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Abundant Wellness Center Offers a Healing Touch
Debee Boulanger

Debee Boulanger turned this house in Chicopee into a multi-faceted center for holistic healing.

Debee Boulanger was trained as a nurse, but it took her two decades to figure out how best to apply her skills and desire to help people. After returning to school to learn therapeutic massage, she launched her own business in Chicopee. Apparently, she tapped into a need; after only a few years, the Abundant Wellness Center boasts some 25 practitioners in therapies ranging from massage and yoga to acupuncture and Reiki — and much more. For Boulanger, it’s all about helping people who are beaten down by the stresses of life and showing them how to heal.

Debee Boulanger comes from a family with more than a dozen nurses, so it was natural for her to pursue that field.

But after a short time working in a nursing home in New Hampshire, she became disillusioned with how care was delivered — so she switched gears completely and went into retail instead. But the need to care for other people eventually nagged at her again.

“After more than 20 years, I knew I needed a change,” she told BusinessWest. “I had a lot of experience in management and sales, but I loved helping people, and I wanted to get into a field where I could truly help somebody.”

She considered becoming a yoga instructor, but instead felt drawn to massage, so she scouted out area schools, settled on the Boston Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, and enrolled in a two-year program, commuting every weekday from Northampton to study the art of therapeutic massage.

That was the late 1990s, and back then, Boulanger couldn’t envision what that decision has led to: the Abundant Wellness Center, her own business in Chicopee, which now houses some 25 therapists — most of them independent contractors — under one roof, professionals who specialize in not only massage, but a palette of other holistic health services, from acupuncture, Reiki, and yoga to hypnosis and classes aimed at both emotional and spiritual well-being.

It’s been a successful business model, and one that — perhaps surprisingly, but perhaps not, depending on one’s perspective — has not been dented by the ongoing economic downturn that has companies of all kinds struggling.

“Our business has increased. We’ve gained lots of new clients,” Boulanger said frankly. “Whether someone has lost a job or not, they’re coming in here because they’re stressed out and worried, and we’re a place of peace. We can offer them healing.”

She emphasized that, while no one is happy about a recession that costs jobs and increases stress, the silver lining may be that people are starting to look inward at what’s important in their lives.

“It’s forcing people to tap into the true value of themselves, and the biggest investment one can make is in their own health — not their house or their car or their boat, but their health,” Boulanger explained.

“I think, in our society, people feel guilty about taking care of themselves, but that’s changing. At one time, people were saying, ‘I’ll treat myself.’ Now they’re saying, ‘I need this therapy.’ They recognize that it’s important to their health. They’ve been running their children here and there, spending very little time on themselves, and then, all of a sudden, they get sick or they’re in pain, and they’re forced to take care of themselves. That’s when we see them coming to us, whether it’s taking a yoga class or getting a massage or acupuncture.”

In this issue, BusinessWest pays a visit to Boulanger’s holistic emporium to learn how an interest in massage turned into an abundant passion for wellness.

Pressing the Flesh

In 2000, after completing her training in Boston, Boulanger shared space with another massage therapist in Chicopee while she built up her clientele, aggressively marketing her services with special offers, holiday gift certificates, and connections with the city’s Chamber of Commerce and other networking groups; soon she had put together a consistently full schedule.

Not long after, she struck out on her own, recognizing a need for holistic health services and envisioning a multi-disciplinary health center that went well beyond massage. She purchased a run-down two-story house on Route 116, alongside Interstate 391 and WWLP TV-22, and went to work renovating it.

She opened in 2004 with a handful of massage therapists and one yoga instructor, and has grown the business from there. Many clients first find the center when passing by on the road; between cold calls and word of mouth (and a detailed Web site), Boulanger said the client base has grown steadily without much in the way of marketing.

“People read up on everything we have to offer, and they’re definitely comfortable calling here,” she said. “And once they’re here, they feel they’re going to be in great hands.”

Her own hands benefited from training in a wide range of massage therapies, and learning many modalities was one of the keys to building an early client base, she said. Even now, Abundant Wellness Center offers Swedish massage for stress reduction, deep-tissue massage for injury rehabilitation, and hot stone treatments to ease stress and tension and promote relaxation. There are also massage options for couples, pregnant women, even newborns, who reportedly reap benefits such as more restful sleep, improved digestion, and better immune function.

Acupuncture clients also have options. The treatment in its basic form elicits a response from the nervous and immune systems, directing the body’s life force or energy (qi) to return the nervous system to a balanced state. It can reduce muscular spasms and tightness the occur after an injury, and produces a general feeling of relaxation.

But the center also offers something called a tui na massage, which acts as an adjunct to acupuncture and involves pressing, kneading, and rolling techniques to increase circulation along acupuncture pathways. Meanwhile, a facial-rejuvenation acupuncture treatment uses points on the face and beck to increase the flow of qi and blood to the face, staving off premature aging and reportedly aiding with other health issues, including allergies and digestive problems.

The center also offers one-on-one sessions and/or group classes in reflexology (which employs pressure on the feet and hands), as well as detoxification, yoga, Pilates, and even belly dancing.

There’s also a host of energy work, including Reiki and craniosacral therapy (which taps into the cerebrospinal fluid to enhance the body’s healing capabilities), as well as hypnotherapy and spiritual-growth sessions. Many services at the center have a spiritual side — including meditation and prayer-writing — for those seeking that, Boulanger said.

“Many clients want to seek out a more spiritual path,” she told BusinessWest. “We don’t try to sway people from their religion by any means. But many therapies connect the mental to the physical, and now they want to take the next step.”

It’s all about a holistic approach to well-being, she explained, one that encompasses body, mind, and often spirit, and recognizes the connections between each. “Many of our clients will read our flyers and be curious about some other class or workshop.”

Lay Your Burdens Down

Most of the treatments offered at the Abundant Wellness Center target stress in some form, because that’s either the cause or symptom — perhaps both — of many health-related complaints, Boulanger said.

“Stress can cause chronic pain, headaches, digestive problems, poor posture, anxiety, depression, emotional issues,” she ticked off, noting that each of these conditions in turn leads to further health problems — and more stress. “It creates a big ball of stress, and if people don’t know how to handle it, they’ll never get rid of those problems.

“Not all stress is the same, though, so we have to look and see what’s going on,” she continued. “It could be stress from an accident or a lost job. It could be any number of things. If someone came in for massage and we felt they needed acupuncture, we’d send them in that direction. If I recognize that someone needs a chiropractic adjustment, I won’t hesitate to recommend that” — even though her business doesn’t offer that service.

Boulanger said some people go to a spa to de-stress, but she wasn’t aiming for a spa feel when she set up the center. Neither did she want a doctor’s-office environment, but instead a homey feel, which her customers — about 60% of whom are female — appreciate.

Ensuring that people are comfortable is key. For some, making the leap from something familiar, like massage, to a practice like acupuncture, which to many people seems more exotic, can be daunting, but Abundant Wellness offers a free consultation to determine whether someone is a good candidate. It’s all about matching each client to the right service, Boulanger said, which is why the sheer range of holistic services she offers is so crucial.

“It’s very important to have that consultation because they don’t feel like they have to commit to something that maybe they’re not sure about,” Boulanger said.

She finds that her chair-massage service, which costs just $1 per minute and involves no clothing removal at all, is a good way to get people comfortable with the types of stress-reducing services available to them.

“We’ve done that at companies,” she said. “It’s very relaxing. Some make a comment that they don’t want to go back to work, but I know for a fact that they’re clearer and have a better work attitude afterward. They’re more productive after a chair massage, and they appreciate that the company invests in them in that way.”

Again, it all comes back to investing in one’s health. In these troubled times, it’s something people are seeking — in abundance.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at

[email protected]

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