In this essay, the author says: “I have a vision that the massage field’s emerging leaders will find the balance in our professional identity that has eluded us.”

This is one of 12 monthly essays presented as part of Massage Magazine’s 35th-anniversary celebration.

Great Things Can Come Out of Turmoil

When MASSAGE Magazine was born 35 years ago, in 1985, many of the massage therapists working at that time had come of age during the 1960s — one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in world history, marked by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and antiwar protests, political assassinations, the emerging generation gap, and beginnings of increased use of technology such as that used for the moon landing in 1969.

Many of us protested against everything that was mainstream. The 1960s was a decade of hope, dissatisfaction, war and change, and it ushered in many important shifts in American culture.

In 1985, I had been in massage practice a few years and had just opened a massage therapy school in a semi-rural area of Michigan. I was 32 years old and active in the massage therapy politics of the day. Many of my peers were about the same age.

Coming of age during the social upheaval of the 1960s had a direct influence on how, 10 to 15 years later, we would guide the massage therapy profession.

The Evolution of the Massage Profession

There was, and still is, a tension between the need for conformity to standards, licensing and professionalism and the underpinnings of antiestablishment, counterculture and individualistic views that my generation brought into the massage community back in the day.

Massage therapy has almost, but not quite, evolved from a counterculture, alternative practice into an evidence-informed health occupation.

I often feel pulled in opposite directions. I cling to what was my original passion and foundation, yet I know that much of the information taught back then was inaccurate — such as, “massage removes toxins” and “if you massage the ankles of a pregnant woman it will cause a miscarriage,” as well as “massage therapists are healers,” “massage addresses mental health issues” and “anecdotal experiences are a reliable form of evidence.”

Today, I embrace the logical and biological plausibility of massage benefits, the research and the questioning, using the critical thinking that massage therapy needs to be based on now. I have found comfort with the ambiguity, let go of the nonsense and respectfully reframed the wisdom of the past.

There is an important opportunity right now for all of the generations of massage therapists to influence the progression of our field. Those of us who have worked these past 35 years need to critically evaluate our beliefs and information for relevance today. Then we can mentor, nurture and support the current and next generation of leaders.

The New Normal

The massage field’s elders also need to model professionalism in how we interact and communicate. This is a world of social media, Zoom and other virtual platforms. Our influence is global. The pandemic we are experiencing has changed society, and in this virtual world made massage therapy even more essential for coping, resilience and well-being in the new normal.

What kind of example are we providing? We must be as willing to learn as we are to teach. We must also let go of preconceived ideas and be open to ever-changing information. We should critically evaluate all incoming information for accuracy and relevance, and not be mired down in dogma, opinion and separation.

Finally, we must also be kind and receptive, and carefully balance the essence of what we do with science-based information as the future unfolds.

I have a vision that the massage field’s emerging leaders will find the balance in our professional identity that has eluded us.

I hope that we retain our autonomy of practice by embracing wellness, well-being, comfort and compassion as our foundation and do not let our identity crisis and biases allow massage therapy to be absorbed into the medical establishment—or regress into the outdated attitudes and practices of our past.

At the same time, I hope that we learn to be able to work collaboratively with medical professionals on a supportive team.

 It feels like the ’60s to me right now — and I believe some really great things can come out of this time of turmoil.

I am hopeful that if the massage therapy community can learn to speak with a unified, respectful and flexible voice, embracing that we are more alike than different, move past rhetoric, and allow for diversity, we can face the future united.

About the Author:

Sandy Fritz is a founding member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education and the author of massage textbooks including “Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage”; “Mosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage: Anatomy, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Pathology”; and “Sports & Exercise Massage: Comprehensive Care for Athletics, Fitness, & Rehabilitation.” Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Old Myths Die Hard: The Truth About Toxins,” and “The Massage Field’s Generations Must Create a Future That Works for All.”