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The Quest For Professionalization In Massage Therapy

Professionalization: the social process whereby people come to engage in an activity for pay or as a means of livelihood (wordwebonline). Some authors have defined the gaining of statutory self-regulation or state-sanctioned professionalization as being equivalent to the professionalization process (Boon).

September 30, 2009  By Bodhi G Haraldsson RMT

Part 1 of the serises

Professionalization: the social process whereby people come to engage in an activity for pay or as a means of livelihood (wordwebonline).

Some authors have defined the gaining of statutory self-regulation or state-sanctioned professionalization as being equivalent to the professionalization process (Boon). Most agree that there are specific activities that need to be present. Those are:

  • A body of specialized knowledge;
  • Education in institutes of higher learning;
  • Continuing education;
  • Autonomy through self regulation;
  • Code of ethics.

This article is the first in a series of specific articles that focus on the steps that Massage Therapy is taking to secure its position as a profession and as a health care profession.


Our intention is to explore what that means and the various elements that need to be present and active (therefore acted upon) in order to keep up the development.

This article will address the first of the identified areas needed for professionalization – having a body of specialized knowledge.

The federal and provincial governments are taking steps, through initiatives such as the National Primary Health Care Awareness Strategy, to reorganize the health system to be more inclusive, cost-efficient, and responsive.

By developing evidence-based practice’s and focusing on effectiveness, massage therapists could show the distinctive contribution massage therapists bring to primary health care and further develop our own professional contribution and autonomy.

Who is going to decide what kind of evidence will be accepted when it comes to issues of safety and efficacy for massage therapy? Are massage therapy philosophies and theories based on the biomedical view or do we have our own unique theoretical approach?

If RMTs do not play a part in developing evidence-based health care, it is possible that other groups will lead on the evaluation of massage therapy and on developing evidence-based guidelines for massage therapy practice without our professions input.

The rise of multiple professions, which claim to be equal to one another and to have a unique perspective to offer the care of patients and clients, has led to a different kind of decision-making which demands the sharing of treatment goals and joint decisions about the care process (COLYER).

This new reality creates a strong impetus for massage therapists to debate and test our approaches and theories to be better able to explain them to other professionals. The role of qualitative data must not be forgotten  

These issues expose a great need for the massage therapy profession to build its own distinct knowledge base for massage therapy knowledge and practice. By testing common hypothesis, assessing their patient’s needs, evaluating their own practices and reporting it in peer reviewed publications. Massage Therapists can begin to take control and build its distinct, separate body of research knowledge.

The purpose for creation of this distinct body of knowledge is not to justify what we do. Rather it is needed to determine when massage therapy should be used, which of the many approaches we are taught in school work the best and under what circumstances.

This approach can help us change and improve our practices on the basis of evidence.

Through the leadership of the Massage Therapy Association of British Columbia and the Canadian Massage Therapy Alliance research network initial international discussions and funding application have begun to launch a massage therapy research journal.

As stated in the funding application to CIHR (Dryden): this journal has as its major goal: (i) Build research literacy and capacity: The e-journal will be a step towards building research understanding and capacity in the profession and provide a vehicle to support research training, research practice and publication throughout the
continuum of education; (ii) Build a sustainable network: The e-journal will facilitate and support researchers in training and practice. This Knowledge Transfer and Exchange (KTE) project provides an opportunity to expand current research networks and build new alliances across disciplines in the creation of a credible editorial board and scientific review committee; (iii) Promote knowledge transfer: The e-journal purpose is to provide therapists in training and those in practice an opportunity to contribute to the creation of research knowledge and will act as a training vehicle and dissemination vehicle for researchers in the field.

As a public access journal, the journal will also provide summaries to inform other stakeholders including consumers about massage research; and, (iv) Improve methods, safety and efficacy: The e-journal used in the continuum of health professional education will reduce the curriculum gap between current research knowledge and training and lead to improvements in patient care. The incorporation of outcome measures in practice will also inform future research.

The e-journal is designed to engage the massage profession towards a vision of evidence-informed training and practice with the ultimate goal of improvements in the quality of care and patient health outcomes.

Most massage therapy practitioners have limited access to scientific studies published in academic journals and housed in medical libraries.

A peer-reviewed e-journal would provide open access to practitioners and promote the transfer of research knowledge to professional practice.

A peer-reviewed e-journal provides a highly viable and articulate opportunity to structure and increase professionalization among massage therapists and to support massage therapy research. By facilitating greater access to knowledge, and discussion, a peer-reviewed e-journal fosters outcomes- based practices and excellence in massage therapy health care delivery, and fulfills one of IN-CAM top priorities.

This initiative is intended to respond to the increase in emphasis on research and literacy within the profession by providing a vehicle for its publishing and dissemination.


  • Boon, H., Welsh, S., Kelner, M.J. and Beverly Wellman. 2004. Pp. 123-139 in Tovey, P., Easthope, G. and J. Adams (Eds), The Mainstreaming of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Studies in Social Context.
  • CAM Practitioners and the Professionalisation Process: A Canadian Comparative Case Study.
  • COLYER H.M. (2004) Journal of Advanced Nursing 48(4), 406–412 The construction and development of health professions: where will it end?
  • Dryden T, White M, CIHR funding application. Building Research Literacy and Research Capacity in the Training and Practice of Massage Therapists
  •, Accessed March 6, 2006
  • Bodhi Haraldsson is the research chair for MTABC and can be reached at

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