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My View From Here

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

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We Have Eaten the Goose: A Lesson in Greed (Part 1)

I knew our profession was headed for trouble when I asked a student in a massage school why she was studying massage and she told me, "Because my guidance counselor told me it was easier than hair school." That was about 2005. Our profession hit its peak in 2006 with 1,600 massage schools. However, graduates of massage school programs peaked at 71,272 two years earlier in 2004. By 2006 graduates were down to 62,784. More schools and less graduates is not a sustainable trend and it continues 9 years later.

Survey Says ...

ABMP's most recent school survey shows that in 2016 we are down to 1,096 schools and only 28,263 graduates. Those numbers prove the massage profession is in decline and if this trend continues, we are a profession following the dodo bird into extinction. Even more disturbing is that the trend has accelerated since 2012. Yes folks, this year more people will drop out of our profession than will enter it.1

We Have Eaten the Goose: A Lesson in Greed (Part 1) - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Massage has always had a high drop-out rate, for reasons given later in this article. However, there were always plenty of new hands coming in. Those days are over. The silver lining here is that those of us who are still practicing are going to be in high demand very soon. Prepare yourselves and take care of yourselves. The demand for our services is greater than ever. The supply is less. That means our services will soon become more valuable. While potentially good for us "survivors" it is obviously not good for the overall profession long term, not to mention the loss to the public.The next several columns will explain how we arrived at this sorry state of affairs and offer suggestions, which will most likely be ignored by our mis-leaders.

Massage Organizations

While our beloved "stakeholder" organizations have been busy developing impressive sounding anachronisms in the gleaming towers of educational academia, the real problems — obvious to any aware observer —  were ignored. As they carefully re-arrange the deck chairs to have high tea on the aft-deck, the iceberg has been struck and the ship has been taking on water for some time. If the pumps are not manned and the holes plugged pretty soon, the profession of massage will be as sunk as the Titanic.

If the image and reputation of our profession to potential therapists is not changed and soon, the decline will continue. Guidance counselors won't even bother to recommend massage, even if it is easier than hair. Karma always wins out. Some say karma is just the Law of Cause and Effect. The problems we have in our profession today are the effects of causes deliberately, although short sightedly, put into place three decades ago. Back then our beloved "stakeholders" decided to come down to a price, not up to a standard. In every instance they chose the lowest possible common denominator. Out of greed, short sightedness, and ego, we have eaten the proverbial goose that was laying golden eggs.

No Quick-Fix

Changing the downward trend will not be easy and there is no quick fix. Perceptions are slow to change. The situation will get worse before it gets better, but the sooner we aggressively start making significant changes, the sooner we can begin re-ascending as a profession. Institutional momentum resists change, even in the face of decline. Blame will be placed on the economy, politicians, social media, the Russians, on anywhere and anybody to escape taking responsibility for the situations we have created, which lies squarely in the lap of our beloved "stakeholders" and schools.

Yes, we did this to ourselves and it is up to us to recognize and change it (no matter how painful it will be) and it will be painful. The real losers are the people, the public, suffering from lack of quality, consistent, competently delivered soft-tissue care. More than to ourselves, we owe it to them, the public; to restore manual medicine (therapeutic massage) to its rightful place in society.

You Can Survive!

As mentioned above, the dropout rate of our profession is very high.  There are several reasons for this. Some love health care and move on to higher degrees (PT, OT, DC, etc.). Most drop out because they cannot make a living or they injure themselves doing massage. Injuries usually come from poor use of your body (body-mechanics) or repetitiveness. You must use proper body mechanics or doing massage will destroy you. If you ask veteran therapists (20 years or more) how they managed to have such a long career, the first thing most will tell you is body-mechanics.

Body-mechanics are poorly taught in most schools and even more poorly learned by most students. There are books and videos on body mechanics. Learn how to use your body efficiently and implement that with every move during a session.Relaxation massage routines are easy to teach, easy to learn and boring beyond belief to perform after a while. Usually, the pay is not that great. Such repetition injures the body and "burns-out" the mind. It is a good place to start, but most must grow beyond it or face a painful departure from the field.

To make a good living doing massage, you must learn to market/promote yourself. An entrepreneurial mindset is required. This is a learned skill, minimally taught in massage schools but easily learned from books and videos.

The Secret

Most successful therapists that have long, financially comfortable careers, invested early on in advanced continuing education. They learned to help their patients reduce painful complaints. When you can get people out of pain, you will always be busy. You will never run out of people in pain. Further, people in pain will gladly pay for relief and tell others when they find someone that helps them.

Unfortunately, many of the best pain relieving methods can be hard on the therapist's body. Experiencing this personally, a very insightful and well-trained therapist in Indianapolis, Lawrence Woods, thought long and hard and came up with a new way to address soft tissues and neurological dysfunctions that is very easy on the therapist and truly pain free for the patient.

It is the first game changer in soft tissue therapy since American Neuromuscular Therapy came along in the late 1980s. Finally, someone has come to our rescue and figured out how to "reset" a patient's nervous system and thus their muscular tightness with minimal effort (stimulus.)  He calls the system "Neural Reset Therapy® (NRT)".

If you desire a long and prosperous career in massage therapy, invest in learning advanced techniques that do not harm you, like NRT, and start getting people out of pain. Pain relief and sports enhancement massage is never boring as every person is different. No more boring routines. You can have a busy, rewarding practice for a long time. You just have to learn a better approach and apply it with good body mechanics. As Spock might say, "Work long and prosper."

I always love writing my July column because I get to end it with the title of the old song, "See you in September." Rock On!


  1. ABMP, Honey, the Pie Shrunk (Again) March 2017
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