in the morning and I’ve found many of the people at OTC are courageous.
P: When folks ask, what do you tell them about your experience here?
A: I usually start out and say that I feel really lucky to be a part of this organization. I was lucky to meet up with Geoff, and lucky to have a role here.
P: Anything else you were hoping to be asked about your work or about physical therapy in general?
A: As I said, it’s really a good thing. After all this time, I am not diminished in my enthusiasm at all about where PT is going now. It is becoming more holistic, and with the Alexander Technique that I am bring into this, I focus on those kinds of principles. I also want to say something about the values of OTC. I observe how clients are treated, what happens here, and I think it is exemplary. It is something that should be a model. I am really delighted to be a part of that.
P: What qualities do you see that you would hold up as a model?
A: Enormous respect and empathy. And then kindness, just being kind. Being warm and kind and meeting people where they are. Less judgement, more empathy. I believe that in a more conventional setting, people would not be doing as well as they do here. The programs that are being offered, along with the idea of reducing opioid use and supporting a healthier lifestyle, give people a sense that they are cared for. It is very positive.