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Massage Today
July, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 07

Where Itís Been, Where Itís Going

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

Happy Birthday America! Hope your summer is going well and you have (had) a great 4th of July. It's my favorite non-religious holiday. This is my 50th column for Massage Today. Seems like a milestone of some sort.

Thank you all for your continued support.

To carry on from the May column, a trip back in time is appropriate to look at what the profession of massage was and what it has become. A long time ago, the profession of massage didn't have all the fancy names and compartments it does now. It was just massage. Therapists knew the strokes, anatomy and spoke a common language. They knew how to examine tissue, find abnormal tissue and treat it. Therapists were trained to do both relaxation and specific, therapeutic work and flowed smoothly between the two. In the mid-1980s all the names (any name but plain old "massage") and compartmentalizing began.

"Sports massage" was one of the first "hot terms." I can remember the pioneers of sports massage laughing at all the buzz because it was nothing different than what they had been doing for years. Now there are dozens of little compartments of massage, each really the same, but with its little twist. After all, they all use the same strokes, which can be identified with those dreaded, old French words. It's mostly marketing and ego. "Oh, I don't do massage, I do - insert whatever it's called today." "Touch therapy" is not a group of different systems. It is one continuum, from deep in the body to off the body, from dense to less dense.

Other professions do not have this schizophrenia. There are many different approaches to chiropractic, from no-force to high-force, but they all come together under the term chiropractic. The same is true for PTs and acupuncturists. Some claimed the word "massage" had a bad image and they needed to disassociate from it. I never bought that line. Everyone knows there is ethical massage and there is adult entertainment hiding behind the name massage. Adult entertainment can be cleaned up quickly with good professional regulation statutes. It can be made worse by poor ones, as is the case in some states today. Massage became associated with adult entertainment due to unscrupulous schools preying on under-privileged women in the early 1900s. It's our professional karma and our duty to clean up the term "massage." Until we do, it will haunt us. Sadly, we are closer to a repeat of history than to a resolution, but that's another story.

The massage profession made a fateful mistake in the mid-1980s when it decided to become the umbrella for every new-age concept imaginable and to allow them to demand their autonomy within the massage profession. Too many groups were allowed on the boat without being required to row. Soon, the tyranny of the minorities paralyzed the majority from effectively defining a profession through standards and effective legislation. Prior to that time, the massage profession knew what it was and knew what it did. Since that time, it has been impossible to define what the profession is and what it does.

Groups that claim to not be massage and thus should not be regulated by massage legislation demand to be accepted as continuing education for massage therapists. Our sacred national certification exam, which is used as a licensing exam in most regulated states, tests one's knowledge of meditation and other fascinating but irrelevant, fringe modalities. (I have been a mediator for years. It has nothing specifically to do with the practice of massage.) The exam has forced Asian theory and techniques down our throats and now the Asian groups want exemptions from any regulation. They seem to claim they are not massage or bodywork and should not be governed by massage regulation. Yet, they have demanded everyone study Asian techniques to get a massage license. Oh, and of course, Asian techniques should be approved as continuing education for something they say they are not. Every little group wants to claim the creditability and acceptance that professional massage therapists have earned but without meeting any standard or having any accountability. It's insane and a joke, but not a funny one. We are in a sad state for a profession.

To pass a licensing law, the compromises made within our own profession make the regulation worthless and nothing more than a tax on those who participate for their ego's sake of saying, "I'm state-licensed/registered/certified." Just to pass some law, any law, we have given up important parts of our scope of practice - along with most of the benefits that professional regulation was created to provide, as I have discussed at length in my recent columns.

On top of it all, enter the career colleges and chain schools that want to turn us into "allied health care providers" taught 50 percent via distance learning. It's a seductive title, until you realize that it puts us with PT assistants, nurses' aides and other medical techs under the complete control of the allopaths. Nothing wrong with those professions, but they are a step down in freedom and pay from being first-door providers. These schools believe our profession should change its entry-level standards for the convenience and profit of the schools, instead of the schools accepting the responsibility of training students to the standards of the profession. This completely selfish attitude shows how little they actually care about our profession in particular or the quality of care provided to the public, in general.

So, that is where the profession of massage is today from my view. I hope this little bit of history was beneficial. If it seems like it paints a dark picture, despair not, as it is neither dark nor light. It is just the reality of the situation. I am an optimist and recognize that much good is being done despite our floundering. There always is hope.

Hang in there and I will share some hope with you next time as we look at what can be. I love writing the July column, because I get to close with the classic line, "See you in September."

Click here for more information about Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB.


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