New Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) President Robin Anderson discusses the MTF’s current and future plans for projects that will support the massage therapy industry and its practitioners.

Robin B. Anderson, MEd, LMT, BCTMB, CEAS, is the Massage Therapy Foundation’s (MTF) new president, taking over from Douglas Nelson, LMT, BCTMB, CNMT. Her term begins April 1, 2021, and runs for two years.

Anderson has been a practicing massage therapist for 15 years and is director of the massage therapy program at the Community College of Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland. She currently works out of a plastic surgeon’s office, with a focus on post-op massage, including orthopedic massage and lymphatic drainage. The mother of an adult daughter, Anderson is also a self- described Disney and Star Wars fanatic whose massage students refer to her as Massage Jedi Master.

Anderson sat down with MASSAGE Magazine editor in chief Karen Menehan to discuss the MTF’s plans.

MASSAGE Magazine: How did you first get involved with the MTF?

RA: The MTF has been in my career from the get-go. I am a former student case report winner. The Community College of Baltimore County is where I got my massage therapy training. My mentor, Teddy Welsh, had seen the Student Case Report Contest and she approached me and said, “Robin, I would really love for you to do one.” And I did, and it won a bronze award.

And then from there, I have volunteered with committees, and was then invited to be a board member. And now president—so I think my mentor, I wish she were still alive today to see this, because she would be flipping like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe that you’re the president of the MTF.”

MM: It’s a great story. And so as you step into this role, what are you excited about, or worried about, or thinking about, as you get into it?

RA: I’m definitely excited about the future of the profession. Since I was a student I’ve been keenly aware of what little research was around 15-plus years ago— and to see where we are today, and how much research is available to us, and how many more studies have been done, and how many more things have progressed the profession, I’m excited to be a part of that future progression of more things to come. I’m kind of a research nerd and I like education. So for me, this is a good fit.

MM: Can you give us a little snapshot of what is entailed in being the president of the MTF?

RA: The president oversees the board and the operations—not the day-to-day, that’s really what the executive director does—but I work in conjunction with the executive director. I’ll do speaking engagements, talk to the people who are interested in doing research, the grantees, oversee the projects that we tackle, and then, of course, fundraising.

I mean, all of what we do involves what we raise as we are a nonprofit organization. So the funds we take in, we put back into the profession. My goal is also to find those researchers who want to do research that could potentially propel the profession.

My job is also to look for some volunteers, because the MTF is only as good as the people who fuel the fires, fuel the projects that we do.

The president is the face of all of those things and the champion of all of those things, with a lot of support, of course, from the board and the staff. This is not a one-woman show by any means!

MM: Are there any particular research studies that you could point to that are more significant than others for massage therapists?

RA: The systematic reviews that came out on the effects of massage therapy and pain. I teach a research class for my students and as soon as those came out, I actually make them read all three. And of course, they all groaned like, “Oh, Professor Anderson, it’s like over 100 pages.” I’m like, “But you have to understand, this is such a revolutionary piece of research that is so important and impactful to our profession. It creates so much efficacy and relevance to what we do.”

So for me, I mean, especially to be on a part of the MTF while this was going on, it’s just amazing. So I reference those documents quite often and read them quite frequently—because every time you go back, you can find something different.

That research has been a catalyst in terms of how I look at research, so I’m hoping to see that happen or evolve in the near future.

MM: A portion of the MTF’s Ergonomic Project was completed recently. What’s the next portion of that that the MTF will be working on?

RA: The pandemic has slowed down our rollout a little bit as well as our progression into the next phases of the project. But we are going to start rolling out more and more pieces of that, because it is a lot of information to unpack. We’re going to unpack it for massage therapists and demonstrate the relevance as to why this study was so important and what information we can learn from it.

What things did we find out about massage therapy work as a baseline? What kinds of things would be considered risky or not so risky? And also, in what ways can we help to minimize the risk? We’re going to try to address all of those pieces, at least over the next year. My workgroup committee is working on a white paper, writing down a best practices document.

And then our hope is is that we’ll be able to go into phase two, which will give us more precise information through the use of wearable sensors, which is like high-tech technology where you put sensors on a person’s body as they perform massage and you can measure the level of muscle fatigue, measure the degrees of movement, and that can all be analyzed.

The ergonomists that we’re working with are just excited as ever to be able to do this. And so we’re hoping that with a good year and raising the funds to get to phase two and a more normal post-COVID era where people are getting back to practice, that we can progress on to phase two at some point maybe later on this year.

MM: That’s exciting. And what are two or three things that you’d love for our audience of massage therapists to know about the Massage Therapy Foundation?

RA: The MTF wants to be able to give practitioners more information to make them better therapists, better for their clients, for their patients, out there.

A lot of my students, especially when I teach them research, they’re like, “Why do I need to know this? I just want to massage people.” But it’s the why. Research gives us the why, the what impact do we have in what we do? And so it gives us that relevance.

And never forget that one of the things the MTF is known for is its service to the community. I’ve been a member of the Community Service Grant Committee for a number of years, and one of the things that I love about that committee is the fact that not only do we do all these things that are research-supported, like grants and student case reports and the educational information, but also, this is our way of being able to give back—and we love that.

And so, when somebody asks me, “Well, what is the MTF?” Well, we’re all things that massage therapy is, and our goal is to try to elevate and promote and support our profession. And we do it proudly, and we do it effortlessly. Well, maybe not effortlessly, but with big open hearts, and definitely with a lot of passion from every person that sits around that board table. We’re all passionate professionals.

MM: What would you’d like to say about Doug Nelson and the job he’s done over the past four years?

RA: He’s just been an inspiration to us all. When we have Board of Trustees meetings, he has so much passion for the profession. And so I admire his integrity and his passion for the work that we do for the foundation. I only hope that I can have that kind of impact with the work that I do as president. I have got big shoes to fill.

MM: Are there any new MTF projects in the works that you’d like to share with us?

RA: Our research agenda, which recently came out, is something that’s going to be shared for people to understand the future directions of where our profession could be going and where more research could be developed. The next systematic review could be developed from that research agenda. We’re also working on a practice-based research network.

We also have some cool fundraising avenues. Doug recently started the Spare Change Program, because little change makes a big difference. We’re trying to do some other creative things too, some fun fundraisers—so stay tuned for that.

The Massage Therapy Foundation advances the knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education, and community service. Learn how to get involved with the MTF here.

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, print and digital. Her recent articles for the magazine include “The Massage Magazine Interview: Benny Vaughn” and “A Timeline of Massage Events that Shaped the Field, 1985–2020.”