HWOS students study holistic health at Thatcher Brook Center

L-R: Collyn Baeder, Madeline Gendron, Emily Wasina, Haley Ruth
L-R: Collyn Baeder, Madeline Gendron, Emily Wasina, Haley Ruth

As part of an internship course in the fall semester, Health, Wellness and Occupational Studies (HWOS) students Haley Ruth (’19), Emily Wasina (’19) and Madeline Gendron (’20) conducted a research study titled “Evaluating the Impact of Holistic Health Programming on the Perceived Physical and Emotional Well-Being of Adults with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities in a Community-Based Day Center” under the supervision of faculty advisor and HWOS Assistant Clinical Professor Collyn J. Baeder, M.P.H. The purpose of this study was to document the effects of the Thatcher Brook Center’s holistic health methods by measuring their impact on the physical and emotional well-being of the clientele.  

The Thatcher Brook Center, located in Biddeford, Maine, aims to integrate life skills with holistic healthy living strategies. The non-profit organization provides community-based morning and afternoon programs, vocational rehabilitation services, and career planning, and it supports high school-to-work transition for clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For the purpose of the study, the Thatcher Brook Center’s “Whole Health” Days—which included yoga, therapeutic massage, reiki, and/or healthy cooking—were assessed by the students on a weekly basis. 

From October through December, 2018, Ruth, Wasina and Gendron collected data from twelve Thatcher Brook clients through focus groups and weekly individual interviews before and after they participated in the holistic health programs. The focus groups were designed to gauge how the clients perceived "being healthy” and “managing stress,” while the individual interviews allowed the clients to discuss and then rate their physical and emotional well-being, along with any perceived stress, on seven-point Likert scales.  

The collected data indicated that on average, the clients’ perceived physical and emotional well-being were both rated higher (or more positive) after the holistic health programs. In addition, qualitative analysis showed that clients generally “enjoyed” the experience. From week-to-week, clients expressed that “reiki was [their] favorite part of the day” and after therapeutic massage they felt “much more relaxed.” Additional reflections included comments on feeling more “energized” by being at the Thatcher Brook Center, the cooking program being “the highlight” of their day, having “less stress” by participating in the “Whole Health” Days, and feeling “even better than a seven,” which was the maximum possible well-being score on the scale.

The HWOS student researchers also gained a lot from the experience. Wasina described the sense of accomplishment by saying, “I was so proud watching my ideas come to life after all the time and effort my fellow researchers and I put into this project.” Ruth concurred. “Conducting research at the Thatcher Brook Center taught me so much more than a traditional course,” she said. I was able to create connections with the clients … and give them a voice to express what they needed and wanted to be healthy, both physically and emotionally.” Gendron underscored the value of the connections formed, noting, “By creating meaningful relationships like this, my Thatcher Brook Internship will be one I never forget.”

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