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Massage Today
June, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 06

A Hard-Fought Road to Acceptance

By Vivian Madison-Mahoney, LMT

It's 5 a.m., and I can't sleep. I keep going over yesterday's events in my head. I attended the Families USA Health Action 2009 Conference, a national health care reform conference held annually in Washington, D.C.

Attended by health care advocates across the nation, the conference featured political experts such as CNN's Paul Begala, national leaders such as Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA), health policy expert Dr. David Blumenthal who has just been named as the new National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT) and other health policy officials discussing various health care topics and reform proposals, including all aspects of insurance. The conference was informative and exciting; I had some very insightful and stimulating conversations with many there; however, it was one particular conversation that continues to nag at me.

At the end of one of the plenary sessions, I walked over to a Washington Post reporter to shake his hand and tell him I appreciated the sensible and constructive comments he had made to the group. Once he learned that I was there for the massage therapy industry, he quickly spouted: "You all need to change the name of massage because you will never go anywhere with massage." He ended with: "Massage therapists should get off their ego trips and work for physicians and physical therapists, period." This was the ultimate slap in the face.

Before I could reply, he placed his ski cap on his head and promptly walked away, not giving me a chance to defend myself, or my profession. The sting of his words left me trying to sit through the rest of the afternoon sessions holding back tears, still feeling the pain of his words. Yes, it's my fault that I am thin-skinned and that I have great pride and love for my profession. However, I'm concerned that the complete ignorance and frankly, arrogance shown by this Washington reporter is shared by others throughout the nation.

An Honorable Profession

I have proudly been in this profession for nearly 25 years and serve as the insurance consultant for the Florida State Massage Therapy Association (FSMTA). It was on behalf of this great association and its nearly 5,000 members that I attended this conference to stand up for our profession and create further inroads for insurance inclusion when our services are prescribed by treating physicians for medically necessary treatment.

All these years, I have worked legitimately and ethically to provide for my three daughters, keeping clothes on their backs and food in their mouths. I was thrilled and proud that I never had to return to welfare and food stamps or ever again have to go to the Salvation Army to provide Christmas presents for my little girls. Because of this profession and my massage therapy business I was able to help save my daughter's life when doctors tried to discourage me from having hope. Massage therapy helped keep her from possibly spending the rest of her life in a fetal position, so said the trauma room neurosurgeon, who helped to save her life after an auto accident that left her with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and in a coma for nine months. I worked on her various body areas day and night for three solid months in the intensive care unit, continuing through the coma state and onwards. Slowly she recovered to much better than ever expected with no memory loss, a fantastic sense of humor that would put us all to shame, and a personality that makes everyone love her even though she is a handful to care for in her condition.

I was always able to hold my head high while effectively helping thousands of patients who were suffering mentally, emotionally and physically when their physician's felt that massage therapy would be beneficial to them. I've known judges of compensation claims for Workers' Compensation Court to order lifetime massage therapy for patients in my office, "to prevent deterioration." And I've had the pleasure and satisfaction of hearing patients say how much better they felt and in many cases, how this therapy has helped them more than any other for their specific conditions.

These patients would report that massage therapy had helped them sit, bend, stand, and walk. They also reported that they were relieved of migraines and other pains which had plagued some for years; they were able to sleep through the night for the first time in a long time and were able to once again interact freely with family and friends. Other cases were more serious; patients would gladly report that they were finally able to get off their medications, some so adverse that they became even more ill from their medications, causing them to spit up blood, make them too tired, weak or dizzy to operate normally during the day.

This is what massage therapists and massage therapy is all about; helping patients, and in many cases, helping patients like my daughter overcome serious health conditions. It is not "massage parlors" or escort services there to make an easy buck off of senators, representatives, preachers, governors and laymen we read about in the news.

Massage therapy is a professional healing treatment. Because I ran a respectful and ethical massage therapy operation I was able to keep my young daughter out of a run down county home. Because of this business I could afford the costs of $4,600 to $6,200 a month for nearly two years, to care for her at home before she was placed on the Med-Waiver Home and Community Based Services Program. I built my practice to over half a million dollars in the 80s, charging extremely low rates, and working 6-7 days a week. When no one else had a clue, I was successfully accepting insurance for patient reimbursement. Over 175 physicians believed in me and referred their patients to my medically oriented massage establishment.

I represent the nearly 100,000 state licensed and/or certified massage therapists who are giving their all, who work, train and bend over backwards to help the innermost healing processes of those injured, ill or dying. Those who offer relaxing, pampering, professional massage therapy are also to be commended. They offer a legitimate service, unlike those who offer it for sexual gratification to those who are seeking and paying for it. Just as there are a few unscrupulous senators, governors, representatives, preachers, physicians, lawyers, or other professionals we hear about in the daily news, we do not avoid, condemn or consider all to be of the same sleazy nature.

I have been working with an insurance company's fraud unit because medical doctors and chiropractors are using our profession to make money off insurance companies and off the backs of patients. Do these few physicians represent all physicians? No. Nor do these few massage therapists, heard about in the news, represent the entire profession.

Here to Stay

It's time for people like this reporter to realize that we are a profession that is here to stay and that has worked diligently to renew and protect our hard-earned professional image. We are the ones specifically trained and state licensed, some under the board of medicine in their states and/or nationally certified and legally classified as "health care practitioners." We are the givers, the hands-on caring part of health care. We are the ones who still provide the positive bedside manner that people used to love about their physicians when they had time to provide it. We are the ones who spend time, an hour or more, treating medical conditions; this service is offered by no other health care provider today. We do not proclaim to be physicians; we are the extended arms of physicians, working independently much as a pharmacist provides medications per physician orders.

We are an ethical and caring profession of health care providers who are finally being recognized across the nation for our hard work, efficacy and patient satisfaction. This has been a long and hard road; a road that has actually put many therapists out of the business because they felt dirty, sleazy and unprofessional when asked by "patients" to provide services that "satisfy their needs." And then there were those who were hurt or felt degraded because of statements made such as the one made to me yesterday. Had his sharp, arrogant statements been made to me in my early days, I am afraid I too would have been joining those in the unemployment lines today.

So to those in our profession, our health care practitioners across the nation, thank you for all you do and continue to do. We will prevail, in spite of people like this reporter who continue to downgrade us with judgments and false accusations because of others who have given us a bad name. We are here to stay.

CORRECTION: In this article, the reporter was incorrectly published as a Washington Post reporter. The reporter was actually a local Washington, D.C. reporter. The correct statement should be a Washington reporter. 

Click here for previous articles by Vivian Madison-Mahoney, LMT.


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