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The Worst Things (Part 1)

April 05, 20214 min read

Healwell’s post from March 18th regarding the social media response to the Atlanta murders that took place at three spas inspired lots of dialogue. The feedback spanned a variety of themes, but there was one thread we found distressing.

This brand of feedback laid the problems of the massage therapy profession at the feet of sex workers. One person who reached out to us asked if we had “forgotten that sex workers masquerading as ‘masseuses’ are the worst thing to happen to our industry and the reason we are still not taken seriously as licensed professionals?”

We believe this question is off the mark.

We acknowledge and are deeply aware of the ongoing human cost of human trafficking and also of the very complicated cultural and regulatory dynamics of sex work. These topics are large, important and complex enough to deserve their own space. They are both aspects of our economy and culture which play into the broader conversation of massage therapy perceptions and reality. We will come back to them in the future.

Getting back to the theme of “worst thing[s]”, we feel confident in saying that the worst things to happen to massage therapy have been wrought by massage therapy itself or, at the very least, that we have plenty of work today before we look to blame sex workers.

We don’t have to look far if we want to find places to impact the image and the future of massage therapy in a positive way. The mistakes, discord and poor management are right in front of us.

The feedback we received gave us the chance to sit back and really consider – what is truly impacting massage therapy in a negative way right now? And what can we do about it? We talked together within Healwell. We reached out to our thoughtful and honest friends from all over the massage therapy world. From these conversations, we have come up with a list of things that are impacting massage therapy, and some suggestions of what to do about each one.

We don’t have all the answers. Hell, we don’t even have all the questions. But we do have (collectively) several decades working in this field as massage therapists, educators, and advocates. Over the next few weeks, we will draw on this collective experience to suggest some things that we can do, together, to move massage therapy forward.

What will follow over the next few weeks is a far-from-exhaustive list—it’s truly the very tip-top of a formidable iceberg. We all know that the journey of 10,000 miles begins with one step, so let’s get to stepping.

This week, we invite you to consider just the first point on this list:

1) Massage therapy has a collective unwillingness to hold the mirror up to itself (in terms of education, in terms of self-awareness, in terms of accountability to standards of practice) and to be honest about what it sees. We love to tout our unmatched compassion and our big hearts, but we don’t want to get real about all of the places where that’s simply not enough or where our unexplored big hearts can even prevent us from being effective care providers.

What can you do? 

Be honest with yourself. Do you have the necessary education to touch the very complicated human body and, more important than that, to interact and communicate with the people who inhabit those bodies in a way that decreases the likelihood that your intervention will do harm and, more than that, result in benefit? Do you maintain strict confidentiality in your practice? Do you maintain clear boundaries to create safety and an enduring therapeutic relationship with your clients?

Stop worrying about what other people are doing. Take care of your house. Look at your community, your practice, the way you do business. Starting right there will always yield results.

If you don’t know how to begin on this path, yes, you can certainly come and see us at Healwell and delve into our trove of courses to strengthen your “soft skills,” and our podcast, “Interdisciplinary,” but you can also check out resources like ABMP’s online education, Ruth Werner’s “I Have a Client Who...” podcast, Whitney Lowe and Til Luchau’s podcast, “The Thinking Practitioner.” And share with each other. Share what has helped you grow. What has challenged you? What has made you better able to be an exceptional caregiver?

Have other resources that help you look at yourself honestly? What do you do that feels like part of the solution? Please give us a shout out. Send your ideas to [email protected] and we’ll share them as a follow-up to this post. We’ll do the same thing each week as we continue to explore the ways we can elevate the profession of massage therapy from the inside out. 

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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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