June 24, 2008

‘Like Getting a Week’s Vacation in an Hour’

By Ed Waters Jr., The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Jun. 22--Jill Biller has combined her love of science and art to create a fulfilling life, both for her and many of her clients.

A certified massage therapist, Biller has moved back to Frederick after working for several years at her home in Middletown.

"It is rather funny, I opened 18 years ago in this building on the third floor. Now I'm in the basement, I don't know what that means," Biller said jokingly at her office at 1311 Orchard Way.

In addition to her interest in helping clients live a better life, she creates ink and acetate artwork that has been displayed in The Muse, a boutique in downtown Frederick.

And her artwork dresses the walls of her office. Her photographs are in the massage room.

"I was inspired by Mark Rothko," she said. Rothko created works with layers of colored acetate, which inspired Biller's process. Some of her interest in art came from her parents. Born in California and growing up in the Midwest, Biller was influenced by her father, who was both a physicist and a filmmaker.

"He made a film ("Project Moonbase") with Robert Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer," she said. Her mother, an actress and engineer, played a cowgirl in the movie.

"She was in a lot of movies. She was a swimmer with Esther Williams and did trick riding."

Biller met her husband in Indiana, where she went to college, initially to study psychotherapy. But she studied a variety of medical areas and became an educator in the 1980s.

"My favorite class was cadaver dissection, but I took a lot of biology, chemistry and psychology," she said.

She worked in public health with HIV patients. "I learned a lot about death and dying," Biller said. "I worked not only with the doctors, but family and friends of the HIV patients," she said. She saw massage therapy as a way to help people deal with pain, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual.

"My work is client-centered. I have long-term relationships with people. Their needs change as they get older," Biller said. "And I'm doing young children who are taking karate or sports and need massage therapy." People have problems, whether it is stress, illness, a divorce, or other worries that can create physical pain, often when the client doesn't realize it.

Biller later taught at the Potomac Massage Therapy Institute in Washington, what she called a gold-standard school that has been in business for 25 years.

She taught physiology, kinesiology and ethics, and served on the ethics board for the national organization that certifies massage therapists.

"People think of massage therapy as 'fluff and stuff,' but it is not," Biller said.

She has clients sent to her by doctors, psychologists, chiropractors, many other health professionals. Some, though, still equate massage with a sexual service.

"Unfortunately, in today's culture the act of touching someone is seen as either sexual or punitive," she said. "A teacher can't hug a kindergarten student, a doctor can't comfort a patient," she said. Biller said she has doctors, ministers, physical therapists and others on her massage table.

"I even had one mother who gave her daughter a gift card to come in before her wedding because she was so stressed." One of the big medical issues now, she said, is cortisol, known as the "stress hormone" in the body.

Although it has its good points -- it creates adrenaline to combat a situation -- in today's culture, that stress never stops and the body may not return to normal. A high level of Cortisol remaining active in the body can affect cognitive performance, decrease muscle tissue, increase blood pressure, lower immunity, slow healing of injuries and even increase body fat.

Biller uses the example of a person coming into her office taking off the armor they wear daily.

"They leave it at the door and put it back on when they leave. It is the armor we use in our daily lives to combat pain, stress, problems." When in her office, however, "it is like getting a week's vacation in one hour."

Massage therapists are required to be certified nationally in Maryland, Biller said.

"That is a great idea and shows they have the education," she said. She constantly takes continuing education and has even given seminars in several states.

But she is concerned about the requirement to license massage therapists beginning in October, passed into law by the Maryland General Assembly in the last session.

"What it means is a lot of paperwork and reducing the scope of what I can do," Biller said.

Although experienced, the licensing could narrowly define what a massage therapist can and can't do.

"I spend one hour with a client, only one person. It's not a doctor who can have several patients at once and spends 15 minutes with each one. Or even a physical therapist. They can work on more than one person in an hour," she said.

The licensing will have an effect on insurance benefit coverage and other factors, she said, much of which remains to be seen when it is implemented in October.

"We are the hub of a wheel. The health professionals, and others, are spokes that support us. I'm a piece of that wheel. The more support the better," she said.

But while Biller is accomplished in her field and has even trained others, she can't turn to massage for relief.

"I have seizure disorder and can't receive massage therapy as it can send off a seizure," she said.

For her own stress she turns to family, art and gardening.


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