Disabled Find Ally in Themselves by Richard BalloBy  Richard Ballo

Location, Date

Mary Anne E. Barry’s ultimate goal for disabled people is for them to think of themselves as their own best friends.

She hopes to accomplish this through a six-part wellness seminar she created called “Feeling Good!”’

Barry, who has obtained a trademark for the 8-year-old program that she has conducted hundreds of times across the state, will present it at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Hall on John Fitch Highway beginning Tuesday and running Aug. 25, Sept. 8, 15, 22, and 29.

“I hope people will become introduced to themselves for the first time as their own best friend,” Barry said.

Barry, a health-care advocate based in Worcester at the Center for Living & Working, Inc, presents the “Feeling Good!” program free of charge thanks to funding by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The seminars are considered a national model in the housing industry.

The inspiration for “Feeling Good!” came from an auto accident. While Barry was recuperating, her chiropractor talked about the mind/body connection.

“He showe4d me a whole new world,” Barry said.

This, along with her own beliefs in nonmedical healing, taking power for yourself, her nursing background, and taking courses in health promotion helped her develop the course and start her own company. She still suffers from chronic back pain.

The program didn’t take off immediately. “It was slow at first,” Barry says of the program because it was innovative.

Once they found out no one was going to lecture them, they were going to be listened to, and involved them, (then) word of mouth really got it launched.”

When she developed the seminars in 1984, the Massachusetts Health and Finance Agency interviewed Barry, liked what the program offered and asked her to add a piece about substance abuse.

The hope was to cut down on substance abuse in subsidized housing among the elderly and disabled because people were losing their lives, buildings were burning down, property was being destroyed, Barry said.

Through eight years at more than 200 housing developments, with mostly elderly and people with disabilities as attendees, the response has been great, she said.

“What was really exciting,” Barry said, “is that there was an insurance company that tracked my program and noticed the incidence of fires and substance-related accidents was going down after the program.”

The success has lead Barry to many Massachusetts communities, even repeating the program at a group’s request.

“Feeling Good!” is a participatory program consisting of six 1 ½ hour sessions where Barry interacts with the audience, ending the sessions with a relaxation technique.

The sessions’ contents may seem simple and strange, but Barry has found the reception very positive.

The first session, ‘stress busters,” starts with a fundamental look at how people look and stay well.

The second session, “mind/body connection,” shows the daily influence of the mind/body connection. It demonstrates how the mind can lead the body as well as how to energize the body.

At the third session, participants will discuss good and fitness. Participants confront negative words and images used with food and discuss fitness. Barry demonstrates chair dancing.

The fourth session focuses on consumer rights, non-traditional medicine, being assertive with health care providers, and living wills.

At the fifth session, Barry helps people realize where people are, where they want to be, and what they already have.

At the sixth and final session, six questions, and six problems solving steps, that are done as a group and one-on-one to find out what a person wants and how to get it.

All sessions can stand alone if someone cannot make them all.

The Parkinson’s disease support group invited Barry, to conduct the “Feeling Good!” program at the church hall.

The support group is also inviting anyone with disabilities, their friends and families in the area to attend.

Interest participants should call the church prior to attending