Most of the time when the media, or Hollywood, casts a light on massage, it seems to be a paraphrase of Rodney Dangerfield’s classic line, “We don’t get no respect.”

The latest hue and cry is over the upcoming new lifetime series, The Client List, in which Jennifer Love Hewitt is a massage therapist/prostitute who is of course just doing it because she needs the money to feed her kids. Last year it was that picture of a race car driver getting a massage from a skimpily dressed massage therapist, and the year before that it was The View. Last Halloween, I got ticked off about a costume that was labeled “Massage Therapist” and included a skimpy lingerie outfit and fishnet stockings. And always, always, the “massage parlor” busts make the news, while the therapists who work their fingers to the bone actually helping people rarely get on tv. While I hate these things as much as the next legitimate massage therapist, I do try to keep it in perspective. The same shelf in the costume store had a skimpy nurse outfit. There are tv shows portraying crooked cops…it doesn’t mean every cop is crooked, but it’s a stereotype that we’ve bought into, and it’s the same with  us. We’ve been trying to separate ourselves from the sex stereotype for many years, and my guess is we’ll have to continue to do so.

Worse to me than the way the media portrays us is the way our lawmakers stereotype us. Legislation is afoot in several places that just serves to hold us back as a profession. HB 2387/SB2249 in Tennessee, which I first reported on several weeks ago, will remove massage therapy from under the division of health-related boards and move it to the jurisdiction of the commerce and insurance division–the division that regulates “trades.” Bottom line, massage therapy would be a “trade,” not a “profession,” and insurance companies don’t pay tradespeople. They pay professional health care workers. That bill was referred to the Government Operations Committee on Jan. 13 and no further action has yet been taken.

A similar situation is happening in Florida with SB 1860. I just finished reading the latest analysis of this bill, which was updated 02/03/2012. Among other things, SB 1860 removes the right of massage therapists to bill for PIP insurance. The analysis states the following:

The Consumer Advocate’s report found rapid growth in the number of procedures billed from 2005 to 2010. The largest increases were found for “Massage, 15 minutes” and “Therapeutic Exercise, 15 minutes” which each increased by approximately 2.6 million units from 2005 to 2010.  Specifically, “Massage, 15 minutes” increased from approximately 1.42 million units in 2005 to approximately 4.05 million units in 2010, while therapeutic exercise increased from approximately 713,000 units in 2005 to 3.36 million units in 2010. These two procedures are now the two most commonly billed procedures in the PIP system.

The Consumer Advocate’s report also presented data on increases in the average charge per claimant by provider. Average charges by massage therapists saw the greatest increase, increasing from $2,887 in 2005 to $4,350 in 2010. The second largest increase was by acupuncturists, whose average charge increased from $2,754 in 2005 to $3,674 in 2010. In contrast, the average charge by an orthopedic surgeon only increased $126 from 2005-2010, billing on average the comparatively smaller figure of $2,810 in 2010. As of 2010, massage therapists and acupuncturists issue the largest average charges of any medical provider that bill within the PIP system.

This bill is really about fraud. Another part of the analysis states that the number of “staged” car accidents in FL doubled in a year’s time. People are milking the system. And while it’s nice to know that their favorite thing to milk it for is massage therapy, that’s really working against us here.

How do we get the respect we deserve? And do we really deserve it? Some of us think we do. Some of us want to advance massage therapy and integrate it into the full realm of mainstream health care. The way to accomplish that is by acting like health care providers, by becoming research literate and supporting the evidence-based practice of massage. It’s just my opinion that is the key to massage therapists earning respect. Others say if we want to be thought of as health care providers we should just become PTs instead. I don’t buy that. I think what we do is good enough to be considered in and of itself.

We can complain to Lifetime TV and The View when the situation arises, but it’s much more important to complain to our legislators. I’ve been preaching this sermon for years, and I’ll continue to preach it until I’m gone. If all the people who holler about stereotypes on television and write letters to Lifetime would write one to their lawmakers and insurance commissions, it would be a great thing.

And now for a shameless solicitation: The Massage Therapy Foundation is working to fund research in the massage therapy profession, to teach research literacy, and to advance the evidence supporting massage therapy as a vital part of health care. For Valentine’s Day, I am asking everyone to show some love and to donate $14 to the Massage Therapy Foundation. You can do that by clicking here.

16 Replies to “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

  1. Laura, great sermon and thanks for the P-e-r-s-p-e-c-t-i-v-e! Massage is now mainstream. When that happens people get to have fun spoofing and creating fictional shows about the “bizness”.

    You are right about the legislative process. It is much more important to use your (our) energy to lobby for our place in the healthcare arena than to spend precious energy and resources railing against something that is fictional. (You and I could write a book about the cases we have seen that seem similar to this show). The show is just a show. The ability to bill appropriately for PIP or other health services is an economic issue. Obviously, legislators see massage therapists in a negative light. Let’s teach them something different. Call and write your legislators, be polite, give them a treatment so they know what MASSAGE is really about. People are confused about massage because some want to be unregulated while others want to be more academic. We can’t have both, confusion reigns. Result? = expect more of the same.

    Want something different? Elevate your game! Take action, serve on your state board of massage, speak up for the benefits of massage and adhere to the basic tenets of healthcare. “Do no harm.”

    I’ve seen lots of harm to the public. Sexually oriented massage is only the tip of the iceberg! If you doubt that massage therapists have not harmed people you are an ostrich. Contact me if you’d like a small sampling from my files.

    If you have a client who has been harmed by another therapist, help them by filing a complaint.

  2. Excellent, Laura. This is exactly why we need competency-based education across the country, why we need well trained teachers, and why we need a research literate community of therapists. Thanks for your clear and straight forward writing.

  3. Does anyone have actual numbers on how many therapist actually bill insurance in Florida?
    I’m willing to be the number is actually less than 15%.
    I did my part and made the calls and emails.

    Let’s talk about the dirty little secret the DOH doesn’t want us to say out loud. It costs the board and average $6,000 to investigate each reported unlicensed establishment. They don’t have the funding to investigate 1/4 of them.
    I’ve reported unlicensed activity til I’m blue in the face to the local responsible investigator. He has told me outright “Thanks for the info but We just don’t have time to look into it”.

  4. Write (sic) on Laura ! The anointed, appointed (and sadly) elected legislators need our collective voices and actions to be heard loud and clear. “I am a professional manual therapist and I vote”.

  5. Physician, heal thyself!

    No irony at all that I found this blog posting on a message board of one of the profesisonal associations in which there was extensive debate as to whether or not to provide sessions sans draping.

    If “licensed professionals” in regulated states are having this debate, and very strongly defending the position of au naturale services, why are you surprised when an MT is portrayed wearing a bikini? At least they are showing less flesh than their undraped clients!

    Until MTs stop being either own worst enemy, they can’t expect the media to treat them with more respect than they treat themselves.

  6. Thank God. Somebody agrees with me. Everyone’s getting all hot and bothered about this. There’s just no point. Keep plugging forward and focus on how to better ourselves in the profession. Stop spreading negativity on Lifetime’s fan page site (and Les, stop encouraging it). We are above blasting uneducated companies that choose to sensationalize any and all careers.

  7. I actually wonder though if it is because of many massage therapists themselves taking advantage of car insurance that pays more than other – or does it there in FL?

    I have heard of many MT charging $150 -$450 for an hour of massage and getting it. I would love to see a study on just what MT are charging insurance and how long they are treating people. I have also seen and heard many MT here in WA who will continue to work on people doing maintenance massage just because the insurance will pay – or used to pay without asking questions.

  8. I’m shocked, shocked I telll you. MTs charging outlandish rates when insurance pays vs cash customers? Who do they think they are, HMOs? And we wonder why the cost of health insurance is out of reach for so many….

  9. It bothers me to see some lmt’s still afraid to voice their opinion. This is toward the therapist saying we need to stop spreading negative on lifetime. Therapist like you is why we don’t get the respec.t .we need to take a stand for our career and occupation, administrative assistance took a stand and now have a union to gain respect, nurses didn’t have the respect they have now for years. Factory workers, and the list goes on but they stood there ground. We can too.

  10. I was approached with a “petition” regarding sending a message to Lifetime…on behalf of what-seemed-to-be massage therapists signors.
    While I do not appreciate the glorification and exploitation (of the Producers of the show) at the cost of our industry staying out of the light of the New Age and being relegated to the Dark Ages, I have to consider:

    what is a Petition?

    I thought it was legislative in nature…so why are therapists using change.org to express what-seems-to-be their every [subjective, IMHO] opinion?

    I like how the AMTA wrote on behalf of its 55,000 members to the Producers of the View – can’t we depend on a responsible and responsive professional Association? Why or Why not? I say we can when the organization of the Association makes it a priority – “the AMTA speaking” makes the news (affecting a larger, stereotypical audience)… and an impact.

    Laura: thank you for another well-written sentiment supporting professionals who realize: complaining gets a profession nowhere – doing something about it, like changing the Honorable Legislators’ minds and educating the Client (like a few of those Producers need an education) needs to be the spearhead of our efforts to change the Public perception.

    Stereotypes change when the Stereotyped change.

  11. Thanks for your ideas. One thing I’ve noticed is banks and financial institutions have in mind the spending patterns of consumers while also understand that many people max away their real credit cards around the breaks. They wisely take advantage of this fact and start flooding your current inbox as well as snail-mail box having hundreds of Zero APR card offers immediately after the holiday season finishes. Knowing that for anyone who is like 98% of American community, you’ll jump at the opportunity to consolidate consumer credit card debt and shift balances towards 0 rate credit cards.

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