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Why we need a Massage Revolution!

Massage therapy needs a face lift!

Massage therapy has come a long way in the past 25+ years. I’m proud to be a part of a growing profession that is gaining more and more credibility with the general public and with the medical community. That being said, it’s time to make the next leap! I’m glad to see 45 states now regulating the industry, but that is just not good enough for me. We need to have all 50 states on board. Period. Without all the states regulating this equally the public’s perception is that massage therapy is just like any other service. We get grouped in with hair dressers, carpet cleaners, window washers, personal trainers and the like. I am in no way putting down these other industries, but they should not be in the same classification as massage therapy! We have something much more to offer than just a “service” or a “luxury”. We offer real, therapeutic and transformative therapy! I want to be in the same breath as Physical Therapy, Doctors and Nurses. How?

We offer more than just a service…

First I want to address those that feel massage therapy should not be regulated at all. At first I was bitterly opposed to the idea until I understood what they are against. The over-inflated regulation of massage. I agree! I feel we are talking about apples and oranges here. Many object to having government over regulate what I consider “spa massage” or “relaxation massage”. I absolutely, 100% agree that this overreach is ridiculous! Why on God’s green earth does someone need to spend 500+ hours in college, study and pass a lengthy exam and continue to receive continued education to renew their license? To do something my mom did for me when I was a kid, that friends do for friends when the have tight shoulders… It’s absurd!

A two licence system is the answer!

This brings me to my next point. A TWO (2) system licensure! One for the “relaxation therapist” who like to create a spa style atmosphere with smelly lotions and essential oils and another license for the “therapeutic” or “medical” based therapist. I have come to find that most therapists fall into one of these two categories and rarely, if ever, do they work both ends of the spectrum. But won’t we be going backwards if we require less education from the majority of massage therapist? Absolutely NOT! With one strong voice we will demonstrate to the mass public that there are very real therapeutic benefits to massage therapy beyond stress relief and increased blood flow. They have been proven time and time again to be more beneficial that surgery, exercise and drugs!

Why have regulations in the first place?

The initial reason behind licensing massage therapists and requiring education was to combat the prostitution that so often accompanied the massage parlors in the past. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! We can now move forward with keeping the regulations that protect the individual and the therapist from all the misunderstanding regarding massage therapy. The general public has now come to accept that massage therapy is a real, non-sexual, service that can help decrease stress and fatigue and increase needed blood flow. The problem we have now is, with ONLY the basic requirements in place, we have massage therapists with only limited understanding of anatomy and physiology working on people with bulging discs, dislocations, sprains and strains, head trauma, and more. We are not “protecting” these individuals from harm because the average individual does not understand how little schooling is required to become a licensed massage therapist, let alone the pathetic requirements for continued education. They now blindly trust that their therapist knows what they are doing….We have solved one problem and have created an entirely different one. As we understand the human body more and more and have studies proving the medical benefits of massage, we need to now up the education level to increase the therapists abilities to address said problems.

500 hours / 1000 hours

Basically, 500 hours is the average across the states, besides NY which requires 1000 hours, for an individual to qualify to take the state board exam. I feel this is way too much for someone only interested in spa massage and absolutely insufficient for a qualified therapeutic/medical massage therapist. So here’s my opinion that I will throw onto the feet of my colleagues and other health care professionals.  250/500 hours for spa massage and 1000/1500 hours for therapeutic/medical massage therapist. The 250/500 hour requirement should be an easy sell for all 50 states to agree on. Its not a ridiculous amount of time to ensure proper basic understand of the human body and also to weed out as many “creeps” as possible with background checks and the need to still pass a basic test. 1000/1500 hours should be sufficient time to understand the basics of therapeutic/medical massage. With a more comprehensive understanding of anatomy and physiology to avoid doing harm. I would also think it would be prudent to require 25-50 hours a year of continuing education to retain one’s therapeutic license while on the other hand a feel a spa therapist should have no such requirements at all.

Let’s talk about the big picture.

I know I will probably (most definitely) make some therapists mad at even the thought of this drastic change. Some may feel its back-stepping for our industry. But please try to think of the big picture. We have the requirements in place and the boards to regulate us. Why? To protect the public and ensure a proper industry. I feel we are failing miserably to protect those seeking a massage therapist to help them with significant medical issues. The average graduate of a massage school does not have the first clue as to how to address a client who has suffered a concussion. The average therapist does not receive a sufficient education to address the pain symptoms stemming from a massive car accident or sports injury. Only now after 15 years in the industry and working with dozens of doctors and therapists do I feel I have really hit the mark of professionally being able to address these issues on my own. I wish I would have had just a little bit more training in school so that I didn’t have to learn the hard way as to what is too much pressure for a client suffering from an acute injury or when it’s prudent to stretch someones neck, back or limb.  Thankfully I have never hurt anyone, but I do realize now that I could have been more effective in my assessments and my execution of more specific modalities. If I have learned just one thing, it is that the longer I do this work, the more I realize how little I know and this gives me the incentive I need to continue searching in my study of the human body. Let the floodgates open!

Written by Jamin Rak

Therapeutic Massage Therapist located in Portland, OR Specializing in: Acute and Chronic Pain including Car Accident Recovery. State of Oregon license #6827. Licensed since 1999. https://plus.google.com/+jaminrak

15 Comments to “Why we need a Massage Revolution!”

  1. Jessica says:

    We certainly have an identity crisis within the massage therapy field. We’re seen as an adjunct to spas, hospitals, and athletics, but rarely as an entity unto ourselves. I suppose this isn’t a bad thing, entirely; it does show our flexibility. However, working part-time in a used bookstore (love it!!!), I hate having to grit my teeth as I’m sticking “A Physician’s Guide to Therapeutic Massage” into the FITNESS section, because that’s apparently where people expect to find us.

    • Jamin Rak says:

      Agreed Jessica! We need to keep fighting to establish our profession, not only to the general public, but also with the medical community as a whole. Most still think of us as just licensed rub-a-dubers…

  2. Hope says:

    Thanks for this post. I agree with this, and have been saying things of a similar vein for a while with little support from the massage community. Although many of us integrate spa type therapies with our clinical knowledge, there are just two very different paths that therapists can take; one has very little credibility and sometimes brings down the credibility of the other. Also, spa type and spiritual services do not require nearly the amount of education or critical thinking skills necessary for a clinical massage practitioner. So to me, it makes perfect sense to have a two-tier licensure/education requirement. I sincerely hope you have more luck than I have had with this argument, because I truly believe if massage therapy is ever going to be accepted and embraced by western medicine then, this (or some similar variation of your proposal) must happen. Just my two-cents.

    • Jamin Rak says:

      Thank you for your kind words. It is amazing how hot this topic can become, mainly with therapist’s who only do relaxation massage. It’s kind of funny because I am saying they shouldn’t be required to do so much if ALL they want to do is relaxation work. I only think it should be a requirement for all FUTURE massage therapists to achieve a higher level of education and those that are grandfathered in should only need to increase their CEU requirements to match those of the new establish curriculum. To me its a win/win, but so many are too quick to get upset and offended that their powers of reason are thrown out the door. The arguments against this idea are the same arguments from 50 years ago that were used against massage therapist getting licensed in the first place… Many other professions have a similar system, nursing for example, and it works great. Those who want to be nurses with added benefits are allowed to get a higher credentialing. Why can’t we have the same with massage therapy? It works in Canada, UK and other countries…and even some states have already stated to head this direction. It just would be nice if all 50 states could move together on this.

  3. Jerry says:

    There are many aspects of massage…cramming them all into a two part measuring cup won’t make a real difference. I see this two part system as a way to separate how massage providers get paid or compensated for time. If you want to make a real difference think of a novel way we be a gift to the world instead of worrying about status. If you want regulation focus on the massage parlors all across the nation. They are a bigger problem with the human trafficking and forced prostitution. Maybe we should focus on people who need our attention instead of how much recognition we can get.

    • Angela says:

      Maybe we relaxation M.T’s. are opposed as relaxation therapist to the suggestions made to new separations of our license because in theory it is a our clients who teach us mostly after often times medical has already been a discouraging process for xyz (clients) and the pain is relaxed away under our gentle hands. I’ve wore the white coat and also barefooted, the only way to get ‘educated’ is to put time in with the bodies regardless of what books are read. If you don’t have a trust established through the the practitioner transmitting to a trusting bodies no deeper healing can transfer.
      When in a medical situation therapy instructions are often the reduced to the smallest medical issue. An example: a finger hurts so the finger is treated, not the hand certainly not the arm and clearly not the shoulder or neck.

      ‘Oh medical massage what will you do to her now. Will you be as beautiful the day I first arrived on your table in 1979? Or does my therapist talk and walk like a white coat institutional demigod.

  4. Angela says:

    I agree with Jerry. His first and last two sentences =truth.

  5. Sara says:

    Jamin- I have been following the thread you started in LinkedIn and the posts here on this subject. I have to say that I’m glad most people seem to have the same opinion as myself. There is no need for a two-tiered licensing. At all.
    Anyone who agrees with this is in the wrong profession.

    • Jamin Rak says:

      I appreciate many points of view and try to respect everyone’s thoughts even if I don’t always agree. We obviously don’t see eye to eye on the reasons I feel this is a necessary discussion to have. I feel it will be pushed on us all weather we like the idea or not. I can see having a medical certificate for massage therapy coming to fruition sooner rather than later. I’m sorry you feel that because I feel the necessity of increased education and regulation, as do the majority of massage therapists I’ve polled, that we shouldn’t be massage therapists.

  6. Jen says:

    They essentially have in place what you are talking about, a Physical Therapy Assistant. In order to provide a suggested stretch, you have to be a PT or a yoga instructor. Would thoses regulations change too? You are on to something, we need more education to make great claims to “fix” people. However reducing the requirements for a “relaxation license” will only sully all of us in the end, not to mention reduce what people want to pay. I am glad in Oregon the confusion with masseuse vs massage therapist has been settled, here in the south I run into shocking ignorace, even though I am right next to Asheville NC (the souths massage Mecca). I believe higher education for all massage therapist should be in order, to pull us out of the muck history has created for us. However the next logical step is to be a Physical Therapy assistant.

    • Jamin Rak says:

      Physical therapy assistance are not licenced to practice with being under the direct supervision of the PT. I don’t want to be an excorcist… I want to be a massage therapist with a certification that proves to the public that they are safe and to the doctor referring their patients that I’ve proved myself. Unfortunately, ceus don’t matter to anyone but myself. They don’t really prove anything to the general public…

  7. I disagree, at least in part. “Just” relaxation massage is highly therapeutic in itself, and a good relaxation massage is addressing the specific body needs of the client. And then there are those (like myself) who focus on the mind/body aspects of therapeutic touch. I definitely don’t do “spa” massage, but I’m not the one to come to for vehicular injury treatment either — which category would you have me be in?

    It helps to remember that the BEST supported, most evidence-based outcome of massage has nothing to do with ROM or performance or even pain: it’s anxiety reduction, both state and trait. That’s what massage does best and most. Where is the acknowledgement of that in your two-tier schema?

    You want more training and more acknowledgement from the medical community for your therapy; I want more training required and more acknowledgement from the mental health community. And I don’t particularly want to denigrate my friends who work in “just” spa settings in the process.

    Whatever the solution is, I don’t think this is it.

    • Jamin Rak says:

      Thank you for your honest opinion of my initial thought process. After much debate and other punts of view via LinkedIn and Google+ I’ve adapted my view point slightly. I still feel a two tiered system would improve much of our industry problems I feel a national accepted certificate program may be where we end up. We need to legitimize massage therapy as a viable modality for pain relief. I did not mean to denigrate “spa massage” or those who just work in a spa. But I’ve noticed many massage therapists tend to reel away from any discussion about increased education levels our improved quality of education especially if all they want to do is relaxation work. I agree. But the medical end does need improvement if we are to be accepted by the communities at large. So maybe a certificate of orthopedic massage that all states accept is the answer. I think it will be even harder to get accepted by the mental health community, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Again, we need to prove what we do with better medical studies. At the same time we also need a baseline of education across the nation so the average doctor didn’t have to look up which states are regulated before making a recommendation to see a massage therapist.

  8. Amy Kramer, LMT says:

    Two license requirements sounds like more intrusive regulations than necessary. Also sounds like another avenue for officials to collect more money for licensure.

    In Texas therapists are required to take x amount of CEU credits per year. It’s our choice which areas to improve on. It IS possible for therapists to educate themselves and perform all types of massage.

    PLEASE!! No more regulations than necessary.

    • Jamin Rak says:

      The main problem with continuing education is that it is completely unregulated with zero quality control. Therefore someone may take a weekend class and have a “medical massage certificate” and the public is non the wiser to the lack of education the practitioner really has. We need better quality and education requirements. Wether or not we actual ever decide to have two licenses or not. Change is necessary and unfortunately that normally requires legislation.

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