The Path to Wellness

Minnetonka’s Mary Johnson provides healing at Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center.
Longtime volunteer Mary Johnson values the sense of community at Pathways.

Minnetonka resident Mary Johnson has been volunteering at Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center in Minneapolis since 1994. Founded in 1988, Pathways offers a variety of complementary therapies for individuals with serious health problems and chronic illnesses, free of charge. More than 160 volunteers offer many types of therapies—everything from yoga to art therapy to massage. Johnson provides healing touch, an energy practice that uses physical touch to provide healing benefits.

“It's a very gentle way of caring for another person using touch,” Johnson explains. “It's very heart-based, it’s very personal. It often brings together a lot of different perspectives or modalities into one session.” During a session, a client might experience foot massage, reflexology, guided imagery or a combination of several treatments in addition to the energy healing.

Johnson first got involved with Pathways in 1994 while on sabbatical from her job teaching nursing at St. Olaf College. During her time off, Johnson wanted to do a study on the benefits of complementary therapies from the perspective of patients who participate in them. She was also seeking her certification in healing touch at the time, and needed to do 100 sessions to complete her certification. Pathways offered a way to do both and she’s been volunteering there ever since, using it as a way to give back and as a way to do more research studies.

One of the major benefits of healing touch, according to Johnson, is that it gives patients an opportunity to talk openly about themselves. “It gives them a chance to really be listened to,” she says. “Part of my healing touch practice is to sit down and hear the clients’ stories.” Those stories often include what it’s like to live with the day-to-day experience of their pain. According to Johnson, this type of telling and listening work is deeply relaxing, lowers anxiety and even reduces pain levels.

Another major healing factor of the Pathways experience is the community connection the organization offers. “There something special about people who are facing serious health challenges being able to talk to one another or to people who have gone through similar things,” Johnson notes, mentioning that many of the volunteers at Pathways have had their own struggles with health problems. “I think it helps our clients not feel alone. The community at Pathways is a really important thing.”

Tim Thorpe, the organization’s executive director, is like-minded on the matter of community. “It's healing for our volunteers to provide their services as much as it is for patents to receive them,” he notes, underscoring the reciprocal relationships that develop at Pathways.

“Pathways is one of a kind,” he explains. “It’s unique in the Twin Cities area to have these services offered for free, which really reduces the stress for people experiencing chronic or life-threatening illnesses who are already probably paying a lot for treatment.” Other clinics or health care organizations may offer similar services, but require payment, often based on income.

This is especially important because Pathways is focused on complementary therapies rather than alternative ones, meaning that the services offered by the organization are meant to be pursued in addition to a patient’s primary care or treatment, not instead of it. “It would be a lot to ask of these people to pay for these services,” Thorpe says. “We don't want that. We want our clients to be empowered to make decisions for their well-being without the financial stress that often accompanies health decisions.”

“It's a major part of who we are,” he continues. “In the long term, we hope to keep the practice of offering our services for free in place.”


Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center
3115 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis