Dare to Ask: We sense tension over massage therapy
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why aren't massage therapists recognized as having any value in the health
industry? I get snubbed by chiropractors, physical therapists and occupational
therapists when I inquire about employment.
Mary, 25, Springfield, Vt.
Well, as a PT major, a lot of people asked me if I would be getting into
massage therapy. I wanted no part of it because of the lingering stereotype of
prostitution. Actually, where I live there is a massage parlor where you can pay
extra money to have the therapists massage you topless, all nude, etc.
Joe B., 23, Scranton, Penn.
The majority of people I massaged were rude, snobby jerks who didn't tip well
and wouldn't care if they heard my fingers breaking as long as they got their
ultra-deep massage. As for healthcare professionals, to them you are
Sara B., 37, Atlanta
"Massage" still connotes "prostitution" to a lot of people, so these OT/PT
types and chiropractors may buy into the stereotype, in addition to being the
sorts of "contamination snobs" so desperate for respect from anyone with an
"M.D." after their name that they feel a need to find someone to dump on the way
M.D.s dump on them.
We can't tell you how many rude massage clients, "contamination snobs" or
prostitutes there are in America (or how much they earn), but we can say that
U.S. Department of Labor figures show there are at least 118,000 massage
therapists who average about $40,000 a year.
(Hey Gainesville, did you know you have the fourth-highest concentration of
MTs in the country? Maybe there's another column to do on why that is . . .)
Jeers that MTs are nothing but glorified, shall we say, "givers" are mostly
in the past, said Cherie Sohnen-Moe, a former massage therapist and co-author of
The Ethics of Touch.
"Disrespect doesn't occur as much," she said. "It's not that massage isn't
considered a value - if anything, it's that others [in health care] might not
want to share clients. Still, a lot of chiropractors, for example, have MTs
working in their offices now."
Some OTs or PTs might perceive massage therapists as being less-trained,
"Take a physical therapist, that's four to six years of school, while in some
places with massage, it's three months. The PT might think, 'I had to do so
much, why doesn't everyone else?' "
Massage programs are requiring more instruction, however, with the national
standard now at least 500 hours of training, Sohnen-Moe said.
MTs also have well-established standards and ethics, including having clients
sign informed consent sheets, discussing verbally which body areas will be
worked on and obtaining permission before touching certain areas, such as
women's pectoral muscles.
"I've even gone some places where the massage therapist avoids the glutes.
Well, I travel a lot and am stuck in airplane seats. And I'll be like, 'Excuse
me, my glute's not a sexual area, it's a major muscle, work it please.' . . .
After all, working on the glutes can be a life-changing experience!"
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. email@example.com. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his