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Features Op-Ed
Despite Our Differences

In the massage therapy profession, we seem to disagree a lot. We argue whether or not spa therapy has value compared to rehabilitative massage


April 10, 2013
By Don Quinn Dillon


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In the massage therapy profession, we seem to disagree a lot. We argue whether or not spa therapy has value compared to rehabilitative massage (both approaches serve entirely different markets), if practice should be guided by evidence instead of traditional knowledge and experience (why not both?), and if we should advance our credentials via a degree-level program in anticipation (and a great deal of assumption) of attaining more credibility and better positioning in a resource-strapped health-care system.

Practitioners yearn to dialogue and debate the jugular issues. Our training colleges can fail to maintain contact with their graduates, other schools, the professional association or regulatory body. These profession stakeholders, in turn, are just as guilty of fraying the lines of communication. Opportunities to apprentice, to collaborate as part of a team, and to debate the fundamental problems facing massage therapists on a day-to-day basis are few and far between.

Entry-level massage therapists with few contacts and little capital or business experience rely heavily on practitioners with established practices – or managers of spas and rehab facilities – to show them the ropes and create opportunities they themselves are not yet capable of creating. Financial ignorance, transience, fear of the regulatory body and distain for impotent representation by some massage therapist associations compounds the problem.

Remarkably, despite the privation of fertile ground to cultivate massage therapist practices, we somehow forge ahead. Massage therapy remains an underdog in the convoluted and tightly wound medical hierarchy but remains high in public appeal nonetheless. Despite competition from better-organized, better-resourced and more mature disciplines in both Western medicine and the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) fields, massage therapy remains buoyant.

We should not rest on our laurels, for the existing threats mentioned above have magnified in the turn-of-the-century depressed economy. In the name of professional preservation, there has never been a more acute time to pool resources and get organized.

Whatever fractures us as a profession – ideology, bureaucracy, provincial boundaries, isolation – let’s agree to find common ground and support practitioners. Whether rehabilitation, spa, workplace wellness, complementary and alternative/integrated medicine . . . massage is coveted, is demanded by the marketplace and has a real contribution to make to society.

Strategies for improvement
“If I were King of the land,” here are the steps I would mandate:

Cultivate thought-leaders
I think we should focus on bringing our brightest together in a physical or virtual symposium to discuss the key issues: finding viable business models, determining how to support RMTs-turned-business owners; learning how to manage multiple identities/market sectors served; ensuring the quality of training colleges, accreditation and interjurisdictional competencies; mitigating incredulity with government, insurance industry, gatekeeper disciplines and pubic/media; and advancing regulation and research. The objective of this think-tank: put forth tangible solutions to address core profession issues head on.

Involve all stakeholders
Once initial recommendations are formed, we would share the findings with massage practitioners across the country for their reflection, input and to enrich the plausible solutions put forth. Educators and training school administrators, regulators, researchers, suppliers, publishers and employers would all be invited to help us shape our direction.

Get to know ourselves
We need to poll practitioners across the country on key benchmarks – net income levels, work capacity compared to actual workload, type of practice/market sector served, age, gender, rural or urban, perceived obstacles to work (physical, business or manual/technical expertise, resources), years of practice and employment status – employee, self-employed or business owner of group practice. We will need a lot more information regarding the health and demo/psychographics of our practitioners if we are to support them in building practices.

Ensure resources for professional associations
In order to function at optimal levels, our associations need to hire great support staff and ensure sustainable funding for operations. Associations can pool resources and leverage power to obtain preferred pricing for member services/products, launch a national public/media relations campaign, offer excellent professional development programs, support research, exert political influence on government health-care and taxation policy, improve insurance industry and gatekeeper health practitioner relations while dealing with exploiters and profiteers, and continue to poll members as to viewpoints, professional practice benchmarks and emerging expertise.

Collaborate
RMT association representatives would identify shared resources, craft strategic plans and take initial steps to actualize the objectives in tandem. Inherent in carrying out the strategic plan is the convention that common operations can be better served through national collaboration rather than reinvent-the-wheel, “made-in-so-and-so” policies.

Raise the bar on education
We need to support training college accreditation, compliance with interjurisdictional competencies and health-care regulation and support evidence-based practice.Admittedly, we need to dovetail these objectives while acknowledging the diversity of practice and holism of philosophy that constitute massage therapy’s identity. We are not physiotherapists or chiropractors . . . our rich, interwoven, multifaceted history requires a different future than other professions.

Provide a hand-up to practitioners
We should continue to strengthen RMT practice with mentoring, semi-annual virtual symposiums and community groups. RMT practice can be isolating – RMTs must get together more for dialogue and debate. The eventual and hoped for result . . . innovation and evolution.

Join forces
Eventually the organized and united massage therapy profession could consider partnering with major CAM professions and corresponding industries in fitness and wellness to exponentially increase marketplace presence and power. Common objectives include training and education, research and developing evidence-based practice, lobbying government and insurance industry for more favourable policies and compensation, and financing strong public and media relations. Combined efforts would help to position health and well-being as a societal ethos . . . something that is part of the culture and fabric of society.

Despite our differences, I know we can find common ground in our objectives and make a pact to see things through.


Don Dillon, RMT, is the author of Massage Therapist Practice: Start. Sustain. Succeed. and the self-study workbook Charting Skills for Massage Therapists. Don has lectured in nine Canadian provinces and over 60 of his articles have appeared in massage industry publications in Canada, the United States and Australia. Don is the recipient of several awards from the Ontario Massage Therapist Association, and is one of the founding members of Massage Therapy Radio www.massagetherapyradio.com. His website, www.MassageTherapistPractice.com, provides a variety of resources for massage therapists.


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