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Massage Today
June, 2006, Vol. 06, Issue 06

Research: The Key That Opens the Door

By John Slavin, PhD, LMT

The amount of research opportunities and data available to massage therapists is growing steadily each year, ever since Dr. Tiffany Field's original groundbreaking research on pre-term infants was published more than two decades ago.

However, although all new ventures have a glitch or two to work out, evidence suggests massage research needs more development; due in part to the fact that a great majority of therapists tend to be unwilling to form alliances with allopathic practitioners or even other massage therapists. Many therapists seem to be content only when they distance themselves from others, seeing them as a threat and building walls in an effort to protect their environment from competition, rather than trying to aid the progress of touch therapy.

It's sad, that in an environment where we value touch and closeness it seems therapists can, at times, be anything but amiable! Recently, I had a student ask me rather rudely why I was so involved in touch research. When I explained that research leads to conclusive findings, and conclusive findings lead to respectability, the student shrugged her shoulders and went on to tell me how she does not need respect from anyone but herself. This is true and very noble, but the fact remains, medical evaluators such as insurance companies will not reimburse massage therapists based on self-respect; they require concrete medical data and this is where research sometimes falls short.

Although, in this era of much research regarding touch therapy, it seems not nearly enough is being done. And that is not due to any lack of interest from the medical community. When presenting potential research studies to some of the major research hospitals and medical schools in my area, I was welcomed by the allopathic community with open arms. Granted, I had some help getting my foot in the door, but then I found myself meeting with prominent members of the medical community. Many times, the chief of staff of a given department would even set up a lunch. Discussions developed, in allopathic terms, why a certain massage technique was valuable and where they could see it placed in the medical model. When I mentioned the idea of research being done, the doctors challenged each other as to who would have the opportunity to work with the therapists. Within one day, I had calls from the head of oncology, the head of hematology, and the physical therapy department all wanting to do research. The physicians even discussed the potential of research being funded through the hospitals' own research department! Now, to what do I owe this amazing outcome? It's all about simple professional courtesy! If therapists would only work at speaking the allopathic language and gain their respect, then nine times out of ten they will not only be willing, but eager to work with them. Is it any doubt that Tiffany Fields, PhD, Janet Kahn, PhD, or Janet Travell, MD, were so successful in their research attempts? They did not go against the grain. They understood the need for good clinical research, studied their field and were well versed in the language of allopathic medicine.

Massage therapists seem to be the most highly underrated health care providers and this is a real shame. Sadly, they seem to be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to respectability in the medical field, but this has been changing in recent years. This is primarily because their scope of practice is so broad and their knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology so vast, that when medical practitioners see this they often are dazzled at how knowledgeable therapists are and how useful they can be!

Unfortunately, it's not the therapist, but how they come across that makes or breaks them in the medical field. With all the recent bickering about defining medical massage and extra certification and training, it appears what it really boils down to is communication. The better therapists can speak with other health care providers, the better they can promote themselves. Many times, massage therapists complain of not getting compensated properly for their work in medical offices, but more often than not those same therapists are the ones griping that there is too much interest in touch research and therapists should focus their efforts somewhere more useful. To me, it's all tied up with research! Modern society is full of "doubting Thomases" and unless therapists can show them the proof, they most likely will never believe how powerful touch therapy can really be.

With research, one can definitely prove the physiological effects of a certain technique and reproduce the results. And this is what the insurance companies want to see.

In closing, I will tell of one more student comment. Recently, while instructing a student how to be successful when networking with doctors and fellow massage therapists, another student commented, "Why tell him your secrets? If everyone knows how you do what you do, then you won't be unique, and everyone will be successful!" I answered quite simply, "Good! Then I would have succeeded at my task!"

John Slavin, PhD, LMT, received his massage education from Florida Academy of Massage in Ft. Myers and his PhD in biology from Canterbury University. He was recently appointed Vice President of research and development for the American University of Healing Arts in Little Rock, Ark. He is extensively involved in medical research pertaining to massage therapy and is very proactive in bridging the gap between LMTs and the allopathic community. He can be reached at "> .


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