Healing Hands


STORY BY Molly Fellin Spence      PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mary C. Gardella

Nestled in the woods along Brooks Road in Highland is a unique, light filled space specially designed to offer a path toward wellness for those who are in pain or seeking balance.

Shari Sternberger designed the space, an extension of her home, to offer her clients holistic energy services and guide them toward healing of mind, body and spirit. Quartz crystals and healing holograms embedded in the foundation, a view of a koi pond through a picture window, all create what Sternberger calls “a vortex of healing energy” around clients.

During the last 15 years, Sternberger, 64, who retired from a job in purchasing, has embraced a range of practices to help with healing. Wellness by Shari helps patients “get back into the swing of things,” she says, supplementing medical treatments so patients can recover more quickly. Sternberger works closely with doctors, nurses and other practitioners, though her approach is decidedly alternative.

“Clearing clients’ energy fields,” she says, “makes the job of healing easier on the body.” Using such techniques as “healing touch,” she says, can complement traditional medications. “It can make a difference to give physicians an edge to do their thing,” she says. For example, at Children’s National Medical Center, where Sternberger has practiced healing touch, children who experience the technique “finally respond to medical treatment.”

One of her patients is 15-year-old Deanna, who has chronic migraines and is in constant pain. For more than two years, her mother, Shelle Middlebusher has sought help, but myriad doctors found no cause for her daughter’s head pain and could offer no definitive treatment. “You name it, she has seen that doctor,” Middlebusher says.

During one of Deanna’s stays at Children’s National in Washington, D.C., nurses in the pain clinic performed healing touch therapy on Deanna, using their hands to gently help balance Deanna’s energy. Upon receiving healing touch treatment, Deanna’s pain dipped significantly. Her mother said the pain went from a level 8 or 9 on the pain scale to a 3 or 4. At first the relief would last only a few hours, according to Middlebusher, who lives in Laurel “But slowly it has stretched to days or even a week.”

Now, Deanna uses a variety of prescription drugs, supplements and herbal blends, and she and her mother regularly visit Wellness by Shari, where Sternberger, who helped to bring the practice to Children’s National, administers healing touch to them both. Middlebusher says the treatment helps keep her grounded so she can better take care of her daughter.

Because of the change she’s seen in Deanna, Middlebusher dismisses skepticism about the efficacy of healing touch. “It’s hard to explain, and I don’t really understand it; I just know it works,” she says.

Sternberger describes her work as similar to clearing a highway clogged with rush hour traffic so emergency vehicles can get through and assist those in need. Her energy work clears the way so medical treatment can get through. She is one part of the package, one member of the team of people who can help, she says.

“I support you energetically, I can make you more comfortable, but I cannot heal you,” she insists. “The body really wants to heal itself, you just need to give it the right opportunity.”

Sternberger grew up as an only child. Her mother worked two jobs, when most mothers stayed home, and had an undiagnosed mental disorder that Sternberger says she could intuit, even as a child. “When my mother came home, I could sense a vibration of whether I could interact with her, or if I needed to be guarded,” she says. Sternberger turned to her pets for affection.

She believes strongly in pets as an adjunct to therapy. In the early years of her practice, one of her dogs, Hailey, would sometimes touch her nose to the places on clients’ bodies where energy needed to be cleared, Sternberger says.

Now Aegis, 3, and Apollo, 10, are Sternberger’s faithful companions. Both English setters often sit with clients and snuggle up to offer the kind of unconditional love that only pets can provide.

Sternberger says anyone can learn the basics of healing touch. She’s taught her husband, Wayne, the basics, which came in handy one recent afternoon. The couple was walking in the woods when one of their dogs took off after a deer, dragging Sternberger along. Her knees were bloody and banged up. With healing touch, her husband helped her to relax and taper the blood flow so later, traditional treatments of rest, ice and bandages worked more efficiently and she says her knees healed faster.

The Sternbergers were integral in bringing healing touch to Children’s National, donating funds and encouraging staff to train as a way to enhance and complement integrative medicine. Sternberger herself has undergone years of study in healing touch, including ethics courses and a standardized exam. It’s the only energy-based medicine that has achieved a national certification process recognized by National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), she says.

At Wellness by Shari, it’s just one of Sternberger’s approaches.

Her energy services also include aromatherapy, sound therapy, color-puncture— which uses colored lights instead of needles on pressure points— and plant-based essences, such as essential oils.

Sternberger’s clients first fill out a detailed questionnaire, and she recommends consulting with a physician before treatment. She collaborates with doctors, therapists, acupuncturists, nutritionists and other practitioners.

“Some people want to take a pill but there is no magic pill. You have to take the time to heal,” Sternberger says. “Those who have taken the journey find that it opens a lot more doors. Then life is a beautiful dance. Your awareness rises, your compassion and empathy engages.”

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