Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kindly remove your fantasies from my profession.

I am a critical thinker and an outspoken fan of the scientific method.  Which is why it probably seems strange to some people that I am also a massage therapist by trade.

I do massage because it feels good.  I was drawn to it after experiencing massage while healing from my own spinal surgeries; precisely the kind of anecdote I now write off as nonevidential.  Massage is poorly studied (a problem I often dream of correcting), but there are indications that it is beneficial for chronic low back painosteoarthritisfibromyalgiachemotherapy-induced nausea, and a host of others.  (Here you can find a great list of things for which massage has been studied on a small scale, most of which are punctuated by the maddening phrase, "Further research is needed.")

I recognize that the benefits of massage are partially intangible.  There is something about taking an hour for yourself, during which you are listened to, touched in a therapeutic manner, and generally cared for that works wonders for your sense of well-being.  I am even willing to acknowledge that these less measurable details are probably responsible for the oft-bullet-pointed benefits of massage: lowering blood pressure, decreasing anxiety, reducing headaches, etc.  To go one step further, I'll even admit that our #1 showing on the osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia studies is probably due to the current dearth of medical treatments for those conditions.

So in the end, I do massage because it makes people feel better.  I don't make promises I can't keep; I can't cure anything, but I am pretty sure that I can make you feel better.

Which is why the massage community drives be absolutely batty.

In massage school, I had my first introduction to the world of "energy therapies."  This stuff was integrated seamlessly into our training, but it just never made sense to me.  We were learning real things, things that made sense, and then they would throw this energy stuff into the mix and blow my mind altogether.

I thought I had some sort of mental block.  I tried to understand it in my own terms.  I even sought to reconcile this stuff with what I knew by thinking, 'they say energy, I think emotions.  It's really the same thing.'

But it turns out, I did have a mental block.  My brain is pre-programmed to reject nonsense.

Massage therapy is the manipulation of soft tissues for the purpose of muscular relaxation.  So how - HOW - did the massage world get so tangled in woo?  How did reikicraniosacral therapyreflexology, or anything involving qi get so ingrained into our practice?  Why must one accept nonsense as a prerequisite to practice massage?

It's not just my city or the MT's I know.  It is prolific throughout the U.S., and if internet forums are any indication, the world.  Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) is the largest professional organization for massage therapy in the States.  Here is a sampling of cover stories from the last few issues of its publication, Massage & Bodywork:
  • Energy and the Integrative Vision
  • Reflexology Relief
  • BodyReading the Meridians
And there are many more pseudoscientific gems within its pages, interspersed with a few great articles about massage therapy practice.

I just don't - can't - understand why, with such a fantastic tool (massage) at our disposal, the massage community at large has elected to beef up its image with absolute nonsense.

Earlier this year in Texas, a bill was introduced that addressed 23 different CAM modalities, each one of which was either too vague to define any specific practice, or complete and utter nonsense.  (If you care to read the bill, here you go.)  Essentially, this bill specified that those practices were CAM, were not meant to diagnose or treat anything, and their practitioners were not licensed to perform them.  It allowed for any person to seek out these "treatments," and required that the unlicensed practitioner provide the client with a printed form containing specific verbiage, all to let the client know that they were getting an unproven treatments from an unlicensed, probably untrained person.

Immediately, the massage world went into fits.  You see, passage of this bill would have prohibited massage therapy schools, which must follow a state-prescribed curriculum, from teaching any of the 23 CAM modalities listed.  That means that not only would they have been barred from teaching energy healing in the basic licensure programs, but they would not have been able to offer CEU classes in craniosacral therapy, Shiatsu (or any other TCM), aromatherapy, Ayurveda, or a few other brands of woo.

I understand that this impacts the schools' cash flow, and I don't wish to harm them in that way.  But I am just a little bit offended that the institutions whose purpose is to teach massage therapy - real, scientific, measurable - will fight so adamantly for their right to teach nonsense.

It's like teaching a class on reindeer training and gift delivery methods, branding it Clausology, and then fighting for your right to practice it unfettered.  

This concludes my rant for the evening, and probably my presence in the good graces of dozens of massage therapists.


  1. In programming, we use one word to describe this imposition of pseudo-scientific hogwash: management.

  2. I love massages but I am sure the second the massage therapist started to talk woo with out being able to explain it away as something figurative when pressed, I would get out of there. I don't want energy manipulation. I want someone to rough up my knots into submission and make me feel good.