When I began writing this guest editorial, I considered what might be the biggest challenge to the massage therapy profession. My mind raced around to curriculum, competencies, pay or research. For weeks, I have searched for the hidden clues at conferences, on social media and in meetings.
I organized my thoughts with words perfect for articulating the massage field’s general lack of understanding of pain science; curriculum deficiencies; lack of Entry-Level Analysis Project adoption; and bogus modalities—and then I realized that all of these have a common root cause.
In my opinion, the cause of our current state of the massage therapy profession revolves around one central concept: Involvement versus lack of involvement.
I wandered over to the thesaurus and gazed upon the word involvement. Synonyms for involvement include participation, contribution and connection.
My grandfather used to say, “The garden won’t hoe itself.” Without involvement, weeds take over or else someone else plants in your fields. This analogy is akin to what’s going on in the massage therapy community.
Massage Professionals: Participate
Your defenses may be up and ready to debate what you feel is the most pressing challenge in the massage field—but ask yourself: Where and how do we get information for development and change? The answer is through surveys, focus groups, committees and boards.
You see, participation is the key to the changes for which many massage professionals yearn.
I have a quote hanging in my office from writer and entrepreneur Gary Lew: “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.” This same concept is true for the massage therapy profession. Great changes can happen for the involved, and terrible-but-great things can happen for the uninvolved.
The massage therapy profession is a great profession. There were countless people before us who worked diligently to help elevate massage therapy to where it is today. They took the initial steps and got involved.
Today, the massage therapy profession has too many armchair quarterbacks calling out plays without suiting up and getting in the game.
Consequently, I am calling you all out to play.
As practicing massage therapists, we often become complacent to the world around us. Participation takes commitment and planning. Many massage therapists may find themselves overwhelmed or busy. The thought of one more meeting does not always seem appealing.
The truth is, it is our professional responsibility to be engaged and of service to our beloved profession.
Lack of participation may impact the success of massage professionals in practice. For example, the valuable information that guides the content areas for the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination comes from the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards’ (FSMTB) job task analysis.
Failure to complete surveys, such as that which resulted in the job task analysis (and a new job task analysis survey will be released within the next few years) means giving up your desire to help guide the massage therapy profession—and instead rolling the dice of chance.
Participation envelops more than just surveys. Involved professionals and board members suggest that you attend a minimum of one massage therapy board or panel meeting per year. Additionally, they suggest to always read the minutes from the meetings to keep yourself up to date with changes and guidelines. (This act alone is paramount to the massage therapist’s duty to be informed, in order to provide the best possible care to his or her clients.)
Massage therapy professionals must also be proactive when it comes to massage laws and governing bodies, and skilled in massage therapy jurisprudence.
Involvement also encompasses contribution. Contribution doesn’t have to involve money. There are many massage therapists who cannot afford to contribute money to nonprofit organizations. Another type of contribution that is just as powerful is the giving of time to organizations.
The organizations I’m referring to include nonprofit organizations such as the Massage Therapy Foundation, which aids the massage therapy profession in locating and allocating funds for research and education.
An example of the power of contributions of time and funds is the Massage Therapy Foundation, Samueli Institute and American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) collaboration on a meta-analysis project on massage therapy and pain.
Your Help is Needed
The value of people contributing time and effort is what drives the massage profession—and I believe every massage therapist should volunteer time for a massage therapy cause.
Organizations—whether at the local, state or national level—are always looking for qualified volunteers for committees and events. These organizations include the AMTA, Massage Therapy Foundation, Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, FSMTB, the Society for Oncology Massage and the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
Great committees consist of people who are comfortable with change; reliable, accountable and good at problem-solving. Many of you reading this editorial would be perfect additions to committees. Qualifications are not limited by degree, age or experience. It simply takes reaching these organizations to find one that best aligns with your skills and abilities.
Sometimes, the most valuable information comes from someone with a fresh perspective of his or her own. The concept of having new committee members and board members is a great tool for organizations, as it aids in training a new generation of massage therapy leaders. Ideally, there is overlap in the talented retirees and the new talent, for a continuum of history and understanding.
New members bring a fresh perspective and can protect the organization and staff from burnout. New committee members and volunteers can also serve as whistleblowers for organizations or members that have become too possessive of power, or when spotting conflicts of interests. Often a sign of this can be seen when organization volunteers see their personal identity as one and the same as the organization and not as a team member of the organization.
The last synonym for involvement is connection. As massage therapy professionals with busy schedules, we often become isolated from other massage therapists. However, we are a social and caring tribe. We are dedicated to helping people reconnect with their bodies and aspects of their nervous systems.
We also need connection to other massage therapists and resources to make sure we are involved with the ever-changing landscape. Ask any massage therapist who attends a conference what his or her favorite experience of the conference was, and the reply is usually something like, “the people and the connections made.”
Are You an Active Member?
Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most, because it is dressed in overalls and disguised as work.” We often have the opportunity to change the circumstances for the massage therapy profession, but it takes work.
I encourage each of you to self-reflect and gauge your own involvement.
- Am I an active member of the massage therapy community?
- Am I involved in being of service to the massage therapy profession versus waiting for it to be of service to you?
- Am I engaged with my state massage therapy community?
- Do I complete the surveys that shape our education?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, the time has come for you to participate, contribute and connect. We are all stewards of the profession. This is our massage community, and we must actively shape it.
About the Author
Brent Jackson, L.M.T., is academic program manager for massage therapy at Central Carolina Technical College. He is the committee chairperson of the Massage Therapy Foundation Education Committee; a member of the Board of Trustees for the Massage Therapy Foundation and a previous member the National Teacher Training Curriculum Development Committee with AFMTE.