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Massage Today
October, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 10

Mother Nature's Disastrous Touch

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

I just turned off the news. The constant updates on the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina represent about 90% of the airtime. The news keeps reporting on the impact of Katrina. I don't think it comes close to representing the true "impact." A week ago, when the worst was happening, I remember being unable to tear my eyes away from the TV screen, even though watching was making me nauseous.

As estimates of impact roll in on the numbers of homeless, the numbers of unemployed, the numbers of failed businesses, the economic impact of Gulf oil production, etc., etc., it is beginning to occur to me that these macroeconomic extrapolations are, in truth, dwarfed in comparison to individual tragedies.

I'm sure no one has any true estimates, but it's safe to say that a certain number of those no longer employed are massage therapists. I look within our professional community and know that large percentages are part-time massage therapists and single moms who strive to feed their families and fulfill their dreams. We have a great profession that lends itself well to Mothers' hours, but what good are Mothers' hours if the treatment room is gone or the clients have evacuated?

I honestly have no clue as to whether or not the average self-employed massage therapist is eligible for unemployment. I feel pretty sure that those working "under the radar" in licensed states are ineligible. Even in large clinics, many massage therapists are functioning as independent contractors instead of employees. Massage therapists who have lost their business location due to storm damage are particularly at risk if relocating to adjacent states. There are no states that I am aware of with licensing reciprocity, so a therapist trying to temporarily work in a neighboring state would likely be in violation of the law, with consequences ranging from loss of insurance coverage to actual arrest. I don't think this is an overstatement. This morning's news had an article about a hurricane victim who had fled with his family to Atlanta. With no more money or food, the man resorted to asking for help from others and was promptly arrested for panhandling by a patrolman on bicycle. If panhandling results in arrest, certainly working without a license could result in similar actions.

So what is the temporarily out-of-work massage therapist to do? What are massage students to do now that their school is no longer in business? If their graduation is postponed, how much longer must they wait to begin practice? The implications to massage therapy are many.

Being a "guy," I have a tendency to look for solutions to problems, and the dilemma of the out-of-work massage therapist is one problem I have been pondering. I don't have a background that lets me contemplate changes to levees or egress transportation logistics, but massage therapy regulation is not unknown to me. It seems prudent to me for massage regulatory boards, at least in states bordering Katrina-affected states, to enact or petition their legislatures to enact an emergency waiver of massage licensing regulations for itinerant therapists temporarily working in the state. I'm sure there are valid reasons to not do this, but I haven't thought of any yet that aren't outweighed by the benefits of enabling those in need to generate income. I know that if it were me in need, I'd prefer to be able to earn my way out of the hole rather than accept charity. I ask all massage boards to look into this now for immediate emergency implementation, and to then spend some planning time developing some options for future licensure waiver situations.

It's nice to be proud of my peers, and I am delighted at the expressed desire of so many to help the victims of Katrina. The major massage associations are assisting their members' desires to help by coordinating fundraising efforts and disseminating information. I just heard of one association state chapter that has established a "Therapist Relief Fund" where collected monies will be used to help at least 3 or 4 therapists with start-up costs for getting their businesses going again or relocating. What a wonderful idea!

Perhaps a less wonderful idea, although caring and tempting, is the plan to pack up and travel to a disaster area to "help." Specialized experience or training is required to be of real assistance. Showing up in locations without food, water or shelter and expressing a desire to be of assistance might be just getting in the way. Just like a therapeutic session in your office, the needs of the client must supersede the needs of the therapist to "help." And although the desire to help those in stricken areas may be overpowering, let's not forget all those who may need help locally! As I write this, 39 states have welcomed evacuees. Your "regular" clients might be connected to storm victims and be under added stress. Many local families have military members who now have additional or extended duty involving further family separations. They all need you right there in your office!

Another way to be of real assistance is to donate to legitimate organizations providing disaster relief. I have seen several companies offering to match donations made by individuals, and this is an excellent way of maximizing your ability to help!

Unlike Mother Nature's Disastrous Touch, the human Power of Touch can connect us all. Whether in roles of family members, friends, co-workers or citizens, we all are human beings who need to have security to feel safe. As massage therapists, we have a unique ability to make people feel secure at least in their own bodies. Times might be stressful and difficult for many, but we still are lucky to be who we are. Let's make the most of it!

Thanks for listening!

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters related to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue or online. 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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