The Massage Therapy Foundation’s (MTF) new president, Adrienne Asta, LMT, wants to continue a conversation between massage therapists, health care professionals and the public on the benefits and cost-effectiveness of massage.

She’s also, naturally, a proponent of the MTF, a 501(c)3 founded in 1990 that funds research, publishes an open-access journal, and supports community service projects, among other programming.

On June 1 the MTF announced its Board of Trustees had elected Asta, as its new president, and that Robin B. Anderson, MEd, LMT, BCTMB, CEAS, had resigned from that position for personal reasons.

Asta sat down with MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, Karen Menehan, to discuss current and future MTF programming and goals—and why she wants every massage therapist to understand what it is the MTF does. (The MTF contributes a quarterly column to MASSAGE Magazine, written by various authors.)

Karen Menehan: When, and how, did you get involved with the Massage Therapy Foundation?

Adrienne Asta: I’ve been practicing massage for over 21 years now. And when I first learned of the Massage Therapy Foundation, I thought its focus was research—and as I consider myself a clinician, I was thankful that such an organization existed, and I was happy to help support the cause.

Then I got a call from one of the trustees, asking me if I wanted to be on the Community Service Grant Review Committee. And that’s really when I learned about the scope of what the Massage Therapy Foundation does.

Later, I was asked to apply to be on the board of trustees, and I was elected onto the board. And then Robin [Anderson], the past president, asked me to be her VP.

KM: If someone has never heard of the MTF, what’s the introduction you’d like to give them?

AA: Go to massagetherapyfoundation.org and see all of the free resources that we have there in order to help inform your practice. Learn about the research that’s going on. There are downloadable infographics that you can put in your office or give to your client at the end of a session.

You could see all of the community service grants we funded, and it really is so heartwarming to see all of the people being served, who otherwise wouldn’t be.

There are EBooks that are free to download. There is the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, a free, open-access peer-reviewed journal. There are opportunities to volunteer as well.

KM: You are currently serving a term of president that runs through February 2023. What do you want your focus to be directed toward?

AA: I’m really hoping for the remainder of this term to focus on connection and collaboration. Those are the two words that I would say are behind my motivation for where I want to see the MTF continue to grow.

KM: Who is it that you see yourself or the MTF connecting and collaborating with?

AA: Our key stakeholders are always massage therapists. I want all of the massage therapists in all of the world to know that this organization exists. So, of course, massage therapists are who we want to connect with. However, in order to really make this as robust as the board and the staff sees this going, it’s going to be health care providers, stakeholders in the industry—and the consumer, really

KM: What do you see as the focus of your communication?

AA: The focus is whole-person wellness, of course. In order [for that to happen], we have to have a whole-person focus, a whole-community focus. And that extends beyond our profession. I know from my personal practice, I see the exponential benefit that my clients get from not only seeing me, but seeing the physical therapist also, and the chiropractor, and the acupuncturist, the nutritionist, the surgeon. We really can’t do it alone.

I think having those allied and massage-adjacent professions as part of this conversation is really going to be a key piece of how the Massage Therapy Foundation grows in order to support how the industry can grow.

KM: When you say “that conversation,” is that a conversation about whole-person health care, as well as collaboration within health care?

AA: For sure. We’ve started that conversation already with massage therapists, although massage therapists can be siloed. It’s a cornerstone of what we’re trying to do with the MTF. Here’s all of this programming, whether it’s projects or community service or education—and we want you to be informed. But what good is the information if we keep it to ourselves?

KM: You mentioned that massage therapists can seem siloed. What do you mean by that?

AA: I think what happens is after we complete our entry-level education, we start getting interested in a certain topic. We get to feeling the direction that we want to go in—and sometimes it seems like there is just this way. If I want to treat pain, I need to do A, B, C and D.

In actuality, there’s a lot of different approaches for pain management. You don’t have to identify yourself as a neuromuscular therapist, for example, in order to be successful in the treatment room.

So, the MTF wants the information to inform the technique, or to inform the treatment, not to make a massage therapist identify as a certain type of therapist—because we could actually say that each one of us is a unique therapist, delivering what feels the most connected to us and to our clients.

Really, what’s the mechanism? What happens when I put my hands on you? What happens when I press? What happens when I glide?

Those are the things that we are interested in, as far as how could we provide really foundational and researched information about how massage works.

KM: What does the MTF want to see as the outcome of that? Meaning, when you present that information to adjacent health care professionals, what is the ultimate goal for massage or for the massage profession?

AA: I think it is to show our complementary partners, health care providers and the public, that massage therapy is an integrated part of what their wellness and health care can be. That it’s not instead of, it’s alongside of. It’s in partnership with.

KM: This conversation about massage therapy being incorporated into the health care system seems like it keeps going on and on. I keep hoping for a big breakthrough with that. I’m wondering if you have a perspective on why that hasn’t happened yet.

AA: It’s an excellent question.

KM: I know we’re all working toward that answer.

AA: I personally think that we are health care providers, and if we see the benefits, if we see the cost-effectiveness of what massage therapy can do in many different settings, then I think we just need to be persistent and keep showing [other health care providers and the public]—keep showing them, and keep telling them—and just continue to be a part of that conversation.

The opportunity for us to grow into a deeper relationship with other health care providers, there’s a big opportunity there. It really is about a continued conversation and to keep introducing ourselves to people. It’s going to be difficult, because we’re a tiny voice right now, in that big, big world of health care.

KM: What do you think is the massage therapist’s role in that conversation?

AA: We have a really fantastic opportunity, in the work that we do, to spend that amount of time with a client or patient. We’re uniquely positioned to be in a spot where we can show the benefits [of massage] and communicate the benefits, and we need to feel comfortable doing that.

My goal for the remainder of this term, through the end of February, is to just keep talking, to make sure that we have a group of people together, saying the same thing or saying a similar thing, and to also look for those opportunities where we could be in a partnership and in a collaboration with other people, with other organizations that might not be directly related to massage, but could potentially hire massage therapists.

KM: What current MTF projects are you most interested in?

AA: The Practice-Based Research Network is going to be fantastic. I think this is going to be the tool that is going to bridge the massage therapists who are really interested in participating in research or having a conversation about it, discussing what they’re seeing in the treatment room, in a formal way or semi-formal way—and the researchers who want to research the effects of massage therapy but don’t quite know where to find the right fit for that. So, I certainly see a big expansion of opportunity in our field through the Practice-Based Research Network.

KM: What, specifically, would you like to see come out of the Practice-Based Research Network?

AA: Information about not just “how does this massage therapy thing work?” but “how does massage applied by a licensed professional massage therapist make the difference?”

I’m not saying that the Practice-Based Research Network is guaranteeing that, but I’m saying that the opportunity to search for that answer, and ask the questions about that particular piece is going to be really beneficial for us—because if anybody can [massage], we’ll just have the nurses massage, or we’ll just have a volunteer staff massage. Then we won’t have work to do!

So, the hope is to find the understanding of “how is this informed work?” “How does this educational piece really elevate the service and the outcomes of somebody’s care?”

KM: Are you actively recruiting massage therapists for the Practice-Based Network?

AA: We’re looking for information from massage therapists about what it is you are looking for in a Practice-Based Research Network. Do you want to participate in research? Do you want to talk about research?

There is a survey out right now that massage therapists can fill out, in order to be informed and help shape what that Practice-Based Research Network looks like.

KM: We’ve covered a lot of ground here, from MTF resources, to the larger health care conversation, to how massage therapists can become involved in research. What else would you like to add?

AA: We want to make sure that every massage therapist’s practice is sustainable. We believe that giving people information and being informed will attract a clientele that is a sustainable clientele.

Also, it’s not my foundation. It’s our foundation. It’s the Massage Therapy Foundation. So, really, we all should have a vested interest in this organization. We’re proud to serve the industry.

KM: Thank you so much for all that the MTF does, and all that it has planned for the massage profession’s future.