by Sandy Friedland

So, who am I now that I’m a licensed massage therapist?
The state of Florida says I’m part of a profession.
I trained to be a licensed, professional health-care practitioner.
I studied anatomy and physiology, hydrotherapy, palpation and umpteen modalities.
I took a 625-hour educational program and passed a rigorous state exam.
I have more than 1,000 hours of continuing-education studies.
I have been in the field for 21 years.
I have touched thousands of bodies.
I’ve been teaching bodywork for more than 17 years.
I have written a book.
I have a license issued by Florida’s division of medical-quality assurance.
I lecture, teach, practice and model what I consider to be professional skills.

But wait—if massage therapy is an industry, as it is now being called, then I must be an industrialist. Is there a state licensing exam for that? What is my occupational title? Am I now a licensed-massage industrialist? Help! I’m having an identity crisis. Professional or industrialist? This is seriously confusing. Do I have to change my business cards and letterhead? I want to know if I am considered complementary, alternative or integral to mainstream Western medicine, or if I am in the same category as big business and in a league with other heavy-hitters, such as pharmacology, which is driven by the profit motive.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the manufacturers of massage equipment and accessories the industry part? After all, they handle products and inanimate objects, while I handle real, live people. My commitment is to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual balance, health and well-being of my clients. Do I now have to call them customers and change the way I relate to them? Can an industrialist charge more because of corporate privilege? Do I now have to file a Form 1120S with the IRS?

In•dus•try refers to “organized economic activity connected with the production, manufacture, or construction of a particular product or range of products.” It’s about trade, not as in a line of work, but as in buying and selling—merchandising, marketing and transactions related to hard goods. It’s clear to me I’m not a product, nor do I push products or consider my clients products. I am a pro•fes•sion•al: “somebody whose occupation requires extensive education or specialized training, somebody who shows a high degree of skill or competence.” (Definitions from Apple Inc., 2005-2007.)

When I look at the definitions of these terms, I see myself as a professional in a profession—so I wish people would stop referring to all things in this field of work as an industry.

Ours is one of the oldest professions known to humankind. Laying on of hands goes way back into the eons, before books and tests and licensure and marketing and governmental control. For me, healing through touch is an innate, intuitive, heartfelt form of connecting with and contributing to others. It’s a commitment toward another’s highest good. It’s soul work, energy work, a personal, affirming, nurturing life path that calls for mastery, ethics, expertise, proficiency, interpersonal skills and compassion.

Even the American Massage Therapy Association is confused about who we are. They issued a 36-page paper at the last Council of Schools meeting, titled Massage Industry Research Report. Browsing through this magazine you will see ads and articles which interchangeably refer to this field as both a profession and an industry. I feel this is happening because many aspects of the field have become excessively commercialized and standardized.

We are living in an era dominated by the marketing of touch and the mass merchandising of touch-related things. We have fallen down the economic-driven rabbit hole, which focuses primarily on materialistic stuff, such as manufactured products, consumption, marketing, consumerism, competition and the bottom line. We can’t expect our fellow massage therapists and other professionals to take us seriously when we don’t even identify ourselves as professional.

Sorry, folks; what we do and who we are does not live in the world of “hard goods,” “commerce” and “trade”—and we have to grow out of this false identity/lack of identity crisis as soon as possible.

The future of our profession depends on it.

I feel it is important we define, name, classify, categorize and i•den•ti•fy ourselves, meaning we recognize who we are and can proudly say what it is we do that makes us professional. We need to establish an i•den•ti•ty—who we consider ourselves to be, along with the position and role we want to play in the grand scheme of touch-health-integrated therapies. I don’t know about all you other bodyworkers out there, but I want to be known as a professional and recognized and acknowledged for all the specific education and experience that qualifies me to use this term.

Words have specific vibrations and carry distinct frequencies. I want to fully resonate to what I’m being recognized as, to live in and represent an identification that fully encompasses the scope, breadth and range of who I truly consider myself to be—a professional bodyworker.

Let’s do it. Let’s start a trend. Let’s really act professional and step into the power of the position we trained for and identify ourselves as professionals who are part of a growing, evolving profession. Let’s step up to the plate now, because now is all there is— it’s time for us to solve this case of occupational mistaken identity.

Sandy Friedland, L.M.T., is an author, teacher, lecturer, seminar leader and rabble-rouser, and is in private practice in Miami Beach, Florida. She created and leads workshops in the new modality MDMA: Multi-Dimensional Movement Arts. She collaborated in the development of TouchAbilities, a paradigm for teaching touch, and co-authored the recently published textbook TouchAbilities: Essential Connections. She may be reached at (305) 534-2200.