The Salt Studio Benefit for Sexual Assault Survivors

Feb 23, 2014

writing therapyProject Sister is a family services organization that provides crisis intervention and prevention education to women, children, and men who are survivors of sexual assault. They serve 27 cities in eastern Los Angeles and western San Bernadino, and provide a 24-hour hotline, advocacy, referral, counseling, a walk-in clinic, and support groups for all ages.

A benefit for Project Sister offers a one-hour therapeutic writing exercise called “Focus:  Take Back Your Power” and a second session is specifically for survivors of assault. This is a women-only event and space is limited to 8 women per session (RSVP required). Attendees are invited to “a self-healing journey through guided therapeutic writing practices” with Dr. Davina Kotulski, a licensed psychologist, author, and life coach.

The fundraiser to benefit Project Sister will be held at The Salt Studio, which is the brainchild Diana and Michael Leone. We sent a slew of questions via email, which they kindly answered in detail.

HP:  So, you and your husband Michael own The Salt Studio, correct? He is a respiratory therapist; how did he “find” or learn about salt therapy? What convinced him that this is the best, or one of the best, ways to treat respiratory distress?

Diana:  I’ll let Michael answer this one…

Michael:  We started The Salt Studio in March 2013 after a lot of research into salt therapy and the benefits of salt room environments. I am a registered respiratory therapist and had been taking care of patients in the hospital for about 5 years when we heard of salt therapy. One of the therapies that we do in the hospital for people with respiratory conditions is give a treatment where they breath in a liquid mist of extra salty water (hypertonic saline) as a way to help them cough up mucus that otherwise is too thick and difficult to move out of their lungs. It’s used for such conditions as cystic fibrosis, certain types of pneumonia, and some others.


One day, we had a repair man at our house to do some work who happened to be from Eastern Europe. He saw that I am an RT and asked me what I thought of halotherapy (salt therapy) which is very common throughout Europe and Israel (I’ve been told there are about 1,200 clinics in Italy alone). I had never heard of it and was intrigued. The scientific theory behind it made sense to me; osmosis, negative ions, etc., so I began to look into it. Then about a week later, Diana’s sister came down with pneumonia and was needing to use her inhaler up to 6 times a day. We found a salt therapy place near her so we bought her a couple of sessions, a perfect way to see how it works. She told us that after she used her two sessions that week, she felt the pneumonia clear up and had been able to reduce the use of her inhaler to once a day. I thought, that’s it…. We’ve always wanted to marry our two professions, massage therapy and respiratory therapy, into a business that we could work together. We thought by creating The Salt Studio, we could help people in so many ways—from healthy breathing to muscle, skin, and emotional health.


Since we started, I am so happy to have reports from many of our clients, both children and adults, who have had relief from their symptoms of asthma, bronchitis and sinusitis. We even have one client who began coming to our salt room for his respiratory issues and told us he also noticed that he no longer has dandruff since he’s been coming in—an added benefit!

HP:  Diana, what drew you to massage, then to progressing on to therapeutic and pediatric massage? The “About” section of the studio’s website mentions the “benefits of nurturing touch for children.” Could you describe how this manifests itself? And, pediatric massage would be for what kind of kids—those with physical and/or emotional and mental issues, or both? Do young clients come to you through recommendations from professional care givers, counselors, and doctors?

Diana:  I’ve been a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist since 2001. Before that, I was actually a chef and I loved that job. But it became apparent that it wasn’t the right job for me if we ever wanted a family, or a long life span! So, I was drawn to this job, at the opposite end of the stress scale, where I could satisfy my need to create and give and nurture and feed, but in a new way.

I spent my first five years working independently within a chiropractic setting, so I became proficient at addressing specific complaints and assisting in injury recovery. This was a great start; I know shoulders now better than I ever would have otherwise, and they’re my favorite complaint!

As a massage school student in 2000, my first pediatric massage experience was treating my niece’s 5th birthday party guests (about 5 or 6 kids) to neck & shoulder massages because it was all I had to offer. I’ll never forget how surprising it was to find their little upper traps to be just as tense as any adult’s that I had worked on at the time. I wasn’t a mother then, so I had no idea how stressful just being a kid can be—and I obviously didn’t remember from experience!

Salt Studio mural by

Now as a mother of 2 amazing little boys (ages 2.5 and almost 9), I totally get it. Kids have stress coming from so many sources and sometimes they don’t handle it as well as we think they can. My boys love massage from me and I imagine it’s partly because it makes them feel physically better, but also because they love the special time and attention spent between us.

I became certified in Pediatric Massage last year through the Liddle Kidz Foundation and I want to add the advanced certification as soon as I can. This will enable me to more confidently work on children who have conditions/ diagnoses that can be helped with massage.

“Benefits of nurturing touch for children”- just 20 seconds of nurturing touch begins to yield the benefits of massage in children: decreased anxiety and increased production of serotonin. This can lead to improved digestion and improved sleep.

Salt Studio Pasadena

Pediatric massage is for any child who would enjoy it. Many conditions (physical & emotional) benefit from it: ADHD, asthma, depression, PTSD, and many others. An important note about Pediatric Massage: a caregiver is always present during massage of children under 16 years old, most pediatric massage is administered on fully-clothed children, and the sessions aren’t always given on the traditional massage table. We at The Salt Studio have the fortune of using our salt rooms as alternate spaces for Pediatric Massage. Basically, when dealing with children, flexibility is key and we aren’t afraid to think outside the box when finding the right place for a child’s session. A fully-clothed child sitting in a comfy chair in the salt room, having his feet worked on while reading my Tina Allen Massage for Children book is not a rare sight at The Salt Studio. (Most of the time, that child is my son Dominic.)

HP:  How did Salt Studio become involved with Project Sister?

Michael:  Davina and I have been promoting the monthly Sacred Writing and Salt Therapy sessions for about 6 months now and we wanted to branch out into a specific healing need, to do what we do while also bettering our community. Then we discovered that a mutual friend of ours is the current president of Project Sister and the idea sort of created itself from there, made it easy for us to do what we do while also bettering our community!

HP:  Is the therapeutic writing session at your fundraiser open to everyone or just those people involved with Project Sister?

Diana:  The therapeutic writing IS open to the public, but limited to survivors of trauma. Project Sister will be sharing the info among their social media contacts and I hope that some will be involved directly in this segment of the fundraiser. We’ll get the word out via our own social media and Salt Studio contacts, and by posting flyers locally, including community boards at local colleges. The sexual assault rate on college campuses is alarming, as you probably already know.


HP:  Can you tell us how the “Focus” part of the event is going to be run? Is it more of a lecture or interactive, and if interactive, how is it so?

Michael:  It will be interactive. Davina will follow the cues and natural flow that the gathered group generates while also having prepared writing exercises focused on the themes of empowerment and healing; each session is unique and she is adept at leading and also intuitively sensitive to the changing dynamics in group settings.  Davina is a licensed clinical psychologist. She has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has extensive experience counseling survivors of trauma. She created a trauma program that was used with women in the Federal Prison System, trained psychologists and volunteers to work with trauma survivors, and has also led therapeutic writing groups and therapy groups, so we’re confident that the safe space we’re creating will remain safe and a ultimately healing one. Davina relocated from the Bay Area and opened her private therapy and coaching practice in Pasadena in 2013. In addition to special workshops like this one, Davina leads a regular monthly writing group at The Salt Studio, along with annual motivational writing retreats in various locations around the world, such as Venice, Italy (May 17-24, 2014).

Davina Picture

“This unique event will offer sexual assault survivors and other community members an opportunity to practice self-care through a guided therapeutic writing session within a healing environment. Every two seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. One out of six women has been victimized by sexual assault, so if this issue does impact you directly, chances are it impacts someone you know. It’s exciting to see community partners design an event to benefit an organization such as PSFS and raise awareness about sexual assault prevention and recovery.” Camerina P. Schwartz, PSFS Board President


Healing Sessions and Fundraiser
Tuesday, March 11th
5:30-6:30 p.m.:  “Focus” lecture ($50)
7-8 p.m.:  Therapeutic writing (sliding scale, $25-$50)
The Salt Studio, 1380 Walnut St., Pasadena 91106
RSVP required; please call 626.765.6180

Want to learn more about Halotherapy? The Salt Studio has a page with links to seven different articles and three videos. Click here.

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