Sue Harmsworth is a leader of the spa industry. The founder of ESPA, she has the energy of a small army, and her passion for pushing the spa industry to provide the best and most meaningful wellness support to clients is unflinching, particularly when it comes to cancer.
“I have felt very strongly about the cancer issue in spas for a very long time,” she says. “It seemed ridiculous to me that we were turning people away who had been clear for two years. I have been around a lot of cancer in my life, and I decided that we, as an industry, had to tackle it.”
Her brand, ESPA, has been very much at the forefront of this mission. With both online and practical training for therapists, and an extremely high level of expertise to offer, ESPA has fully accredited products and has trained therapists across the UK. Today you could find one of ESPA’s therapists offering treatments suited to anyone with, or recovering from, cancer in any part of the UK.
The journey to date has been a long one, and while progress is being made, there’s further to go, particularly as cancer and our understanding of it becomes so much more prevalent. Sue says: “The Global Wellness Institute’s summit last year was strongly medically based, where key speakers were all saying the same things in different ways. Essentially, there are certain things we can address in our lives including nutrition, exercise, sleep, and meditation. By practising those, and getting them right, 60% of lifestyle diseases are preventable. There’s another statistic that says that by practising the right nutrition, the right stress reduction and the right exercise, you can reduce the recurrence of cancer by 50%.”
While Sue’s passion is for helping to prevent illness, she sees that the most pressing issue is to change the attitudes of therapists and hoteliers when it comes to treating clients with cancer, or at any stage of illness. Having pioneered training and support programmes for spa therapists who already have an advanced level of training and are ready to take it to the next level, she says: “We have got to change the mindset of these commercial entities and get them to understand and to invest in extra training for their therapists.”
While it’s a big challenge, changing mindsets is not unfamiliar territory to Sue, who was amongst the first in the spa industry to pioneer prenatal spa treatments and therapist training, which is now so widely available: “Once upon a time the whole industry was scared of pregnancy; scared of doing any damage. We decided it was best to put treatments together so therapists and clients could be confident in the process. We had to break through that barrier. You have to do it responsibly and with the right products.”
“Now, more and more, doctors are seeing the benefits of complementary therapies but all this business about the lymph nodes [the belief that stimulating them could encourage the spread of cancer] was scaring therapists out of their wits. Therapists are carers, if they’re not confident it’s not good for anyone. We have to change several attitudes – the spas, allowing therapists to do the right training, but where we can most easily affect change is with the therapists themselves. That will change the availability of therapies pre-, during and post-cancer treatment.”
In this ongoing journey, Sue is joined by a number of industry leaders who are equally passionate about change. This includes Julie Bach, founder of Wellness for Cancer, which trains therapists to treat people at every level of their wellness journey. While there are many nuances to the way clients with, or recovering from cancer, are cared for, the importance of products as part of the treatment are currently a key area of focus.
Julie says: “Cancer is not a skin type. The effects of cancer treatments, coupled with lack of sleep, stress, and being malnourished, produces symptoms that are reflected in many skin types and conditions. We are not treating cancer. We work with the skin. Skin care brands focus exclusively on skin.”
She continues: “Cancer-focused products don’t have the research and development (R&D) that a highly focused skin care brand has. Skin care brands may not realise their gift to people healing from cancer and that is what Wellness for Cancer is here to help with, because the end client may not want to switch brands during this time and they should not have to.”
As part of that goal, Julie has entrusted the support of both ESPA and Biologique Recherché to change the way product lines think about their research and development, and the way they communicate that to their clients.
Biologique Recherché Co-President, Rupert Schmid, says: “The work we have done with Julie has taken time and resources. The project changed the very DNA of our company in how we view all of our current and future product formulations to deliver personalised treatments to all of our clients and at a time when they need us most.”
Sue says: “The product side is interesting, but I don’t think it should be about one brand over another. I think what’s interesting, about life in general, is that you don’t always get touched by things until they affect you, but more and more of us are being affected. If the industry can pull together and get this fear away from therapists, I think we will all benefit. I believe the training and treatments are good for any post-operative clients, so anyone can go and have a treatment without any problem. Advanced treatments are widely applicable and are relevant to everybody who is very depleted, unwell or post operative.”
Put another way, Julie says: “A person leads a whole life that’s not all about cancer. This is about educating, and treating a person rather than a disease.”
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