Redbook magazine made a lot of people angry yesterday.
In a move that surely they are cognizant is a PR disaster, the magazine printed an article that failed to separate sex work and massage. In all fairness, the article was a first-person account submitted by someone who claimed to be a consumer of massage for the sexual benefits that it afforded, which she claimed were improving her marriage.
The article, since redacted, has been quite the conversation piece in massage circles--understandably so, for those of us who are members of a profession that has created specifically focused training that includes both the traditional didactic and therapeutic application of hands-on treatments.
People have no idea how hard we work to be part of this profession. For instance, let's talk about how arduous massage school is.
I teach at a massage school. I would say that at least a third of the 600-hour (soon to be 750-hour) curriculum is focused on learning anatomy and physiology. Students learn bones, muscles, body systems, indications and contraindications, and pathological conditions, in addition to ethics and business basics, such as marketing and promotion. (And much, much more.)
Sure, you may know some things about the human body--but can you say that you have spent two hundred or more hours studying its structure(s) and functions? Massage therapists can.
Our macroculture has this belief that massage equals "rubdown", which is often considered a prelude to sex. Hey, if that is how you are experiencing massage in your private life, more power to you. But therapeutic massage, as applied by an individual who has been duly trained and licensed by an accredited institution, is a completely different matter. A good therapist must ask questions, understand a client's health history, and tailor the treatment to avoid exacerbating any conditions that might be detrimental to the client's health or well-being. That is--AND SHOULD BE--miles away from the kind of hands-on treatment that untrained people share with each other in their homes.
I think we have to consider Redbook's willingness to print the article as a sad reminder that many people are ready to dismiss the therapeutic qualities of massage, just because it feels good. People don't understand that massage is therapy.
We also need to consider that healthy touch--which is something that we need a lot more of in US culture--has boundaries. Massage therapists are professionals who have undergone a great deal of training in order to offer specialized touch in a therapeutic application. We are thinking about muscles and bones; about illnesses and injuries; about the traumas that the bodies on our tables have survived.
And although we are human, and some among us may behave inappropriately sometimes--let's not use that as a way to return to demonizing the entire profession. The majority of us are dedicated professionals who believe in the power of this touch-based therapy in order to shift pathological, posturally-based, idiopathic and trauma-based conditions.
Ultimately, we are talking about humans. Humans, such as the woman who wrote the article, need touch. Physiologically speaking, we are wired in such a manner that we die without it. (Babies can die, or fail to thrive, or suffer other long-term effects, without enough touch. Adults suffer without touch as well. Sadly, I think it's really the same thing.)
Massage therapists are trained to understand that sometimes the need to receive touch is the sole reason that people come to our tables. But we also spend a lot of time talking about how to keep appropriate and professional boundaries in the therapeutic relationship. Behaving in any other way is a violation of the client, of the relationship, and of the profession--no matter what the client has asked for.
I am grateful that Redbook's Editor-in-Chief chose to remove the article from the website. But I am also grateful that we have had this opportunity to take the measure of our nation's thoughts about massage: what it is, what it is for, and how it can be used.
And of course, I would like to thank the massage trade professions, such as AMTA and ABMP, for organizing so quickly to address the issue.
We still have a lot of talking to do about massage, and its place as a therapeutic treatment. I'm glad that we had an opportunity to continue that dialogue, regardless of the reason.
There are tens of thousands of massage therapists in our nation. If you have questions about who we are and what we can do to help improve your health, your movement, or your peace of mind, you can approach our trade institutions and industry leaders (for example, American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork)...or just ask a massage therapist.
We are professional, licensed providers of therapeutic touch. We work hard to earn our credential(s). Respect that. Research shows that our work can help to ease a number of medical conditions. That's powerful.
Just remember: Our work may be touch-based, but that doesn't make us any less professional. As professionals, part of our work is creating boundaries, so that you receive your treatment in a safe space. Honoring those boundaries means that we can ease more pain, and you can return to your regularly-scheduled life sooner, rather than later.
We're everywhere. And we're ready to help.