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Massage Today
May, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 05

Carpe Diem

By Linda Riach

According to Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) recently released study, never has there been a time when so many Americans have had such positive feelings about massage therapy.

And recently, the New York Times declared that the "spa-ification" of America had taken place. Spa lifestyles are being embraced (as well as all things found in spas). As a part of that trend, massage is now almost a household word. With this rising brand perception comes the unique and hard-won opportunity for the industry to profoundly increase the number of massage consumers.

While this wonderful success is fat with promise, especially for the unprecedented levels of graduating massage students, there remains significant effort to moving consumers from simply feeling good about massage to actually understanding and seeking out massage. It becomes a transition for those consumers from being bodies craving intentional, caring touch to being informed participants who incorporate touch therapies in their wellness plans. Additionally, given that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) programs are evolving in major hospitals and medical schools, it's time to reach out as allies to the entire wellness community. The time is right, as it has never been before.

We all have acquaintances that love to get gift certificates for massage. They may even see a massage therapist regularly to feel more relaxed. But when tennis elbow or a strained back strikes, they either don't consider massage to be therapy or they try their familiar relaxation-oriented massage therapy session and give it that same one shot they gave it the last time they had a gift certificate. How often have you heard, "I feel great when I get off the table, but it just didn't last, so I guess it doesn't work"? (I know. Everyone wants that magic bullet that the pharmaceutical industry promised.) It's going to take some hard work with the general populace to change that expectation into something so much more sustainable and safe!

So in looking at our industry with an eye to moving it forward we have to ask: What percentage of people actually commit to a series of massage sessions with someone trained to work on what ails them? While certainly there are many massage therapists with vital practices serving satisfied clients, amazingly few people know what modality is best for what they need, which therapists have the experience and the credentials, or how long until they will have given it a real chance.

How many of our clients and employers, let alone the general public, know about the research and experience that shows that massage therapy can help reduce post-surgical pain, ease fibromyalgia, reduce the strain of pregnancy, ease colic in babies, promote weight gain for premature infants, reduce violence in teenagers, manage TMJ, reduce post-event recovery times in athletes, manage chronic headaches, improve body image in those with eating disorders, reduce insomnia and so much more?

So then, how do we get the word out? In my estimation there are a series of communication stepping-stones we can use to create the path to the future:

  1. Network and cross-reference other massage therapists with expertise in modalities that might be the answer to our clients' needs, taking the opportunity to increase the consumer's knowledge and raise the quality of their personal experience with massage.
  2. Participate in responsibly managed, well-publicized referral Web sites so that potential clients can find us, based on our skills and expertise. Imagine the effect on the community and the profession if potential clients could actually find the therapist they need without all that expensive and intimidating trial and error.
  3. Consider our local community newspapers. There are probably hundreds of them across the country, showing up under mailboxes and in storefronts everywhere. A nutritionist in my area has a regular column in one of them. It's informative and widely read. (Can your local massage therapy chapter find some volunteers to write about their practices, about the benefits of massage and about the latest research?)
  4. Our professional organizations have writers' and speakers' bureaus. Whenever possible, use those bureaus to provide articles in fitness and wellness magazines and special interest Web sites. Well-written and well-documented articles for magazines such as Men's Health, Self, Prevention, Modern Maturity, or Good Housekeeping can help raise the awareness of millions who are constantly looking for improved wellness in an aging population.
  5. Effectively and efficiently use our speakers' bureaus to present for us at health fairs and at the multitude of trade shows and conferences where we can build alliances with members of other health care and spa associations. The many spa, chiropractic, CAM, pain medicine, athletic training, and fitness associations have trade shows and conferences going on around the country almost every week of the year. There are many topics of mutual interest, all of which can help promote massage therapy as an allied profession, working together in partnership.
  6. Our trade organizations could have booth space at these same conventions where our representatives can interact with their members. They won't be able to do it without membership financial and volunteer support.
  7. Participate in research projects and provide financial support for these efforts that are so important in establishing the future of massage therapy. Research is being done in schools and clinics around the country. Our research foundations and organizations publish in more and more professional journals. They could also submit articles or research papers and case studies for posting on the many focused Web sites like those for headache, backache, TMJ and insomnia to quickly inform many millions of Internet users. Those who are interested in working in these fields must be ready to expand their education to fulfill the promise that all of these opportunities offer.
  8. Make presentations to employers on what expanding and more deeply promoting massage protocols as a part of an integrated treatment plan could mean to their clients and their business. Spas have the client base, but I'm not so sure they fully appreciate the role massage therapy can and should have in client retention by providing much more than just a fun and relaxing experience. Massage can and should offer sustainable value through enhanced wellness to long-term clients.

Unlike any other time in the history of massage, we have the tools to make it more than a household word; we can turn massage into a life-long commitment for the betterment of all concerned. Let's drive the message home while the opportunity exists...home to future clients, educable employers and prospective colleagues.

Click here for previous articles by Linda Riach.


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