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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 27, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 5
Stressed Out? Who You Gonna Call?

Allegra Hamman (seated), Carol Yang and Abby Burch at Thursday's training session. The students give their first official back rubs as Stressbusters on Friday.

By Amy Cowles

Frazzled faculty, staff and students on the Homewood campus, take heart. There's a new tension-fighter in town.

Stressbusters, a group of 140 undergraduates trained in the basics of massage, will be offering its first free, five-minute back rubs Friday during Fall Festival. The inaugural event is a perfect venue for the group to make its debut, according to Allegra Hamman, a nurse practitioner in the Student Health and Wellness Center.

"One of the ideas behind the Fall Festival is build a bridge between staff and students," Hamman said. "There couldn't have been a better fit for our kick-off."

The Stressbusters are the first spinoff of a successful program under the same name created by Jordan Friedman when he was director of health education at Columbia University and who came to Baltimore to help Johns Hopkins get started. At Homewood, the group will add to the arsenal of healthy stress-fighters already to be had for students and staff on campus, such as working out at the O'Connor Center, student-to-student counseling offered by A Place to Talk and wellness programs for staff provided by Occupational Health Services. Hamman set out to bring the service to campus with the blessing of Student Health Services Director Alain Joffe and Susan Boswell, dean of student life.

"A lot of health problems and lifestyle issues are related to how much stress people have in their lives," Hamman said. "If we can get people to see that there are tools in place to manage stressful times, they will be better off."

Stressbusters back rubs aren't meant to take the place of the existing fee-based massage therapy services offered on campus by credentialed massage therapists. But the students are trained by licensed practitioners and will learn touch techniques by giving each other back rubs to get the feel for their new craft before being given clearance to officially bust stress, Hamman said.

At least two Stressbusters will be sent on each site visit. Stressbustees will be seated in low-backed chairs during the back rubs, which will be conducted away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the office. Students will be following a strict set of rules about uniform — a white Stressbuster-logo T-shirt — hygiene and etiquette as well as how to be receptive to their subjects' comfort level during the massage.

The Stressbusters are offering their services only on the Homewood campus at the moment, though Hamman and the students are hoping to extend their reach to other Hopkins campuses or to help groups beyond Homewood start their own branches of Stressbusters. (They've already had one call along those lines from a student at Peabody.) To book a session, call 410-516-8396 or e-mail

Hamman and student co-coordinators Abby Burch and Carol Yang were pleasantly surprised by the turnout for two training sessions for interested students. Seventy students attended the first two-hour session Sept. 10. The second session, on Sept. 23, brought in another 70.

"There has been big interest from the students," Hamman said. "Now we just have to mobilize that interest."


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