In high school, Amy Schliftman played basketball, volleyball and softball, and ran track and field—and she was good. But then the thought struck her: What would life look like if she lost her physical prowess? That question changed the course of her life.
Ms. Schliftman, a rural New York State native, earned a degree in occupational therapy from Utica College of Syracuse University and a master’s in physical therapy from Stanford. After a decade of therapy work in the Bay Area, she opened West Marin Physical Therapy in Point Reyes Station. The business just rounded its third decade.
“It’s been a great profession for me, and I’ve felt very supported by the community,” Ms. Shliftman said. “It’s an interesting process to watch people’s bodies change—including people who have come here for years—as well as my own body change. When you’re involved in a healing profession, you learn a lot of tools to deal with aging, decline and, of course, death.”
Ms. Shliftman describes her approach as integrative, combining “the best of Western science blended with the best of alternative medicine.” She uses gentle hands-on, corrective touch, and educates on exercise, posture, joint protection and balance. Her specialties include osteopathy, visceral manipulation and craniosacral therapy; Freda Weitzer, who shares the office, focuses on Pilates-based therapies.
“I don’t look at people just as a knee, I look at people as a whole system,” she told the Light. “Are they gardeners, do they have sit-down jobs, a lot of stress in their families? I need to put their knee in the full context of their whole life. I’m into pinpointing what the injury is—it’s not just the knee, there are a lot of possible reasons why knee pain is there. I want to educate them about that specific injury and how to work with it at home, how to prevent it from happening again, how to manage it if it is arthritis and might not go away, how to heal it.”
People come into the office with a range of ailments—most commonly related to backs, necks and knees—and the whole spectrum of severity. After a first visit, clients leave with a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan.
Patients have varying comfort levels with their own bodies and with different approaches, and Ms. Schliftman says she’s prepared to meet people where they are. “People come in with fear or frustration or anger even. Why did my body fail me? In the case of a car accident, why did I get hit?
“Maybe it’s an initial loss, you’re on your first episode of what it is like to not ride on the coattails of your youth: it calls up a lot. If you can take it into a spiritual practice, you can ask questions. What is the body? What is the self? Our bodies bring us to our knees: having a relationship to our body is full of ups and downs and it is one of the most important incubators to learn about grace.”
Ms. Schliftman emphasizes that the way she talks about healing varies from patient to patient. Practicality is a keystone of her practice, “which has all the bells and whistles of a sports medicine practice,” she said, gesturing around the office.
Although some doubted that she would be able to support a business when she first opened, the work was immediately steady, she said. She sees adults, and some kids, primarily from West Marin, though occasionally clients refer friends from the other side of the hill. She receives referrals from the Coastal Health Alliance and the West Marin Medical Center, and she refers her patients to local chiropractors, acupuncturists and other specialists.
“We are really blessed to have Amy in this small community: it’s a gift to those of us who live here to have someone of her caliber and abilities in this tiny town,” said Sue Janes, a retired teacher who lives in Inverness Park.
Everyone in Ms. Janes’s family has visited Ms. Schliftman at one time or another. Her husband went first for back pain, and her now-grown daughters went when they were younger, one for a shoulder she broke while running cross country and the other after she tore her ACL while skiing.
“Her mind doesn’t go to the worst-case scenario,” Ms. Janes said. “She really listens, taking the time to be attentive to the body, to see if there is something simple out of alignment. Over the past 20 years our whole family has found her to be very professional and highly intuitive. She’s a healer.”
Melissa Lyckberg, a Point Reyes Station resident, said she’s worked with Ms. Schliftman for knee injuries resulting from years of tennis.
“She’s a little different from most physical therapists, she has her own method,” Ms. Lyckberg said. “I know so many people she has restored to health. She’s measured, slow and safe. She’s focused, knowledgeable and compassionate. The other physical therapists I’ve been too are like, ‘Get on the stairs and just do it whether it helps or not.’ But [Amy] has compassion, and that’s what makes it lovely to work with her.”
In addition to Ms. Weitzer, Ms. Schliftman employs Judy Prokupek, an Inverness resident who manages the office and has also received care. Ms. Prokupek’s arm, which a shoulder injury immobilized, now has a full range of motion.
“From my point of view, she’s incredibly warm and welcoming, the consummate professional. She knows her stuff, she’s very open and she’s very willing to discuss things, to explain things, to offer alternative solutions. The sense I have is that she cares about everyone that walks through the door,” Ms. Prokupek said.
For Ms. Schliftman, who lives in Inverness Park with her spouse, Laura Stokes, owning her own business has meant she could “do things with my style, a ‘slow medicine’ style, and not have to answer to productivity and administrative burdens that I didn’t want and are part of larger companies.” She can also go home every day for lunch, she adds with a smile.
Retirement is not imminent, but Ms. Schliftman, 63, said she is thinking about how to keep her business viable into the future. “Health care is vulnerable out here, and so I am committed to sustaining this practice in what I would call a hostile climate of having a private practice. Even the Coastal Health Alliance has to merge with a larger health care nonprofit in order to be sustainable.”
Locally, she described being part of what appears to be a dominant group of women in business. “It’s a great feeling to be in good company, because these women aren’t just talking about glass ceilings; they are doers.”
West Marin Physical Therapy, located in Suite 9 at 11431 Highway 1, is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every weekday except Wednesdays. To make an appointment, call (415) 663.9216.