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Massage Today
June, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 06


By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

Massage therapy and bodywork has certainly come into its own in the last 10 or so years. It is no longer unusual to see articles mentioning the benefits of our services in national publications.

Reviews of resorts in travel magazines usually mention spa services available. National network and cable television series are more likely than ever to have massage therapists as characters (some with adult entertainment industry stereotypes, although some without). I regularly hear my peers express delight or indignation at how a therapist was depicted or how a modality was described in the media. Usually I just smile and think how thankful I am that we, as a profession, are so universally known as to be included in coverage of everyday life.

However, I must admit that two recent depictions stopped me dead in my tracks. Either I'm missing the boat on how other massage therapists conduct their practices, or writers are incorporating a lack of education in their coverage. I am a subscriber of Travel + Leisure, a publication of American Express Publishing Corporation. Their April 2002 issue ran an article titled "The Good Life" that reviewed three venerable resorts in Carmel, CA. The author describes in some detail the property amenities, including golf, food, staff professionalism and guestroom ambiance. He also reports on his massage experience at each property. Describing the new spa at one property, he notes, "Popular as it is, I found the service there confused, the massage room noisy, and the massage below par." I'm glad I didn't read this in a national magazine after one of my massage sessions! The disturbing aspects come in the next two reviews, though.

Of property number two, our massage critic says, "My Ranch Classic massage was far better than the usual rub-a-dub hotel version, with as much adjusting as there was kneading." He went on to mention the therapist by name and quoted him as saying, "I like to get something accomplished."

In the final property review, I read, "I was jelly by the time the masseur arrived. The therapists come to your room here. Mine quickly kicked off his Birkenstocks and set up his table in front of the fireplace. He was partial to chiropractic and cranial work -- more adjusting -- and clearly very experienced."

So what do you think the odds are of these therapists being chiropractors masquerading as massage therapists? How would you feel if an article in a national magazine let all the world know that you were practicing out of the scope of practice of your stated profession? Will more of the public be climbing on your table be looking for osseous and soft tissue work because of this depiction? In my mind, this article is more dangerous than the occasional TV show depicting a massage therapist engaging in hand release, as was recently aired on HBO.

The March/April issue of Healing Retreats & Spas also attracted my attention, with an article entitled "Rules of Engagement." The author of this piece is bound and determined to uncover the prurient aspects of sessions behind closed doors. He uses as a premise for his exposé his observation that Americans have a curiously conservative perspective regarding nudity and touching. He notes that topless bars and nudist colonies are viewed as dens of sin and freakish third dimensions, and then concludes that, "it is not surprising that these hang-ups cross over into the spa experience." He really said that!

This intrepid reporter travels from Beverly Hills to New Orleans for his story and admits to "pushing some conversational boundaries at thirteen spas in ten different cities." He seems quite shocked and amazed when the professional spa staff he "interviews" while on the table erect a wall of silence around his attempted discussions of nudity, sexuality and boundaries. I'm not at all surprised, as it seems like a natural response to a weirdo! My guess is that they also proceeded to demonstrate their trigger-point proficiency with thumbs and elbows to stimulate a subject change!

Undaunted in his lack of success in getting a hot story from therapists, the reporter relates stories from clients. One tells of how she experienced orgasm during her first three massages, and now consciously makes herself avoid orgasms when she gets a massage. The reporter then tells of his own experience where during a "Swedish massage in the Lake Tahoe area" the therapist repeatedly touched his erection. He called it inadvertent, even though it was repeated while she was working both legs. His story makes me wonder what "spa" he was visiting.

He concludes his article by saying, "So the next time you wonder to yourself, 'What just happened?' push it to the back of your mind... at least until the treatment's over."

My problem with this last article is that it is in a nationally distributed magazine designed to promote spa use! My guess is that prospective clients who are new to massage and bodywork will be scared to death to schedule themselves on a table after reading his article. I doubt that is something desired by the magazine's advertisers! I also doubt that you would like to get a lot of new clients referred from either of these articles. Both take the authors' perception of our profession and promote it to the world as a reality. I believe both seriously missed the boat.

What do you think?

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters relating to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue of Massage Today. Please send all correspondence by e-mail to , or by regular mail to the address listed below:

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4139
Huntington Beach, CA 92605

Former editor of Massage Today, Cliff is owner of Windham Health Center Neuromuscular Therapy LLC. He is nationally certified in therapeutic massage & bodywork and is licensed as a massage therapist by the states of New Hampshire and Florida. Cliff is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners; a professional member and past president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association; a certified member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Inc.; and a past chairman of the board of directors of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.


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