Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I’ve spent the past couple of weekends teaching at AMTA meetings; first in SC and this past week in Alaska. One of the classes I taught at both meetings was “Using Research to Market Your Massage Therapy Practice.” I’ve been on my research soapbox for a while now. The big question is, “Who gives a flip about research?” My answer to that is, inquiring minds want to know.

Except when they don’t want to know. Consider this: IF research validates an idea, a theory, or a belief you’ve had, doesn’t that make you happy? Don’t you want to give a thumbs-up and shout “Yes! I knew it all the time!” That would make anyone feel good, wouldn’t it?

So when research shows something that’s contrary to what we believe, we don’t like that. We don’t want to accept it. We don’t want to listen to it. We want to act as if it doesn’t exist, or that it applies to everyone except us.

I’ve been surfing PubMed this afternoon and reading interesting studies. I don’t have any research to back it up, but my educated guess is that maybe, just maybe, 20% of massage therapists actually read research studies…or even know what the difference is in a peer-reviewed study performed within the parameters of scientifically accepted procedures, as opposed to website hype making all kinds of unfounded claims.

I’ve also been on a roll lately looking at some of the more dubious products that are out there that massage therapists buy into, and foist upon the uninformed public. Some of my favorite (NOT!) claims are: Causes detoxification. Regulates the endocrine system. Flushes your lymphatic system. Gets rid of cellulite once and for all. Causes you to lose weight without making any effort. Contains negative ions. Balances your chakras while simultaneously regenerating your brain cells and your liver and revitalizing your sex drive. Makes your body totally alkaline. Connects more strands of your DNA…I could go on all day, but you get the picture.

Most people, if they’re going to buy a new car, do a little research…they want to know the gas mileage, the safety rating, the bells and whistles they get for the money they’re paying. And they wouldn’t buy a house without checking out the foundation and whether or not there’s mold in the basement. But the same people will buy some whacky, over-priced gizmo that doesn’t have any basis in reality and couldn’t possibly do all, if any, of what it claims to do, without doing any research at all, other than reading the hype that appears on the website or listening to the sales pitch at a multi-level marketing meeting.

The sad thing is, I don’t think most of these people are just seeing the dollar signs and thinking about how much money they can bilk clients out of. They just fall into believing these things actually work.

The Code of Ethics states that we are to avoid giving treatment when there is no benefit to the client and the only benefit is our own financial gain. It would serve everyone to think about that the next time they’re tempted to spend money on frivolous products with no proven benefits. If YOU want to lay out the big bucks for something and use it on YOURSELF, that’s one thing, but when you make claims to clients that this (machine, product, supplement, etc) is going to change their life, cure their disease, get rid of their pain, or whatever, that’s a clear-cut violation and one that you ought to be aware of. Do the research. Don’t just fall for every word on the company’s website and repeat that to the client like it’s fact. It isn’t.

3 Replies to “Inquiring Minds Want to Know”

  1. Laura,

    I very much appreciate all mentions of research literacy and relevancy within the massage profession! For over a decade now, health care has been rapidly moving into managed care that is delivered by teams of primary and complimentary providers that demonstrate only the best known evidence-based practices.

    You make several good points about the importance of research within the massage profession. I would like to add one more: third party reimbursement methods. This point requires a few dots to be connected. Insurance companies, medicare/medicaid, flex spending accounts, and large-scale corporate wellness programs have an incentive to cover services that show consistent, positive results that are cost-effective, and that consumers/patients want. Third party payer decision makers look ONLY to evidence-based practices and are both aggressively ending coverage for non-evidence based practices AND beginning to cover emerging evidence-based practices — like massage therapy.

    If the massage industry on a whole, makes it a priority to become research literate, in addition to supporting and participating in research studies, the integration of massage into every part of the American health care (including the rapidly growing wellness and prevention) industry will be expedited.

  2. Thank you, Laura, for making such an important point in a powerful and effective way.

    It is truly very hard to let go of beliefs we hold dear, or to face the fact that our teachers didn’t always teach us the right thing, or to see other MTs publicly making errors without even knowing that they’re doing so.

    The moral distress these things cause us can be very painful. I think that MTs who choose to meet that moral distress head-on, despite how hard it is, deserve a lot of credit for their courageous engagement.

    For so consistently supporting us in that process over the years, I genuinely thank you.

  3. Dear Laura,

    I hope we get to meet and talk some day. I have been an outspoken “critic” for many many years in the industry. Not always a fun place to be or to make widespread support.
    Anyway. After thousands of students have gone through my classes I can reassure you that your 20% guesstimate is probably exceedingly high.
    Students want primarily something very pragmatic. Teach them what releases the neck. Or the low back. Or how to know a “glamour” system that is a hot seller in the industry for a time.
    This is not an academic industry. You, myself and others are academic as well as hands on right brain. But I am sure my colleagues will collaborate on students not coming for academia, such as research statistics, etc.
    I unfortunately have to also disagree from a great deal of experience with the idea that people are well informed car buyers. I am a car lover since teens. I know them and keep more informed than most salesmen ( whom I have several as friends).
    Plus there is one last item to look at.
    Research is bias. The drug companies are the major exhibitors of this fact. I help people design research projects as a Holistic Psychology Chairperson for IUPS. There are many ways to design a research project. And many ways to create the population that is tested. And a truly significant test population for a massage project is very difficult under rigorous empirical research standards.
    I did what is to the best of my knowledge the first empirical Body Psychology research project for my dissertation, “The Effects of Deep Tissue and Energy Point Massage on MMPI and POI Test Results.”
    My population was 32 people. I did the hands on and all other aspects to eliminiate any variable.
    The results were very significant. But they were only for 32 people. I could not do much more than that in each week.
    If I wasn’t the practitioner, would the results have been different? Were they consistant over time? ( 6 months or a year later?)
    Every research hands on project will be a variable of who the practitioner is. this is a huge variable. Then there will be the different population for different studies.
    So many variables.
    But one thing is unquestionable. Just like it was for the acupuncture study for insurance billing. Massage WORKS!!!
    I agree with Christie that we need research to get what we deserve, insurance compensations.
    One last thing. Don’t make research a false god. Many things have been “proven” at one point in history and then clearly demonstrated later to be fallacious.
    Thank you for speaking out on what you believe.

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