It is the time to go back to the roots

Below, I am including a link to the article that was published in “Massage today” in 2005.

The title of the article was:  Should Massage Therapists Use the Term “Medical” Massage

2005 was the time when massage therapy community started its division. I'm not the smartest guy on the block, but I know that when some professionals in a professional field start proclaiming superiority over other professionals, it's dividing the house, and the divided house cannot sustain itself.

Before 2000, as a massage community, we did much better, in comparisons to 2005. As they say: “The proof is in the pudding” - in 2000 public’s out-of-pocket expenditure on massage procedures was $6 billion, while in 2005 it was $3,5 billion.

How did this division start? Already since 2000, some people started proclaiming themselves “advanced massage therapists.” This was done to charge clients more money, or just to feel “the superior”.  After all, whom would you rather be inclined to pay a higher fee for a session a “regular” therapist or to “advanced” one?

In attempts to accentuate their uniqueness, these people started to coin different alternative names for massage techniques they performed. Little by little, we as a field started losing the unity in professional representation.  The public and the medical community started to get confused whom to hire.  As a result, our entire field lost its trust in the eyes of the public and the medical community.  As the public has become confused about massage therapy profession, massage schools started to enroll fewer students, and of course, the membership in trade association was decreased.  As I mentioned above this resulted in public out-of-pocket expenditure on massage procedures dropped from $6 billion to 3,500 billion.

Surely, the field is evolving and new methodology could be developed.  However, for the sake of the benefit of the entire massage field, the naming conventions should be kept under the umbrella of massage field.

How could this be done elegantly?  Let me bring forward the example of Medical Massage.  On the record, I was the first who introduced the term Medical Massage in America. Twenty-three years ago, I produced my first instructional VHS. A few years later, Dr.RossTurchaninov published the great Medical Massage Textbook. Many American therapists, loved this name, and adopted the term Medical Massage in their practice, even though their implied meaning was different than the meaning Dr, Turchaninov and I attributed to this term.

Both of us were trained to perform medical massage protocols based on the segment reflex massage concept, as it was proposed by the Soviet physician professor Anatoli Sherback. Since in Russia this type of massage was primarily used in the medical setting, it was a common knowledge that medical massage is based on the concept of“segment-reflex massage.” Therefore, should this be in Russian setting, such voluntarist appropriation of the term Medical Massage could have raised some eyebrows and become the issue of a conflict?   

To me, this slight inconsistency didn’t make any difference, since any massage therapy is about results. If using a certain method, one could deliver sustainable results and feels comfortable calling this method Medical Massage, so be it. As long as collectively, we called ourselves massage therapists, as an industry, we’d continue to do well.The public and the healthcare professionals knew us as massage therapists and knew that we delivered results.  

The influx of alternative names was only one side of the problem that infected the industry.  The other side was the initiative to increase the number of study hours to become the member of the professional association.

Before 2000, a person could become a member of trade association if he or she went through massage program.  Somewhere between 2000 and 2005, the rules were changed and now a person could become a member of association only after going through 500 hours.  To me, this approach seemed erroneous and in 2005 I wrote an article about it for Massage Today.  After sending it to massage today, I also gave it for a review to my American friend, a student of mine (at the time he was a retired MBA from Columbia University, majoring in Political Economy).

Having read my article, he told me:” Boris, this article will not be published because you speak out against the powerful special interest groups.” When I asked him to explain, he told me that trade associations demand 500 hrs. of training, while Title IV schools teach 720-hrs programs, to be qualified for federal financial aid.  Thus, because of my proposal, they will be deprived of the large sums of money. In my article, I proposed that 200 hours is sufficient length program to teach a massage therapist to perform a full body medical stress management massage.

I couldn't agree with my friend and said:” Quite the contrary, what I proposed was to everyone’s benefit, including the interest of trade association and title IV schools, it was the interest of the entire massage therapy fields.”At that time, I used to run massage school approved by the state of California. My program contained around 760 hours of training: the basic obligatory program and optional CE programs. Today the new owners converted my school to title IV, and run the same 760 hours program, but obligatory for all the students.  Because of the formalistic approach to the issue, the enrollment in professional massage association was falling, but neither professional association nor massage schools were doing anything about it.

These problems were corroding the massage industry like an infection. At the time, I felt that if the situation would not be corrected, it will continue destroying the field as we as a field would lose the professional identification. My friend said that most likely I was correct. “However, mark my words, if accidentally your article will be published, you will become the enemy of the state.”

” It will never happen,” I replied as I was confident that my proposal will stop dividing the community, which was to everybody’s benefit.

As it turned out, the article did get published. However, one of the editors, the nice lady by the name of Rebecca, was immediately fired. My friend was positive that she was fired because she accepted my article. I still don’t know what was the true reason. Yet what I know is that 13 years later, the entire massage therapy industry is in a much worse shape, and is divided.

From my experiences, I can conclude that there is no superior methodology of treatment. Rather there are great massage therapists, and there are those that are not as good. There are therapists that deliver great results, and those whose results are not as good.Regardless of how much one knows and how good her/his hands-on performances are, there is always a huge room for improvement in your professional skill. The sky is the limit.

I strongly believe that now it the time to come back to the roots, the way it was 24 years ago, when our professional field was called massage therapy fields, and all of us used to be proud to be a massage therapist. At that time, many of my students used to make more than $100,000 a year. The massage therapy field was collectively delivering a massive good outcome, and therefore the entire field got the recognition by the public, which spent $6 billion out-of-pocket on the helpful massage therapy procedures.

Here is the link to the 2005 article.

It looks like, the forecast given in this article, was indeed correct.Yet I am not stricken by joy because that as today the conditions within our industry are far from being great.

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