Mud Slinging Around Massage Ownership

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Who owns “massage”?

There is a disturbing level of unprofessional mud slinging going on in the massage profession. While most massage therapists are respectful of their peers, there is a small minority that rant in their Facebook Groups and blogs, seemingly out of ignorance and fear.

Although I don’t have high expectations that they will change their spots, I’d like to encourage those who are open-minded enough to step back and look at the big picture. This will be the first in a series of posts that takes a look at some of the more controversial political issues that face our profession in the hopes of opening some reasoned, professional dialogue on these issues.

Massage therapists do not “own” massage…

There are a few of vocal massage therapists, in Ontario in particular as of late, that believe they own the act of massage. They keep making public pleas for the provincial regulatory body (the CMTO) to restrict all massage  (or perhaps more broadly “bodywork”) activities unless the massage is performed by a “Registered Massage Therapist”.

Currently in Ontario, massage therapists have title protection. This means that anyone that wants to call themselves a “massage therapist” must meet certain provincial standards and be registered with the CMTO.

The act of massage on the other hand is public domain, that is, anyone can do massage for either general interest or for income. This makes sense. It allows friends and spouses to massage each other. It allows alternative forms of bodywork (reflexology, shiatsu, chair massage, Reiki, etc.) to be practiced and gives the public a wide variety of choice over the type of massage and bodywork that they can receive.

In the United States, most states regulate massage as a protected act, but this sets up a horrible situation where the public’s choice is limited and various professions are put in a position of fighting over the rights to touch specific parts of the body. For example, massage therapists fighting estheticians for the rights to do facial massage.

For someone outside the profession, it’s easy to see the benefits of “title protection” and also of keeping that title protection narrow or specific. It keeps our professional regulatory bodies in check and prevents them from overstepping the bounds of their role. For example, after hearing many personal stories of bodyworkers in British Columbia, my impression is that the provincial regulatory body is quite aggressive in trying to “own” massage. In addition to the title “massage therapist” that agency also regulates the title “massage practitioner”. However, an independent provincial task force has recommended that the provincial government remove protection of the “massage practitioner” title from the regulatory body, stating in effect that it is not in the public’s best interest and limits their choices in self-care.

As much as the provincial regulatory system of title protection may seem flawed, it serves both the public and the profession well. The public can rest assured that if they see a “massage therapist” that they will see someone who is at least competent in assessing and treating musculoskeletal issues. At the same time they have the option and right to receive alternative forms of bodywork if they choose to pursue those.

It’s really up to the regulatory bodies (CMTO), your provincial massage association and all of us individually as massage therapists to educate the public about massage therapy, the scope of practice of a massage therapist and the benefits of receiving massage therapy.

It’s not appropriate for regulated massage professionals to try to limit access to options for the public to choose from. We should all have the right to choice and should be able to choose the form of healthcare (or wellness care) that we want. For massage therapists to attempt to “own” the act of massage is not in the public’s best interest and is simply wrong.

A small number of therapists want to exert their control over the marketplace. They want to own massage, own the public and establish a monopoly on touch by eliminating any other competition for touch. Thank goodness our regulatory system prevents this from happening.

These people accuse alternative massage and bodywork trainers of being greedy, money-grubbers who want to make a buck off the public. That type of mud slinging is not only behavior unbecoming a professional massage therapist, but it clearly shows that the mud is on their faces.

So to answer the question: “Who owns massage?” Hopefully, the public.

I’ll be back with more posts looking at a broader picture of massage and examining some of the more controversial issues that we face in our profession. Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below. I’m happy to post any viewpoint as long as it is civil and professional.