What’s in a Name?

I’m abandoning my politics for a moment to have a little rant about something else: modality names.

Rolfing, Feldenkrais, and Trager, for example, are what I would describe as old classics. They’ve been around for many decades, and came about when bodywork and/or movement therapies were still in their infancy, at least in the Western world.

I’ve seen a trend recently, though, that I have to confess bothers me, and that’s the plethora of people naming techniques after themselves.

Last week, I made a post on one of my networks that I was looking for instructors for next year’s lineup of continuing education. I was a little bit shocked that half of the respondents sent me proposals for modalities that they have named after themselves. I’m going to be nice and not name any of these people, or their modalities. I must confess, though, that my first thought whenever I hear about a “new” modality that someone has named after him or herself, is usually that they’re being pretty presumptuous to think that they have actually invented something new, or that they’re on an ego trip.

A rather uppity young man who needed taking down a few notches told my chiropractor the other day that he had invented the “muscle elongation technique.” The chiropractor laughed out loud and said, “Son, don’t kid yourself, I learned that in chiropractic school in 1984.”

I can think of a number of modalities that are kind of unusual that actually could have excusably been named after their developer, but they aren’t, and even a number of massage therapy instructors who are internationally well known, that have resisted the urge to name their techniques after themselves. Kudos to them.

Everything old is new again, as the saying goes. But when I think back on all the things I learned in massage school and all the CE classes I’ve taken in the years since, I think about the basics…the movements of Swedish massage, the trigger point work, the myofascial release techniques, the joint mobilization modalities, and even the energy work. It is what it is.

In my opinion, we’re all standing on the bodywork path because someone trail-blazed the way for us years ago. I tend to take all those things that I’ve learned over the years and roll them into an eclectic mixture of whatever I’m led to do with a specific client on a specific day. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

And don’t hold your breath waiting for “The Laura Allen Method.”  It isn’t on the horizon.

17 Replies to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Love it, Laura.
    I write terms for a medical dictionary, so I am periodically tasked with going through “trademarked” modalities to see what goes in, and who is echoing whose work… the temptation to write a definition for “Wernering” grows every time!

  2. Interestingly Milton Trager MD called it Psychophysical Integration it was others that named it the Trager Approach and as a practitioner of Trager I can tell you naming something after a person has marketing disadvantages. The problem with personal names is they don’t tell you anything about the therapy. It isn’t easy for the public to understand what you are offering and although it may massage the ego to call a technique after yourself, it doesn’t say a lot about what you do. Plus of course all sorts of products might share your name, some of which might be the exact opposite of what you are wanting to convey. A dangerous thing in the internet age.

  3. I agree and agree even more with your comments. It is very difficult to write a textbook when the are multiple names for the same thing. Having been in the massage profession for 30 ish years I thought the situation was actually getting better. I was sadden when I read your post. Oh well, I guess I will set up a Fritzing methods and add to the confusion. Just a joke.

  4. Thank you, Laura! Well said. I’m glad you spoke to this. It always gives me a chuckle when I hear those “new” old modalities named after someone who might have studied the original method, put their personal twist on it, thus deemed it the “newest healing method on the leading edge!”

  5. I am a newly liscenced Massage Therapist But I have followed your articles in Massage Mag for a couple years now. I agree with the whole thing about naming supposed “new” modalities after oneself . That does seem a bit egotistical. Besides aren’t we all in this because somewhere, along the way, we were given the desire, to assist people in healing their bodies, by helping to relieve stress and pain . My personal style ,as described by one of my instructors ,and a fellow student, is Swedish ,with a Little CNT, and Reiki thrown in. I wouldnt exactly call that a new modality, just using what I have had the opportunity to learn, and as you said adapting technique to fit the client based on their individual needs.

  6. Hi Laura .
    You brought up important issue .Honestly I didn’t know that people naming methods by their own names but you probably paid attention that very often practitioners offering new massage methodologies developed personally by them.We should ask this people how this new methodology was developed? In my opinion terrible trend is that many finding some new theories that was published in some professional journals, using it as a reference and immediately offering seminars where teaching techniques that” supposedly” should fit this theory. Phenomena is massive. To me it’s outrageous. It is confusing and even dangerous. Any methodology have to be safe and effective. In order to determine if it is safe and effective you have or to conduct study(but real one with control group) , or therapy methodology have to be proven by evidence-based longtime utilization like Chinese methodologies of hands-on treatments .I think that your post is a very educational for massage practitioners to be aware of this phenomenon as well inventors of “NEW” will not feel free to offer their teachings. Some responsibility must be demonstrated as well respect to our occupation must be shown.
    Best wishes.
    Boris Prilutsky.

  7. Hey Laura! You and me both! And while we are on the topic the modality also has other uses and meanings in other healthcare practices. I try to help student wade through the whole mess by encouraging them to look at the intention of the work, the hand skills involved and to determine for themselves if the person teaching this fabulous new technique/skill set is really teaching you something NEW or are they sharing their version of an old dish. Keep up the good works.

    BTW I offer my clients the “Royal Petement”. Should I copyright and trademark this??
    I trademarked “Wernering” earlier today. ;->

  8. I think I have mixed feelings on this-

    I do think that many therapists do create their own style of worked after taking many classes from various teachers and on different types of massage, but to name it after themselves and teach it is very interesting and troublesome in many ways especially if the do not give credit to the people who came before them. But then why not? If they put something new together based on their experiences and it works- why not? Yes it is a bit egotistical but if they explain what it does or what it is. It is just creating a brand.

    I know I have had lots of diverse training and when people ask me what I do it is hard to describe – Structural integration triggerpoint myofascial release body empowerment method….

    Rolfing, Feldenkrais and Trager have many years of experience and training involved in them. They just want to be like them and it must have started like that for those modalities. I wonder about Rolfing and how it got it’s name too. I know it used to be called something like the Ten Series in the early days.

    I also know when I research the various methods of massage to write about them on my website that I find that most were created out of a persons own health issues or for that of a family member. So why not name it after themselves and their family?

    And yes a better name could be thought of by describing what it does or what solution it provides so people don’t have to guess- I can’t tell you the number of people who don’t have a clue what Rolfing is even to this day! So if you go by that they are shooting themselves in the foot!


  9. Laura,
    I LOVE, not only the way that you think, but the fact that you have the courage to speak your mind! This business should be about helping others and not trying to capitalize on the growing market which is what so many providers and schools are now doing. If someone wants to buy into the egos, it just dilutes the quality of care which can have a negative impact on the profession as a whole. Thank you for proving to me that there are other grounded massage professionals out there because I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in an egotistical cesspool.
    Keep up the good work.

  10. Hi Laura,
    My background is in energy work that has evolved into a focus on the Meridians. I recognized in myself how surgery interrupted the flow of energy across multiple meridians. The more I researched, the more I felt a need to offer a class in how energy blockages along the meridians can be recognized in a client by using information on the intake form, conversation and from visual observation. This class did not offer any acupuncture or acupressure, as the intention was to enhance the therapists perception of what is going on with their client and to enhance their personal technique. At the end of our time together, students were encouraged to check out the resources included in the handouts and if they wanted to learn more about acupressure or acupuncture, to check out professionals in those fields.

    I have enjoyed offering what I call Meridian Massage and feel that the more variety of work that is available, even if very similar to others, the more exposure there is to the general public about choosing to have bodywork.

    I have also experience the person who presents his technique as one of those new modalities. When therapists are checking out new modalities, discretion is important, it might avoid future disappointment when they discover the same/similar instruction during courses in Rolfing, Feldenkrais, etc.


  11. I am a Feldenkrais practitioner, and I have ALWAYS been incredibly annoyed by the name of the modality I teach. I’ll be blunt and say I think Moshe Feldenkrais was also on an ego trip when he named the modality, and frankly his name is an annoying one to pronounce and spell when dealing with the general public (not to mention many people hear “Christ” as the last syllable). Sometimes I avoid the word altogether and use Awareness Through Movement which is a trademark registered to the Feldenkrais Guild of North America. To make a long story short, I agree too, and find the trend annoying even among the “old classics.”

  12. Laura, Very well said. In any field, the tendency is try to reinvent the wheel in an effort to differentiate oneself from the pack. I blame some of it on the whole graduate education thing where students are desperate to find something new to research for a thesis topic, or where a corporation uses an existing technique but wants to sound trendy and cutting edge. Thus, in electrical engineering, for instance, a circuit known since the 1920s as a “flip-flop” became an “astable multivibrator’ somewhere in the early 60s when semiconductor engineers started replicating circuits previously achieved with vacuum tubes. This is not just pure ego, if you were an investment banker would you be more likely to fund research into circuits using flip-flops or astable-mulitvibrators?
    As a massage therapist I make absolutely no claims to do anything in the least bit original, but know that, like every body else, I use a blend of techniques that defines my personal style. The more experience I acquire, the more classes I take, the more sessions that I receive from other MTs, the more my style evolves to be unique in many ways. Meanwhile, various marketing gurus bombard me with advice to make my practice stand out from the crowd. In fact, since, in bodywork, one size does very definitely, not fit all, I have several blends that I use most frequently, depending on the client, and their needs that day, that moment.
    Very recently I have been thinking about offering one particular mix of modalities as a separate protocol. To do this, I need to give it a name. My thoughts have ranged from the catchy “The Triple Whammy Blah, Blah, Blah,” – to the more sedate, i.e. “ The Multi-Action Blah. Blah, Blah,” or to something medical sounding, incorporating buzz-words like syndrome and so on! I have no intention of trying to claim anything patentable, or to start trying to offer CEUs to folks, but I do want to carve out my own small corner of the local market. I certainly have not thought of naming it after myself.
    What do others think?

  13. I agree up to a point. I have no problem with people who’ve been around longer, having generated something relatively unique – such as Aston-Patterning, Feldenkrais, Rolfing – they certainly have the right to call their work that and that is common in our field, there’s a history of it. I have been teaching a form of Deep Massage since 1982. The long name for it is Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method. I somewhat wish it had a different name but as it evolved it seemed the most honest. First I called it Deep Tissue. But what was unique about it was it regarded depth as not just a matter of pressure and change, not just a function of tissue (i.e. recognized the energy side of affecting someone deeply as well structural side of it). So I called it Deep Massage to indicate that it was about affecting someone deeply, not necessarily about more pressure. But that was confused with Deep Tissue. So I added, in some contexts, Deep Massage: The Lauterstein Method. I wish I’d come up with something different as a clear indicator that it not the usual deep tissue approach. I’ve thought of calling it Structural and Energetic Integration – but I’d beware of infringing on Rolfing’s right to Structural Integration. I believe my students mostly call it Deep Massage and that’s fine with me – just the fullest way to indicate that it isn’t deep tissue is with the name too. Maybe I’ll hold a contest and see if my graduates or students can come up with an even better name! After almost 30 years of calling it one thing, that would be an awkward transition. Thanks for bringing up the topic. I am sure in some instances there is exaggeration or immodesty in using one’s name – in other cases it is just one simple way to indicate the approach is unique.

  14. Laura I loved your artice and the replies as well. It is good to hear controversial subjects and the replies of those reading them. When reading your article and replies, I was reminded of an article I wrote on the spur of the moment for Massage World Festival’s Bridge Builder Magazine at one of Michael and Cindy’s MWF events. I cannot print it here because it is too long but if anyone would like to read it they can email to request a copy.
    I titled it, “Just a Little ole; Pissant Massage Therapist” vivianmadison@aol.com

    I was unable to think of an article in such a short time. Then that week, I received 8-9 emails where therapists were writing, “I’m a pediatric massage therapist”, I’m an orthopedic massage therapist”, I’m a medical massage therapist”, I’m a pregnancy massage therapist”, and I’m an oncology massage therapist”.

    So sorry, but in an instant on about the 7th one, well la de da, I thought, I’m just a lil, ole pissant massage therapist.” hearing in my mind, Dolly Parton in a movie, “I’m just a lil’ ole’ pissant country girl.” But the article goes on to say that suddenly therapists are calling them specialists in medical conditions, when in fact, we are all massage practitioners, maybe SPECIALIZING in some techniques. I feel with so many, some taking mini courses, are misleading the public, stating they are something that does not really exist.

    For instance, Medical Massage Therapist…what in the heck is that? If anyone should call themselves that, it should be me I guess, 25 years specializing in injury and disability and insurance cases. Well there is no way I would even begin to think of it.

    I go on though to explain that I do understand why they do it and so much more.
    Sorry to take up space here, just compelled to share this sort of funny and important article I wrote that seemed to fit in with this subject you wrote about.

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