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Massage Today
October, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 10

Therapists Learn the "Why" and "How" of Spa

By Nancy Griffin

Thirty acres of stunning beachfront property Laguna Beach, Calif., is the setting for the Montage Resort and Spa, which opened in February. This world-class, yet casual, property has created a peaceful sanctuary for its guests, sparing no detail in lodging, dining, art and service.

The 20,000-square-foot spa sets a new standard of excellence for resort spas worldwide. Beyond the ocean views, superior facilities and luxury amenities, one of the spa's key success factors is a commitment to selecting the finest staff. Early in the project, Montage CEO Alan Fuerstman brought in Barbara Schultz, the former spa director of the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla., as Montage's spa director, and Anne Bramham, who has developed results-oriented protocols for some of the world's most famous spas - including Canyon Ranch, the Greenhouse Group and the Ritz Carlton - as a consultant and trainer.

Five months before opening, Barbara and Anne were hard at work hand selecting massage therapists and aestheticians. The therapists selected had eclectic backgrounds but a common passion for holistic, noninvasive techniques and continuing education. They took part in a three-week training where they "basically started from scratch," as one therapist put it, and used the resort staff as "guinea pigs," which helped to create awareness and goodwill among the staff toward the spa.

The Therapists' Perspectives

Massage therapist Peggy Matthess left a 14-year position at a five-star resort to join the Montage. "This was an opportunity to receive education I could not receive elsewhere - at no cost," she said. "I could not pass it up."

Suzanne DeFranco, an experienced holistic healer and acupuncturist, also left a lucrative practice to join the Montage team. "After having my own practice for many years, I debated whether I would be happy in a resort environment," said DeFranco. "But when I heard about Anne Bramham's training, I knew this was the right place for me." DeFranco especially identified with the training in clinical aromatherapy, which is the foundation for "aroma balancing," one of the spa's signature treatments.

Drawing from Oriental diagnosis and constitutional analysis, this technique uses the specific application of oils along the reflex pathways using applied pressure and connective tissue methods.

Interview with Anne Bramham

NG: What's different about the spa at Montage compared with a typical resort spa?

AB: At Montage, the therapists have been trained to have an understanding of the "why" and "how" of spa. They understand the physiological responses of the body, and how the applied elements work with the body. Montage is one of the first spas to make a long-term commitment to training its therapists, and it is already paying off in the spa experience. The spa just opened in February, and already people are coming back for their second or third visit. Montage spa guests take home a program and become involved in their therapy.

NG: I was told that you "hand-picked" Montage's therapists. What are the qualities you look for when selecting treatment staff?

AB: In general, I look for therapists that have a sense of rhythm, flow, contact, and an insatiable desire to learn about the human body. Because of the buzz surrounding Montage, we were lucky to be able to attract the best therapists in the area, but skill and number of years in practice were not most important. We hired for attitude and potential, then taught them the necessary skills, like how to identify the links between general constitutions and the corresponding elements found in spa treatments.

NG: What is your biggest pet peeve about spas in the United States?

AB: In the US, most spas talk about "healing," but when it comes to operating the business, they don't allow for the possibility for that to happen. In Europe, there is a Badmeister program adhering to highly standardized protocols using spa therapies in physical rehabilitation. Much like our Western medical system, most spas don't take the time to understand what will best complement an individual's healing process. We as spa owners need to teach our therapists how to focus their efforts towards specific results for the client.

For more information on Montage Resort, visit For information on Anne Bramham's training, visit or email her at .

Click here for previous articles by Nancy Griffin.


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