As 2016 winds down, now is a healthy time to reflect on the state of the massage and bodywork industry.  From my vantage point in Arizona, here is what I observe:

To be transparent, I am an exam item writer for the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx).  Nothing in this post is intended to be taken as insider information.  My sole purpose is to provide perspective and opinion on the health and direction of our great industry.   No revelations upcoming for the reader.

The product life cycle has entered a mature phase for our industry services.  Innovations are still present, yet slowing.  Member organizations are squabbling for control of what we teach and how we perform.  Schools are enhancing their curricula to meet and exceed public demand and meet MBLEx standard.  Consumers are now savvy to what they perceive massage to be.  Catch the semantics with that last statement?

I shall eludicate upon the final statement first.  A generation of consumers have now been acclimated to massage thanks to the Envy effect.  Their initial impressions are powerful and shape how they view other arenas of the massage industry.  In my practice, clients note how different my sessions are compared to what they receive in the chain franchises.  Most appreciate the extra time I may devote to educating them on their bodies.  Now is the time to be better than ever at “speaking the work”, understanding how to formulate treatment plans, educating clients how their lifestyle habits impact their bodies and get the most results from each session.   Many consumers only know one way of viewing massage, they simply “don’t know what they don’t know” yet.

Entry level training and continuing education is evolving in profound manners.  The emphasis on “more knowledge & more advanced techniques” presented in entry level programs is a double-edged sword.  Yes, many therapists are coming out stronger in knowledge and skill set than ever before.  However, many therapists miss the fundamentals in fast paced programs and never find the means to garner them, leaving them prone to feeling lost and “behind the eight ball” upon graduation.

Having worked in both entry level and continuing education sectors, I can attest to the great chasm mentally that occurs when students are expected to learn more, yet miss the fundamentals necessary to critically think through client cases.   Certainly, school owners and curricula writers need to “keep up with the jones” in the highly competitive education market place creating attractive programs that impress the incoming student.  However, as programs become more advanced, there is a tendency to breeze through the basics quickly to make room for the sexier content.

Too many students lack the basics upon graduation such as proper communication, holding space safely, proper hygienic practice, transition and flow of strokes in session, muscle locations and function, and making safe choices in ethical dilemmas.  To me, these are the basics that every LMT needs to possess to better apply massage practice safely.  Creating multi-session treatment plans and incorporating clinical and advanced modalities becomes easier once students acquire the basic framework upon which to construct thoughts.

Some questions that are pertinent to shaping the future of our industry are:

  1. Have the efforts to encourage research in the field accomplished desired results?  Yes, we have more case studies reported upon.  To contrast, do we have more statistically sound, collegiate level research formulated on the effects of massage therapy?  Yes, in volume from 5 years prior.  As I survey sites such as pubmed.gov, I would expect more in regards to research efforts considering the tremendous momentum behind research efforts, including demanding research hours for NCBTMB board certification renewal.
  2.  Where is the next big phase of growth going to be witnessed for the massage field?  In the 1980s, it was the sports field; in the 1990s, it was the spa field; in this century, its been the medical field.  Have we tapped into every potential market?  I believe we can delve even deeper in the medical field with working in tandem with all allopathic practitioners as long as we a) continue to maintain high professionalism and ethics and b) continue demanding more course hours in anatomy, kinesiology, physiology and pathology.  I see a revival of the eastern paradigm approaching in the coming years as limitations of western medicine are more readily witnessed while those practicing the healing arts of homeopathy, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and similar paradigms manifest greater success.
  3. How much more advanced can we (should we) make entry level school programs?  We need to recognize that not every massage student will have the aptitude to excel in an accelerated program (compare course and program content now from 15 years ago to determine my definition of accelerated).  My peers nationwide consistently note that the number of students who lack note-taking skills, attention in lecture and quality of touch has steadily increased over the years.  Couple this trend to more challenging clinical course & science content and add that to less classroom support as enrollments dwindle creates a condition where many students fall through the cracks in massage education.  A tired story for some to read, but a story that needs telling until significant efforts to reverse these trends are witnessed.

Overall, I assess the health of our massage and bodywork industry is strong, yet not robust.  There is a lack of direction coming from the member organizations as they compete for our dollars and interest.  Everyone thinks they are right, everyone placing energies in different directions.  Until the 3 aforementioned questions are answered, the varying groups who attempt to discredit other arenas of our industry will continue to splice efforts and slow progress.

Perhaps we need a “constitutional convention” amongst many major players to determine a healthy course for our industry.  Or perhaps, we simply need to allow different industry arenas to operate independently and successfully without judgment or discrediting efforts.  I don’t have the answer.  I do offer this post as perspective for those in influence to have a healthy framework of discussion.

I love the massage and bodywork industry.  I love our place in the greater trillion dollar health care industry.  I love witnessing miracles of healing upon my table.  I love sharing sacred space with my students in class.  No matter what direction the industry travels next or where our next major area of group stems from, I will continue to enjoy the ride.  Namaste!