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Massage Today
February, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 02

What's in a Name?

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

Is the name we use to describe our "professional selves" important? Do you perform "massage," "bodywork" or both? Do you see a difference between the two? If you lean toward "massage" (forgetting regulated titles for a moment), do you consider yourself a massage therapist, massagist, masseur/masseuse, massage practitioner, massage technician, or something else entirely?

In the inaugural issue of Massage Today, because of our diversity, I said, "Whether we are practicing with a doctorate degree, thousands of hours of education and more credentials than can easily fit on several lines of text, or practicing with a high-school diploma and several weekends of hands-on mentoring, we all need, and have, a professional obligation to improve our skills and capabilities.

Massage Today is a publication designed to help us all do just that." ( Three years later, our profession is no less diverse, and perhaps what we call ourselves is even more important! (I know I get cranky when someone calls me a "masseuse"!)

I recently followed an online discussion about a new massage certification organization attempting to implement a very high bar to obtain its certification. In opposition to the idea of a new certification, one individual argued, "Massage therapy is manual labor. At most we are technicians." This statement gave me pause. I immediately started calling this individual names (to myself) that had nothing to do with massage and that couldn't be printed in this article! However, after reading several of his rejoinders that explained his definition of "technician," I realized he didn't think himself any less professional than I think myself; rather, he was merely using language to argue his political point of view. Another person in the discussion went so far as to suggest that the title "massage therapist" was a plot by an organization to ply its political agenda on unsuspecting practitioners by making a massage specialty (massage therapy) the new umbrella term.

My point in mentioning all this is that these arguments did not, in my opinion, clarify meaning and bring people together, but instead fueled personal political dilemmas by saying, "I'm right and you're wrong, stupid!" Perhaps political discussions lend themselves to these types of arguments, and I certainly fall into the trap more frequently than I am comfortable admitting. Luckily, there are alternatives.

I was recently involved with an organizational task force charged with developing management evaluation tools. During a task force work session, I was introduced to a concept called "Appreciative Inquiry." Quite simply, this term proposes not trying to find solutions to existing problems, but instead asking more questions about what is already wonderful, because whatever one wants more of already exists in the entity being considered. (A Web search of "Appreciative Inquiry" will bring much amplifying information.) So, without trying to push the political "buttons" of anyone in the massage field, here is a quote from within another industry. See if you think this concept would work in the organized massage world. Thomas White, former President of GTE Telephone Operations, said:

"Appreciative Inquiry can get you such better results than seeking out and solving problems. That's an interesting concept for me - and I imagine for most of you - because telephone companies are among the best problem-solvers in the world. We troubleshoot everything. We concentrate enormous resources on correcting problems that have relatively minor impact on our overall service performance ... when used continually and over a long period of time, this approach can lead to a negative culture. If you combine a negative culture with all the challenges we face today, it would be easy to convince ourselves that we have too many problems to overcome - to slip into a paralyzing sense of hopelessness.

"And yet if we flip the coin, we have so much to be excited about ...We can if we just turn ourselves around and start looking at our jobs - and ourselves - differently; if we kill negative talk and celebrate our successes ... In the long run, what is more likely to be more useful: demoralizing a successful workforce by concentrating on their failures, or helping them over their last few hurdles by building a bridge with their successes?"

David Cooperrider, one of the developers of Appreciative Inquiry, offers this thought: "In problem-solving, it is assumed that something is broken, fragmented, not whole, and that it needs to be fixed. Thus, the function of problem-solving is to integrate, stabilize, and help raise to its full potential the workings of the status quo."

I'm not sure how you feel, but I think the massage world deserves better than the infighting evident in the status quo. What we call ourselves is just one example. Let's build on what we have in common, not what sets us apart. With that thought in mind, and without trying to force my own perspective of "how it ought to be," I can't help but think that we all share one of my greatest sources of satisfaction - someone leaving my office that stops to give me a genuine smile and say, "Thank you!"

Thanks for listening!

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:

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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