The Good and the Bad of Massage

The Good and the Bad of Massage

As a massage therapist since 1986, I’m still surprised at some of the outlandish and outdated opinions about massage therapy. Some of it is geographic. In California, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a person to have their own psychiatrist, acupuncturist and massage therapist. People would say, “It’s very L.A.” But in some areas of the country many people confuse massage with prostitution.

Or limit massage to relaxation only and who needs that? Well we all do!

But for decades the profession of massage therapy has been trying to educate the public and medical establishment that bodywork has benefits which move well beyond relaxation.

The good news is that the last 10 years has seen an increase in massage research:

  • Studies from the Touch Research Institute have shown that massage can effectively reduce anxiety and stress by lowering cortisol (stress hormone) and increasing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine (‘feel good’ hormones).
  • Human Resource Surveys report that employees who receive regular massage (either on-site or after work) are more productive and call in sick less.
  • Organizations such as NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine), The Massage Therapy Foundation,  and The Touch Research Institute have been funding a publishing massage research studies.

The bad news is that there is still a great deal of misinformation out there, some of it from massage therapists:

  • Massage therapists tend to use popular key words, such as “sports massage” or “clinical massage” without having the skill or the experience to accurately offer those types of massages. This has the effect of misinforming the public. If the massage is poorly done, then the client associates it with the type of massage that the therapist was selling.
  • Unfortunately, there are a few massage therapists who offer “happy endings”. By crossing this boundary, massage therapy is pushed back to the field of prostitution. This also creates a sleazy client who expects this service from legititmate therapists. The lifetime show “The Client List” touched a raw nerve in the massage therapy profession because of it’s portrayal of this dark reality.
  • Massage therapy regulations by state are outdated. There are still areas in California where you can get a massage license for only 100 hours of education. A few states like New York have elevated massage therapy education to the level of an Associates degree (1200 hrs). Most states require only 500 hours (1 year). Many of my clients who travel, regularly complain to me about massages they have received in other states.

 What can be done?

  • Massage organizations such as the AMTA are actively lobbying state lawmakers to increase the hours of massage education. Thereby elevating the profession and standardizing the training in this country. With state budgets being cut, it is important for therapists and state organizations need to get involved.
  •  As a profession, we should be educating the public, law enforcement and the medical community. Therapists need to get out into the community and promote the profession not just their own practice.
  • Use the published research to create new opportunities for massage therapists in health and medical settings.

In the last 26 years, I’ve seen many positive changes in the perception of massage as well as some of the hiccups. I’ve met some amazing therapists, worked with wonderful clients and taught excellent students who became compassionate healers. I’m hopeful that the profession continues to be taken seriously and people are able to benefit from regular massage therapy.

When looking for a qualified massage therapist, do your due diligence. Ask for referrals from friends and family, inquire at local massage schools for new graduates and check websites like the AMTA.

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