Sixth sense: Blind therapist has a healing touch
Tommy Gibson can't see. The massage therapist based in Sussex County has been blind since the turn of the century. But Gibson uses his other senses to their highest degrees, and has been working as a massage therapist since 2002. Wochit
A pioneer in the field of massage therapy, Jack Meagher once coined the phrase: "Massage is the study of anatomy in braille."
Tommy Gibson wears that saying on his T-shirt, a firm believer in the nuts and bolts of massage therapy and an even stauncher follower of the phrase's words.
Gibson, 59, can't see. The massage therapist based in Sussex County has been blind since the turn of the century after a battle with AIDS that led to a gradual loss of sight (CMV Retinitis) and 26 eye operations in 13 months. But Gibson uses his other senses to their highest degrees, and has been working as a massage therapist since 2002.
His current business, Sixth Sense Bodywork, specializes in many forms of massage therapy, including pain management and relief, which these days is the main focus of his business. Gibson is available at three locations depending on his schedule: his home, Dimitra Yoga in Rehoboth and at Coastal Salon and Spa in Lewes.
The Lewes house Gibson lives and sometimes works in, was purchased with his partner Randy Marshall in 1995 for the purpose of dying. Gibson, an Edison, New Jersey native, was given three months to live in July 1996. But treatments with the drug Crixivan took his condition from deadly to undetectable in six weeks.
A former employee at Smith Barney in New York, Gibson had a new lease on life but no vision. A few years of recovery and collecting disability ensued while Gibson got healthier, but it was time to find something to do.
“I better figure out something to do that I don’t need my sight for because otherwise I’m going to go crazy,” Gibson said he thought.
As someone who had always enjoyed giving neck and back rubs, Gibson settled on massage therapy and in 2002 he graduated from the Delaware Learning Institute in Dagsboro.
But finding work wasn't all that easy.
“People were apprehensive,” Gibson said. “They’ve never dealt with it. People were were apprehensive to deal with a blind person in any situation. The fact that he’s going to be touching me? There were a lot of issues. All of these businesses would not hire me."
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So at first his practice was out of his home, which required a home occupation permit. His early clients weren't paying, though. Gibson partnered with AIDS programs and even with some hospice locations and offered free massages.
After building a reputation mostly through word of mouth, Gibson found more steady work and has been treating patients at the three locations. With use of his iPhone, Gibson easily communicates with clients and the places of business.
With the help of guide dogs, first Dakota, a shepherd, and more recently, Opus, a yellow Lab, Gibson gets around without major issue.
He once wrote representative Pete Schwartzkopf and is a major reason that talking crosswalks (or Accessible Pedestrian Signals) exist from Five Points down to Rehoboth. Sadly, Opus passed away earlier this year and Gibson is waiting for another dog at the moment.
These days, the desire to learn more has given Gibson much more than he ever anticipated when he went into massage. Bored with what he called the "fluff and puff" of basic massages, Gibson, through required CEU (continuing education units) credits, has turned his focus to trigger point, myofascial and cranial sacral methods.
This, he said, gives him more pleasure, knowing he's able to relieve pain.
“I can actually fix people doing this stuff,” Gibson said. “It feels good to know that I’m helping people.”
Gibson told success stories working with patients with Parkinson's Disease, pinched nerves, carpal tunnel and more.
He's even worked with breast cancer patients to help release pain issues deriving from scar tissue.
Peggy Lashbrook is a breast cancer survivor and started traveling from Newark to visit Gibson once a month beginning in January. Her visits are more frequent now in the summer months when she's in Sussex County more frequently. Lashbrook, 61, said she had a good bit of damage from her radiation treatments and said Gibson helped release her shoulder blade to alleviate pain.
“He’s been really remarkable,” Lashbrook said. “He’s so intuitive. He kind of just follows your body’s lead. I may come in and say one thing and when he starts he finds something else.
“He’s just really in tune and focused.”
Like a chef constantly learning new techniques, Gibson is pushed by an evolving world of healing. He's a Reiki Master, too, and has used his ability to channel energy into a new form of treatment: Touching the brain.
The John Upledger Institute in Florida focuses on cranial sacral therapy, which the institute describes as "a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve whole-body health and performance."
Gibson sounds like a neurosurgeon as he describes the human brain, the cranium and what he's learned how to do. Required 24 hours of CEU credits every two years, Gibson's license isn't up until next August but he's already amassed more than 60 hours.
The additions to his repertoire have made him more well-rounded.
“It becomes visual for me,” Gibson says.
“I’m doing a full tune-up. When’s the last time you got your brain tuned up?”
The intention-based modality of touching the brain helps people suffering from many psychological disorders like Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, dementia, anxiety, concussions and more.
He's also gotten into CBD (cannabidiol) treatments. Using seeds and stalk of male hemp plant, the cannabidiol-based products are legal in all 50 states, Gibson says, and Gibson swears by their healing powers.
He works with a California-based company called Kannaway to distribute a salve cream.
In the basement of his Lewes home, Gibson rubbed some of the salve on his partner, Marshall, who needed some pain relieved in his back.
Satisfied after a few minutes, Marshall sat up.
"The man has magic all throughout his body," he said.
To contact Tommy Gibson at Sixth Sense Bodywork, text 954-649-0634 or call 302-604-1233.