Massage experts, therapists and educators share their impressions and opinions of the massage profession’s evolution over three decades. The year noted indicates when each person began working in massage.
The John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Approach
The John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Approach
I have been a therapist for more than 55 years. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960 as a physical therapist. I went on to get my massage therapy license.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Robert Calvert (1946–2006) and his wife Judy Calvert, who were the founders and owners of MASSAGE Magazine. Robert was, and Judy is, very creative, innovative and courageous, and I believe their vision was responsible for the tremendous growth in the massage and bodywork profession that you see today. The quality of MASSAGE Magazine you enjoy today is guided under the astute leadership and creative input of its editor in chief, Karen Menehan.
Over the years, I have seen all the wonderful techniques of massage and bodywork help so many people. There is now an emerging view of the necessity to begin to also treat the myofascial system, which controls the muscles and requires specific principles and techniques to release the fascial restrictions that occur from trauma, surgery or thwarted inflammatory responses.
When restricted, the fascia can exert tensile strengths of up to approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch. So, the inclusion of myofascial release into your practice will greatly enhance your ability to help others.
Body Therapy Associates
Deep, rhythmic touch exploring tension and integration, particularly during pregnancy and postpartum.
The esoteric bodywork ground, such as inhabiting the body to know Spirit, where I first rooted, was fertile yet isolated soil. I learned, practiced and eventually taught my craft on the fringes of mental and physical health care. Big changes in public perception—from “massage done in dim parlors,” to sporting events—followed the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and then many of us challenged fearful myths by assembling evidence.
Once “total contraindications,” I delight in the increasing inclusion of massage therapy for perinatal and oncology patients. I am established and thriving as a productive part of integrative health care, particularly for women, their families and trauma survivors.
Downeast School of Massage
Director, instructor, continuing education provider; therapeutic massage, kinesiology, Dimensional Massage Therapy; ethics education
I have always felt that massage therapy is a combination of art and science; they are intertwined and inseparable. Having a strong foundation in science allows the therapist to build a practice with multiple modalities, developing his or her art along the way.
Ultimately, the client’s structure dictates the modality used, as well as often the creation of the technique. We must be adaptable to the structure while never sacrificing ourselves to a technique or structure.
If we trust the science, we can unwrap the soft-tissue package that serves the client based on his or her own medical history, posture, repetitive actions and injuries. It is not rocket science. It takes skill, science, art, practice and, yes, love of the work!
Mitch Gries Neuromuscular therapy
We all began in massage schools where a big portion of the curriculum was in receiving bodywork, after we observed and performed the techniques. Why I believe so many massage therapists have a short career in this field is because they never continued to regularly get worked on themselves.
If you allow your hands and arms and backs to tighten up from the strain of treating your clients, your work will become laborious, uncomfortable and painful. If you allow your own body to become congested, you have to be losing sensitivity in treating your clients.
From the very beginning of my career I did many trades, but one year into my practice, I began training others to do the techniques I was employing. Teaching has allowed me to master these techniques.
I challenge every massage therapist reading this to begin teaching what they themselves are doing in their practice, to continually taste their own cooking and reap the rewards of being in this important profession.
Nurturing the Mother
Pregnancy and Fertility Massage; Integrative Reflexology
I recall the time when there were very few of us, and most of the people we met made inappropriate jokes about what massage is. We created, preserved, licensed, certified and grew a phenomenon that touches, transforms and heals lives.
Now when I say I am a massage therapist, people want to know about what I do and where I practice.
Many of us, my generation, came from the families of the 1950s, and we did not know how to touch each other. Now we experience massage within our community and in our families. Healthy touch is taught from birth. Pregnancy massage can support the transformation of a mother by supporting her being in touch with herself.
Passive Fascia Restoration
What is most exciting right now is the research on fascia. My own work produces changes in fascia that are literally unbelievably wonderful. It almost sounds too good to be true.
To have a successful practice today, you need a large knowledge of marketing. The competition is fierce, but thankfully so is the cooperation of therapists.
The franchises have brought the access to the public, but their pay scale is scandalous.
After 36 years of experience, I charge $120 an hour, and my clients are thrilled with their healing. The bargain hunters go elsewhere and just get a rubdown.
Geriatric and hospice massage; rehabilitation practitioner
We touch lives, not just bodies. The one-to-one therapeutic relationship is the core strength of our profession. The strength of the individual practitioner evolves with empirical knowledge, self-awareness and a willingness to be open.
Every massage tidbit I have learned over 46 years as the family back-rubber, student, employee, teacher, lobbyist, employer and now self-employed practitioner was gathered one interaction at a time. This has made it a healing art for myself as well as for my clients. No regulation or education can change this.
Massage has taught me to value my work and worth. The simple fact that we can alleviate pain and suffering without medication by our touch and presence is priceless.
Elaine Bernardo Massage Therapy
Deep tissue, Esalen massage, bodywork for thoracic outlet syndrome
I am proud and grateful to be part of the evolution of the massage-and-spa industry since 1980, the year I began my career as a massage therapist.
Today’s client is more sophisticated and knowledgeable. They expect an educated, conscientious therapist who listens to them and will not hurt them. Clients and their therapists understand communication is key to ensuring a healing experience on all levels.
Massage has become an integral part of a healthy lifestyle in our culture. As the client-therapist relationship evolves we become a healthier, more whole community.
CranioSacral Therapy, CoreStone Massage
At the time I went to school, in 1981, massage therapy was virtually unknown. I worked diligently to educate the public and was fastidious about professionalism.
The massage profession is very different now.
On one hand, therapists have it easier in some ways. Research has given the public a better understanding of our profession, and the medical profession is now recommending massage therapy for stress and injury rehabilitation.
On the other hand, due to the increase in massage schools, the competition is greater. I think it’s prudent to find a niche that sets you apart from other therapists. Think about what is going on in our world and how you could apply that to your career.
The Ariana Institute for Wellness Education
I began practicing massage 34 years ago and began teaching 16 years ago. I now teach over 33 continuing education (CE) courses through the Ariana Institute. In 1982, I trained to become a massage therapist. In 1999, I changed course after nearly two decades of practicing massage when I obtained my certification as a Massage Therapy Instructor and CE provider.
I was the inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame in 2013. I was chosen by the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education as a 2015 Educator of the Year, in the continuing education category. I am honored to be recognized by my colleagues in the massage community.
When I started in this field, I was frequently asked, “Do you have to go to school to do massage?” It was frustrating and insulting to have to explain the training necessary, although there was no state licensing back then. I stopped getting asked that so often in about 2000, when so many massage schools began starting up and advertising heavily.
And I don’t know if it’s because I’m so much older now or the profession is more respectable, but I don’t have nearly as much sexual harassment from callers as back in the beginning.
I think the profession has been oversold by big schools needing lots of money to stay open. Here in Las Vegas, Nevada, there are so many spas and chain massage businesses, it has devalued the service and made it very hard for independents to earn a good living.
I think to correct that, the public needs to be convinced to spend more money on our services. Then, we will be busier.
There are many people I deal with who only get a massage every couple of years. That is very sad.
Neuromuscular therapy; international instructor, curriculum developer, academic author
For me, the most exciting change has been the methods by which massage education is delivered. Slide carousels became PowerPoint presentations, crowds straining at demo tables were replaced by live-feed video, and standard classrooms with hours sitting in the same chair now incorporate blended learning, using online classes to supplement live attendance. Learning from academic textbooks is now enhanced with 3D anatomy computer programs and cadaver dissection videos.
I have stood in the midst of this stimulating, ever-changing educational environment in awe of its evolution. What’s next? I can imagine holographic instructors projected into my living room. Can you?
Academy of Ancient Reflexology
Reflexology; MASSAGE Magazine blogger
Never did I imagine that 32 years after I began my study of reflexology, I would still be at it—and still loving it. One reason for that is the magnitude of all there is to learn and grow from. If one is the least bit curious, a career in bodywork is never boring.
I am grateful for the license that permits my pursuit of interests and skills that expands my ability to support people in their quest for health and well-being. There is nothing more rewarding than doing good, enjoying it and making money.
The Loving Touch of Aloha
Cultural practitioner and teacher of traditional Hawaiian healing arts
When I entered the massage world, massage was considered a three-path profession. You either worked in the medical arena, which required credentials outside of massage therapy; you worked in a health club, providing relaxing-to-rigorous massage to members in steamy locker room offices; or you were part of the alternative hippie movement.
The thought of paying big money for a massage and going to a retreat spa setting was only for the wealthy, as they tended to visit these places in Europe.
Wow, have we grown as a profession!
I am so honored to be part of this ever-expanding profession of healing, which I have been involved in for almost 32 years. I am excited with anticipation as we move forward into the medical field as credentialed practitioners and receive the recognition we have worked hard to deserve.
Libertyville Massage Therapy Clinic
I opened Libertyville Massage Therapy Clinic in 1985. Thirty years later, the clinic is now the longest-established massage therapy clinic in Lake County, Illinois. There was no massage therapy clinic model for me to follow at that time. From hiring two massage therapists, we have grown to 17 therapists.
In the early years, there was a lot of work to educate the public about our profession, what it was, what it was not, what the health benefits were. The goal was to increase awareness and acceptance. Most people had not heard about the service.
Today, massage therapy is very accepted. Education of the science-based health benefits of our service is still at the forefront of what we need to continue to do.
Health in Hand Massage Therapy Center
Deep tissue massage, reflexology
I have been increasingly aware that the public’s perception of massage has been shown in a positive light, viewed with respect and high on the list of necessity for easing muscular distress from activities of daily living.
Today’s mainstream media has more positive depictions of massage then ever before. People are attending on a weekly basis because they enjoy the optimal relaxation response they receive.
What is really engaging me right now is the editing I have been doing on Patricia Benjamin’s book on the history of the massage profession in North America. As someone who didn’t learn any history in massage school, I felt indifferent about the subject and its relevance. But now I’m completely convinced of the importance of knowing our roots and of the role historical knowledge can play in helping our still-young profession understand the influences that have shaped us, our wealth of key characters and unique traditions, and what drives us in the present day as we craft an identity as a modern health profession.
Healing Arts Practitioner/Spa Manager
Bodywork, energy work, pregnancy massage, reiki
I can still remember when I gave my first massage. Working on the client’s forehead, I felt something very deep that went beyond the technique I had learned in school. Although I was not really aware of what I was experiencing, after years of practice I can describe it now as a meditative state, touching both the body and the soul.
For 30 years, this inner connection is at the heart of the sessions I share. It deepens over time and is the primary ingredient to unite body and spirit, and promotes awareness and healing for a fuller life.
Northwest School of Animal Massage
Animal massage; educator
Perception of animal massage has shifted dramatically since I began practicing 28 years ago. People considered animal massage a luxury; veterinarians mostly took a skeptical view.
Now, the industry has changed in every aspect. Many states now formally recognize animal massage. Employment opportunities include clinics, grooming salons and equestrian facilities. The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage now offers exams for national recognition.
To meet the growing demand, I founded the Northwest School of Animal Massage in 2001. We now teach throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Hong Kong. Nowadays rather than asking, “Why would I massage my pets?” people are more likely to ask “How?”
Myofascial massage, deep tissue massage, Lypossage; continuing education, curriculum development, spa consulting
The most exciting thing now and in the future is improved education. In 1988, many states didn’t have licensing. Many massage practitioners were self-taught or were apprenticed into the field. Consumers, wanting a qualified massage practitioner, didn’t know who was qualified and who wasn’t. Schools were not training to today’s standards.
In 2015, Connecticut has had many years of licensing through the Department of Public Health; six schools with strong science orientations; required continuing education and an exam that serves as a gateway into the profession.
State-regulated education and licensure have been key to bringing qualified people into the massage therapy profession and, therefore, protecting consumers from under-qualified practitioners.
Walt Fritz’s Foundations in Myofascial Release Seminars
While my training is in physical therapy, I’ve been involved in the world of massage and bodywork since the early 1990s. In that time I’ve seen a huge evolution, both in myofascial release as well as massage in general, with modalities that are better explained and more scientifically accepted and with more therapists moving into evidence-based and science-informed modalities.
While “I don’t care how it works, as long as it works” is understandable, understanding the science and physiology behind a modality can give the therapist new avenues of evaluation and treatment, as well as a closer bond within the medical community. This is progress!
One of the most exciting things I have observed over the past few decades is how massage therapy has blossomed into an amazingly powerful therapy while public recognition of its benefits has become realized.
The variety and professionalism of continuing education courses offered reflects the extension of massage into more advanced forms of therapy like visceral manipulation.
Massage therapists continue to integrate their practices into hospitals, doctors’ and chiropractors’ offices, clinics, sporting arenas and spas.
I look ahead enthusiastically to see where the next 30 years take us.
Active Isolated Stretching and Deep Tissue Stone Massage
For the first time in many years, the stakeholders are working together for the advancement of massage therapy. This enables us to have a unified voice as we seek to take our rightful place within the wellness profession. This is an exciting time where we can all collaborate in shaping our future.
In 2015, MASSAGE Magazine celebrated 30 years in publication. See the August 2015 print issue to read 30 more massage experts’ views on the past 30 years in massage therapy. Click here for subscription information.