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Flawed Research

March 14, 20222 min read

The massage therapy profession loves to talk about research. We love to cite it. We love to call it a priority. We love to rail against the lack of it and the ways that “even the good studies” don’t give us the respect we think we deserve. 

Let’s begin by agreeing to stop saying that research “proves” anything. Research suggests, sometimes strongly, that a theory has real merit. Research can show us that we may be on to something and that one thing may be safer, wiser, more effective than another thing, but research and the data we gather in conducting it is a moving target. Remember how Newton “proved” gravity and that whole, flat, two-dimensional idea of stuff falling back to earth? That was a fact -- until we discovered that space and time are actually on a curve and it’s a lot more complicated than that. Remember when lymphatic vessels were (accidentally) discovered within the meninges back in 2015, opening brand new and previously unconsidered possibilities for our understanding of the pathogenesis of serious neurological conditions? 

Research brings us face to face with the immutable truth that we hate: change is the only constant. When it comes to research, we have got to supervise ourselves. We are humans. We are wired to develop biases and to see the world as we’ve been taught to see it by our background, experiences, and goals for how we want things to be. It’s so deeply ingrained that we don’t even notice our constant attempts to shape the world to fit our image of it. This dynamic has plagued the validity and reproducibility of research for centuries.

As healthcare providers, it’s essential that we understand the flaws in this system so that we can conduct research ethically, modulate our understanding of what is “discovered” and keep each other honest about what we are and are not learning...

Click here to read the full column.

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Cal Cates

Cal is one of Healwell’s founders and its Executive Director. Cal speaks around the world on a variety of topics related to integrative medicine, emotional self-care for practitioners and the mechanics and politics of introducing massage therapy into clinical settings. They have been participating in research, teaching and developing curriculum for massage therapy courses focused on hospital-based practice, oncology massage and end of life care since 2007. Cal is passionate about elevating the profession of massage therapy and also about broader and more seamless integration of massage therapists into mainstream healthcare.

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