Aquatic therapy incorporates massage, speech therapy |

Aquatic therapy incorporates massage, speech therapy

Suzie Daggett interviews Jerry McCue, the owner of SerenAquatics, Watsu practitioner, Watsu instructor, Watsu therapist, a Certified Massage Therapist (CMT), and a founding member of the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association (WABA).

What prompted you to start a Watsu practice?

I had started my massage therapy practice 12 years ago due to a back injury that required surgery and did not allow me to lift weight. Several years into my massage practice, I was introduced to Watsu. It is a practice that enables me to work with clients in a deeper manner and the water is kind to my back. A few years ago, I started working with Susan Nachimson, SLP (speech language pathology) to combine Watsu with speech therapy. We have developed a workshop of aquatic therapy for speech-language pathologists and now offer our workshops worldwide. This is exciting as it is showing dramatic results for clients.

What is Watsu?

It started in the early ’80s by Harold Dull, a Shiatsu Master at Harbin Hot Springs, Calif. In the warm pool atmosphere, he floated his clients and applied Zen stretches on Shiatsu points, creating a new type of therapeutic massage and aquatic bodywork. During a session, in which the therapist floats the client/patient in their arms, both massage and pressure point movements are experienced. Watsu therapy is rapidly growing in the medical field, as well as with occupational and physical therapists.

What is a Watsu session like?

First, I bring my client into the 95 degrees warm salt water in my pool. For the physically challenged, I use a lift. The warm water relaxes the client immediately. Then, I begin a type of water massage, using Shiatsu, or pressure points on the body. I combine this with gentle Zen stretches as well as introduce deep breathing with the client. At this point, the warm water, massage and stretching can put the client to float into a meditative state. It is womb- like for some – very comforting. Since the muscles are warm, they are more fluid and capable of being stretched further than on land. The practitioner’s job is to stay present and create a safe space for the client as they relax and go as deeply into their body as possible. For physically challenged clients, this is a freedom for them to float and lose gravity. They are able to release the holding on the parts of their body that frustrate them and find movement in their limbs that is harder on land. Watsu energizes both the practitioner and the client.

How does Watsu and speech therapy work together?

With most clients suffering from a neurological disorder (from a birth defect or accident), it is far easier to do range of motion in warm water, relax and be open to new experiences.

The lack of gravity produces a less stressed environment in which the client can start to create more normalized movement and speech patterns. We start out with the water dance breath, which teaches the client to talk when they are breathing out rather than when they are breathing in.

We breathe together which relaxes them and helps them move. After a brief session with a Watsu practitioner (massage and stretching), they are turned over to the speech therapist, who helps them open up the vocal and chest area so their speech can be worked with.

What we are finding is that clients/patients have experiences in the pool that they are unable to have on land. Their memory of sensory awareness, limb movement, finding a lost voice, swallowing, and many other oral-motor functions can be addressed with both a trained Watsu practitioner and a speech therapist.

We are teaching caregivers the methods Susan and I have developed so they can continue working with their family member or client. For local, they can do this at the heated Bowman-Solinsky pool in Nevada City.

What are you finding with your Watsu/speech therapy methods?

We find that some clients gain some of their voice, find new levels of independence that they did not recognize they had, and gain new improvement in movements.

This comes usually as small steps that need to be repeated over and over to be effective. It is so exciting to see even the smallest of steps toward better health. The clients feel better after a session – using muscles that were unused before, speaking words that have long been lost.

The rewards for the practitioner is really unbelievable – seeing a small child use a hand to grasp a leaf, something that he has never done before, is outstanding!


Jerry McCue can be reached at 530-272-3846 or at

Suzie Daggett is the TV host of Healing INsights on NCTV, and the publisher of INSIGHT, the Directory of Healing Arts Practitioners; she can be reached at 265-9255 or

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