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Resources & Development - Dr. Bergel


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A Brief Look at Dr. Reinhard Bergel

by Zahira J. Coll

Recently I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with one of this industry’s visionaries, Dr. Reinhard Bergel. We were able to look back at the past 20 years and look forward to the next 20. He spoke with passion about his mission, his vision and what he sees as the future of the spa/salon/wellness industry.

Dr. Bergel was born in Salzburg, Austria and raised in Bavaria, Germany where he received some of his university education. He came to United States to continue his graduate studies and has since made California his home.

He has degrees from:

  • The University of Cologne Germany
  • Masters degree in Physiotherapy and Masters degree in Kinesiology from the University of California Los Angeles specializing in cardiovascular and orthopaedic rehabilitation.
  • Ph.D. in Exercise Science from the University of California-Berkeley.

Dr. Bergel has seen the fads and trends over the past 20 years, but hasn’t always followed them. From the beginning he wanted to mix spa therapy with health/medical practices. However the spa industry was just in its infancy in North America and had yet to embrace the European "Kur Therapy" (cure-therapy) concept.

In 1978, Dr. Bergel was fortunate to find a vacated fitness-massage-and skin care center, which included an indoor swimming pool. This building lended itself very nicely to start a European type Spa Kur Physiotherapy facility, like those he was trained to operate in Europe. His Spa Physiotherapy Practice specialized in Injury Therapy, Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Prevention. In the opinion of the North American spa industry however, his spa was really considered more of a "Clinic" than a "Spa".

Although this approach to wellness was not entirely new it was rather unique for its time (1980). Even then the newly founded Spa Finders Magazine did not know how to classify his operation, so his facility was listed under "Specialty Medical Spa". This term was used because the facility was attracting guests from around the world who stayed for three to four weeks to experience a customized Spa Kur therapy program.

Spa Finders founder, the late Jeffrey Joseph, asked Dr. Bergel to write the first glossary of terms for the magazine and train the Spa Finders staff. In order for the magazine representatives to be able to handle the phone call requests with more than a basic knowledge.

Dr. Bergel was convinced that his approach toward Spa-Kur Therapy was the answer to his client’s needs, particularly since he had seen such great therapy results from his personal experience in Europe, where he was introduced to this field.

He quickly realized the biggest problem he had was finding qualified staff to perform the Spa Kur therapy treatments. Therefore, he had to educate and train his staff in almost all of the European treatment methods. So he brought experts from Europe to assist him. He also documented and filmed the procedures as the training was being executed for future use.

Dr. Bergel felt his materials, education and experience could benefit the rest of the spa industry and decided to take the information to the North American Massage Therapy convention.

Ahead of his time, few seemed to understand the benefits of these methods, however at that same convention he met William Strunk, "who was genuinely interested in my message" and invited him to contribute to his then newly founded BODY THERAPY MAGAZINE. These contributions continued when Strunk became DERMASCOPE Magazine’s publisher.

DERMASCOPE in particular has given Dr. Bergel the opportunity to further his ‘educational message’ by opening up other educational avenues that lead to solid revenues and sound therapy for all concerned.

In Dr. Bergel’s opinion the work of Strunk has moved the aesthetics profession in the direction of body therapies and in a way overwhelmed the profession with advancement in professional education.

Dr. Bergel states that he "has been totally surprised by how readily open to change the aesthetics industry is" vs. "how comparatively little changes the body therapy industry has been willing to take", "leaving the technicians in the aesthetics industry to perform services for which they were not formally trained".

In his seminars and advance classes he has observed that while the aestheticians may have a limited knowledge in anatomy and physiology they have a great thirst for that knowledge, and other basic education relevant to skin-and body care, which is imperative in understanding and working with doctors. He is concerned that much of the knowledge and training is derived from "product education" and that there must be an independent process or format developed separate from this product dependency as in other professions.

When asked what he thinks will lead to the greatest growth for the industry, Bergel said he feels that the skin and body care industry must govern itself by professionals inside and outside the industry and possibly merge with the national massage and body worker organization. Only then will it achieve higher levels of acceptance by peers, professionals and consumers.

"It has been my intention to contribute to this growth process all along and hopefully have an impact on the actions and thinking of an umbrella skin-and body care organization that addresses these points. Since the dermatological industry reaches so many individuals it has the greatest potential to have an impact on the ‘wellness and beauty’ industry."

How can we accomplish all these goals and dreams, how can we really bring the industry to the next level?

A broader educational curriculum spectrum is necessary in order to make the United States comparable with European educational and work requirements in the spa industry. I see the trend and believe that there will be great changes in the next 10 years in the spa, beauty and wellness industry.

The ‘Aerobics" generation has become the ‘Pampering" generation and we need to take them to the next step, ‘Wellness’. We must lead our children and adolescents in this direction as well. The Health-Fitness-Wellness industry has yet to accomplish its educational goals as evidenced by the high rate of obesity due to inactivity and overindulgence.

Children need to become part of the Spa Kur Wellness culture and demonstrate that health and fitness has to be acquired with hard work whereas external beauty can be purchased. The day spa industry has taken over the role of educating clients from the fitness industry and has the opportunity to influence the consumer in this direction of Wellness.

The destination resorts and ‘fat farms’ have fulfilled their role and now the day spa has the opportunity to fill the physical and spiritual needs of consumers that do not have time and funds to travel to far away destinations. However, the industry has a history of being behind in adapting to the customer’s demands and needs. Therefore, instead of being proactive, the industry has allowed the customers to dictate where the industry is going next. We need to analyze what the new generations are going to need from the spa industry and adapt our services to it. "We have to be more active in providing the education in health and wellness that the schools and home life are not providing."

In view of the rapid development of the industry, one of the most frequently asked questions of Dr. Bergel is: "how much does it cost to build a spa" and "what size of facility is required to make it financially profitable". So Dr. Bergel’s company (H.E.A.T. Inc) has developed a rather detailed unique formula, which has helped planners to incorporate services for the marketplace.

Initially salon expansions have dominated the scene but more and more facilities have evolved to include fitness, yoga, elaborate water treatments and relaxation rooms as well as physical therapy operations. The health insurance industry has become interested in facilitating preventive treatment payments encouraging their members to pay more attention to good health maintenance which saves everyone money in the long run.

In order to expand this concept, more cooperation in educational programs is needed between the day spa and the allied health professionals, "after all most of the treatments are described as ‘therapy’ such as aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, exercise therapy, pelotherapy, thalassotherapy etc.".

The mission of H.E.A.T. says Bergel is to help facilities expand their menu of services and provide a curriculum in order to bridge spa and health professions with continuous education seminars addressing all the industry issues.

"It is our goal to assist the industry well into the next level by providing the owners, managers and providers with the tools they need."

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