Massage therapy school is not just about learning how to apply techniques to make others feel good. Yes…that’s an important part of it, but I am willing to bet many are intuitively able to do much of this without training. How many of us have given a back massage to a friend or family member before we were trained to do so?
It might surprise you that technique is not the only reason (maybe not even the primary reason) that massage therapists require education or a license to practice. Massage school teaches students technique and so much more. It prepares students to be healthcare professionals (we are licensed as such in most states), by exploring all that’s necessary to make clinical decisions based on critical thinking. It does no one any good to be able to rattle off lists of indications and contraindications if the person cannot explain why. Massage school should be addressing “why” questions and leading students to answers (not giving them those answers). There are no supervising physicians in the massage therapist/client relationship. Massage therapists have to be trained to make their own clinical decisions behind closed doors and refer out when appropriate.
Massage school also teaches students how to honor and safeguard the therapeutic relationship, and how to protect vulnerable clients from harm (physical or emotional). More positive therapeutic outcomes come from embracing the power of the therapeutic relationship than from the specific application of any technique. This means that students spend far more time in school learning about concepts that help them deliver techniques that are safe and beneficial than they do learning new “moves” that look or feel “cool”.
With a profession that has more than 200 registered modalities of massage most of them are simply a combination of the same gliding, kneading, compression and decompression techniques including friction and stretching. Each unique packaging comes with its own name, branding and price tag. To master those techniques is all a technician needs, but so much more is required to be a therapist.
There is a reason, we are called “massage therapists”, and if we are going to use that designation, it’s important that we live up to what it means. This means that much of a student’s education is and should be focused on a broad understanding of anatomy and the many body processes that occur for our function. We study psychology to understand the subtle dynamics of touch that affect each person we lay our hands on, whether the recipient is conscious of that or not. We study the pathologies that are present and require adaptation in the vast majority of our clients. We explore how massage affects those conditions, for better or for worse. We learn how to think critically and problem solve. We learn how to use our bodies more efficiently and effectively as our bodies are the tool we use to help people. We learn the power of presence and the infinite awe that comes with touching another human being.
Being a massage therapist means so much more than simply rubbing the layers of the tissues of the body. It’s time our education and professional standards begin to reflect that.