Massage Today
Massage Today dotted line
dotted line

dotted line
Share |
  Forward PDF Version  
Massage Today
May, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 05

We Get Letters & E-Mail

By Editorial Staff

Editor's note: The following two letters to the editor address Barbra Esher's column, "Bodywork Therapies of Asia," from the January 2001 issue (available on line at

Both letters were written directly to Ms. Esher. The second letter is accompanied by a response from Ms. Esher.

"I wanted to thank you for your column..."

Dear Barbra,

I wanted to thank you for your column in the first issue of Massage Today, regarding massage therapists (innocently) overstating their knowledge. Although I have only been practicing massage a short time, I have noticed a large problem with bodyworkers and healers who step into the arena of Eastern, Oriental, and energy medicine. The audience you address -- massage therapists overstating their shiatsu and acupressure knowledge -- is really only the tip of the iceberg. I find there are many who do not realize just how much they don't know. The massage school I graduated from is a 1000-hour program that includes 120 hours of shiatsu training. I have studied a variety of energy systems to varying depths, and felt I was at an advantage when taking the shiatsu course. I have found that I am able to make connections not only between energetic systems, but also entirely different fields of study.

I believe I know enough to truly be able to grasp just how much I don't know, and I know that one 120-hour class does not come even close to qualifying me to claim competence in Shiatsu. Yet the school's logo is in part supposed to represent a balance between Western and Eastern ideas. Even with a fully certified course, I do not think most Western bodyworkers can be fully competent in such areas. Eastern medicine is based on an entirely different perspective of life that most Westerners cannot easily grasp, much less surrender themselves to. Even those that look beyond the "Band Aid" solutions only get as far as complex cause-effect relationships, instead of seeing the body as an ever-changing tapestry striving to find balance. While I truly hope that more people will discover this perspective, I fear that the AMTA is doing more harm than good for all bodywork fields by removing the elements of "art" and "dance." I truly hope that your continued columns show people that their limited studies are not an end, but instead a doorway to seeing the world in a way they've never thought of before.

Love and light,

Joshua Laff

"I don't agree with your assumption ..."

Aloha Ms. Esher,

I write this letter in response to your first column ("Bodywork Therapies of Asia") in the first edition of the Massage Today newspaper. Please let me introduce myself. I am a Hawaii- licensed shiatsu massage therapist, in practice for over 22 years, to whom you refer to as ethically questionable in your article. I am listed in the AMTA "find a massage therapist" locator service. I am not a member of the AOBTA nor certified through the NCCAOM, nor do I feel I need to be in order to ethically hold myself out to be a professional shiatsu therapist. I hold a 500-hour certificate of training from the Asian Shiatsu School (DOE approved) in Honolulu, Hawaii and have over 40,000 hours of clinical practice as a shiatsu therapist. Since 1986 I have been a member of the Shiatsu Therapeutic Association of America, sister association to the Shiatsu Therapeutic Association of Japan, and the AMTA. I am also Nationally Certified through the NCBTMB. I served four years on the Hawaii State Regulatory Board of Massage Therapy, two years as chair.

I understand and support your point that there is a sad lack of a professional standard for shiatsu therapy in the U.S. I don't agree with your assumption that the only way, or even the best way, to achieve meeting an ethical qualification as a shiatsu therapist is through the AOBTA or the NCCAOM. Many forms of massage therapy can trace some aspect of their lineage back to China. Pier Ling is the accepted developer of the Swedish System of Massage and Remedial Gymnastics. He was influenced by oriental massage and bodywork in the development of his system. Compression massage, the primary application of shiatsu technique, is included in virtually every definition of massage therapy by state regulatory boards existing in the U. S.

When one points a finger at someone else claiming an ethical lapse or lack of integrity, she should be prepared to defend her own integrity or motivations. Shiatsu therapy, as the name implies, is a Japanese (rather than a Chinese) system of massage therapy. The only style of shiatsu therapy recognized by the Japan Ministry of Health is Namikoshi shiatsu. Since 1925 Tokujiro Namikoshi taught amma, western massage (also known as Swedish), and shiatsu therapy at his school, the Shiatsu Institute of Therapy, which later became the Japan Shiatsu School. Since 1964 shiatsu therapy has been determined by the Japan Ministry of Health to be distinct and independent from amma and other forms of massage therapy. The Shiatsu manual written by Toru Namikoshi Sensei, The Complete Book of Shiatsu Therapy (Japan Pub.) doesn't even mention five-element theory, jueyin, yangming, shaoyang, or taiyang regarding treatment assessment and protocol. These facts can be easily verified.

If the associations of the AOBTA or the NCCAOM wish to claim an ethical higher ground in certification standards for American shiatsu therapists, I suggest that your standards (including methods of assessment) are consistent with those who practice the art of shiatsu therapy in Japan. A good way to ensure that would be to develop a good working relationship with the Shiatsu Therapeutic Association of Japan, Shiatsu Therapeutic Association of America, and/or contact the Japanese Ministry of Health in order to align with the standards, or qualification reviews that were already set up prior to your organization's existence.


Thomas Langenstein,
Licensed Shiatsu Massage Therapist, NCTMB

"We are both for professional standards..."

Dear Tom,

Thanks for interest and response! I am in no way implying that you are unethical. On the contrary, you are just the kind of person that this article was written in support of!

Indeed, we both are for professional standards for shiatsu in the U.S., whether it is the equivalency of the NCCAOM, AOBTA or the Shiatsu Therapy Association of America.

As far as aligning the standards in the U.S. with the Japanese Ministry of Health, 2,200 hours of training is a bit more "higher ground" than I think we are ready for here! But by suggesting this, you do prove my point: shiatsu is not a practice that can be learned in a weekend or by reading a book.

Barbra Esher

Thoughts on the Publication and the Profession

Dear Editor:

I really like the paper, so far. I think it is a welcome answer to the information overload of most magazines. In addition, it has the feel of a business journal: right to the facts!

In response to your request to "hear" from us, I have several ideas I would like to share. First, let me touch on the issue of diversity among practitioners, modalities, business identities and clients of CAM. I believe in educating the consumer, western medical practitioners (and ourselves) that this diversity is the only thing that will save us and propel us into this century in a collaborative manner. While hopefully avoiding the pitfalls (such as losing control of our practices to insurance companies and other governing bodies) of our healing predecessors. The diversity is what stimulates healing all over the world.

There are a few obstacles to the "education" process. First, we (the small business owners, sole practitioners, etc.) are competing with the advertising dollars of large resorts that (in my opinion) are primarily selling "beauty secrets." In addition, most of the owners and managers of these organizations are not bodyworkers themselves. What code of ethics do they sign? The consequence of this is that most consumers are still led to believe that massage and bodywork are for the elite, the self-indulgent and/or the vain. The message that beauty comes from being healthy is not communicated on a large scale.

Secondly, the animosities you speak of between us are related somewhat to competition and difference of vision, but also due to ignorance of what the other "does" and how it can work synergistically with other modalities. I'm sure I am not telling you anything you don't already know, but if I had a thesis to write it would be on the "Collective Terminology of CAM." I believe this would be a unifying tool. To my knowledge, no such dictionary exists. This may be an avenue for compromise and coalition to occur. There are a lot of books out there designed to give consumers suggestions on what treatment to use for what problem -- but none for the practitioners regarding specific technique, philosophy and physiology in a concise format such as a dictionary.

More ideas about content for the paper: I see a lot of research on consumer usage trends, but what about financial benchmarks for comparable business structures? I would like to see actual comparable financial data from a variety of organizational structures. With spas, day spas and clinics opening all across the country, I would imagine that by now there are sufficient data to compare, but maybe not. Also, managing massage therapists, the creative souls that they are, requires a variety of skills. Maybe you could share some HR tips from massage employers.


Mara Concordia, NCTMB
Owner, Peaceful Spirit Therapeutic Massage Center

Woo-Woo and Beyond

Dear Editor:

My thanks go to James (Doc) Clay for his eloquent article, "Polarities." (Editor's note: See Doc's article in the Feb. 2001 issue of MT, or on line at Never before have I read anything that convinced me more that self-regulation and licensing should be of paramount importance to us all. It reminded me of specialties such as Reiki, shiatsu, reflexology, etc., that have to report to a board of massage rather than a board of holistic healing, under which all specialties would have equal billing.

There is nothing more frustrating that being regulated by another specialty that enforces standards that have nothing to do with your specialty. There is a feeling of helplessness as the dollars set aside for continuing education within your specialty go toward classes you neither want nor will use in the future. To maintain your ability to work, you are required to meet their "standards." Like Doc Clay, I too am totally embarrassed when I see "woo-woo practitioners of energy work." I can cite two cases in particular, and unfortunately, both were massage therapists. Both advertised themselves as "polarity practitioners." When I questioned them about their training in polarity, one stated that she had read a book on the subject, and the other stated that he had attended a workshop! But they did tell me that as massage therapists, they could advertise themselves as "energetic healers" without any formal training.

I have taught massage therapy and polarity therapy, and I am a registered polarity instructor with the American Polarity Therapy Association (APTA). I have diplomas from the Polarity Center of Western Virginia, Mueller College of Holistic Studies, and took postgraduate studies in indigenous peoples healing modalities. I can fully comprehend the lack of understanding about energetic healing by the "hardcore clinical types." The standards of practice adopted by the APTA, and the educational requirements within the curriculum for associate polarity practitioner and registered polarity practitioner, leave no misunderstanding that these qualifications are taken seriously and do not fall within the realm of "woo-woo." The education and practical application hours for registration are far greater than the hours needed to become a massage therapist, yet in many states, polarity therapy practitioners are regulated by the massage board - even though MTs receive little or no training in polarity therapy.

As professionals, we should seek to respect other specialties and allow their associations/organizations to judge the educational, credentialing and licensing requirements for their specific practitioners. By absorbing those specialties within our own jurisdictions, we merely inflate our numbers and consume their individuality.

Doc Clay states perfectly that there may have been no Ida Rolf, Dr. Stone, Dr. Usai or Madam Hawayo Takata if they had contended with the restrictive and disempowering regulations that surround us today in our professions.

In closing, and most importantly, without Doc Clay writing his article, I would not have been driven to respond.

Lorraine Douglas, RPP, LMT
Avon Park, Florida


Join the conversation
Comments are encouraged, but you must follow our User Agreement
Keep it civil and stay on topic. No profanity, vulgar, racist or hateful comments or personal attacks. Anyone who chooses to exercise poor judgement will be blocked. By posting your comment, you agree to allow MPA Media the right to republish your name and comment in additional MPA Media publications without any notification or payment.
comments powered by Disqus
dotted line