Massage: The Big Picture

I was just cruising through my social media sites, and it has reinforced for me something that I’ve known for quite some time about massage therapists: they’re a caring bunch. That’s not exactly a big surprise; after all, our job is helping people feel better. I’d say a certain amount of caring and compassion is a prerequisite for becoming a massage therapist. We all care about our clients…even when I see posts from people who may not be working in their ideal situation, that’s pretty consistent.

I’ve written over the years about why I think it’s important for massage therapists to care about The Big Picture–to be aware of and involved in what’s going on around them, and I want to expand on that on several fronts. It’s the 4th anniversary of my blog. Humor me, and I’ll tell you why I think it’s important.

I get a lot of “I’m busy running my business. I don’t have time to think about it,” in reply to something I’ve reported about massage regulation and legislation. If you’re in Alabama, why should you care about something happening in Michigan? Here’s the reality check: When something detrimental happens in the regulation of massage, it sets a precedent and makes it easier for it to happen somewhere else. That could be anything from the consistent referencing of our businesses as “massage parlors” in legislative language, something we’ve all wanted to get as far as possible away from, to crazy zoning laws requiring massage businesses to be located in seedy areas zoned for heavy industry, prohibitions on having a massage therapy business located in a shopping mall, or prohibiting massage being performed after 8 pm. Yes, indeed, those are all realities, but if they’re not affecting you personally, people don’t want to think about it. Based on my questioning therapists in the classes I teach, not even 10% have read the entire practice act in their own state. They don’t know the letter of the law even where they’re practicing. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs. I get questions all the time from therapists wanting to know “is it legal for me to do so-and-so?” and while I pride myself on being a fountain of information, it’s all right there on your board’s website. Read it.

Massage is suffering growing pains right now…I think of it as the evolution and revolution of massage. We’re stuck in that place in between being an industry and being a profession. Some don’t care which way it goes. I do. If something affects my right to practice massage, my license, my certification, my teaching of massage therapy, I want to be informed about it, and I want to be in a position to take action on it. I’m a provider of continuing education, approved by the NCBTMB, so I want to keep up with what they’re doing–and any other developments in the realm of teaching CE. At the current time, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards is working towards giving their own approval of continuing ed. I’m watching that like a hawk, because a) it could mean I have to fill out an application to get another approval from another entity–or even individual approval from each state I teach in b) it could end  up costing me more money for another approval, although that hasn’t been decided yet and c) if my class isn’t involved directly in public protection, it might not be approved at all. This initiative is still in the planning stages, and it serves me as a provider to stay informed and know what’s going on.

In the same vein of education, I am a member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and I encourage everyone else who has any involvement in education to join immediately. The Alliance is working on a project to define teaching standards on a national level…to spell out the knowledge, skills, and attributes that one needs to have in order to teach both entry level massage and CE. What if I don’t live up to those standards; will I be cast into the abyss? I don’t want to be clueless about what’s going on. I want to have some input into that project–and if you’re teaching, or aspiring to, you should want the same thing. This is going to happen; not overnight, but it is going to happen. I don’t intend to be the last to know. I’d rather make the effort to be involved in the process. I will never forget the statement made by Jan Schwartz at the last Alliance meeting: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” I don’t intend to be chopped liver.

Then we’ve got the massage therapy associations. A lot of people just sign up for membership because they want the insurance, and they don’t care about the leadership, or the government relations, the networking opportunities, or anything else. I personally do care who is running them–and what they’re actually doing. I personally do care what they’re doing on the front of government relations. State boards cannot lobby–that is the domain of AMTA and ABMP–and any special interest group who has the wherewithal to hire a lobbyist–like the chiropractic associations, for example, or PT associations who think we’re encroaching on their territory. And if I think one of my membership associations is doing something that doesn’t protect the rights of massage therapists, or serve the highest good on that front, I am perfectly capable of calling them up and giving them an earful–or taking my membership dollars right out of the coffers. Let me add that my legislators also hear from me, and if I don’t like what they’re doing, I let them know that, and I don’t vote for them the next time.

Related to education, to me anyway, is the state of evidence-based practice of massage and the need for research literacy. I support the Massage Therapy Foundation, and if you have a single dollar to spare, I suggest that you support it, too. Research literacy should be taught in every massage school. I’ll go further and say the teaching of that should be mandated by state boards who license schools. Frankly, any school who is not teaching their students how to be research literate is not worth their salt. That doesn’t mean you have to be a researcher. It means you have to know what constitutes valid research and how to find it…which in turn will lead to throwing out some of the long-standing “myths of massage” that are perpetuated. If you’re still teaching that massage is detoxifying the body and that drinking a lot of water after the massage will flush those toxins out, you’re in dire need of research literacy. I just completed my first peer review and site visit for COMTA, and I am happy to say that the teaching of research literacy is one of their required standards. I have a new appreciation for them after really delving into their standards and it would be a great thing for every school to seek that accreditation. Basically, for a school or massage program, it means “I’m doing more than the state requires me to do in the interest of higher standards.” Amen to that.

I think a major stride was made a couple of months ago when the leaders of the profession all came together for the Massage Therapy Leadership Summit. Ego and personal agendas had to be left at the door. The ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, COMTA, FSMTB, MTF, and the NCBTMB came together for the first time to discuss common problems. They’ll be doing it again in 2012. This wasn’t a “my organization is better than your organization” meeting. This was about The Big Picture.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I can’t roll along just surviving and only caring about my own clients and my own business. It’s not just about me. It’s not just about you. It’s about The Big Picture and massage therapy on the whole.

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