A Philosophical Look at Rethinking Medical Massage Therapy School for the Massage Professional in the 21st Century
Rethinking Medical Massage Therapy School for the 21st Century
What They Don’t Have Time To Teach In Massage Therapy School
Increasing numbers of students want to know how to become a medical massage therapist. Yet as a forty year professional in bodymind processes — meditative arts, postural yoga, hands-on massage & bodywork and other whole health processes — my perception is many massage therapy school curriculums are on the wrong track.
This is especially true if one wished to pursue hospital based massage therapy. In fact, that’s even more critical because while basic, relaxation-based massage can be very beneficial to the healing process of almost anyone just by stress reduction alone, there are many more complicated clinical challenges in the hospital setting. It is far better if the hands-on massage therapist can resolve such complex & specific issues, rather than just giving a nice, relaxing, spa-style massage.
I’m not knocking or downplaying spa or relaxation styles of massage. It’s just that in hospital settings, those therapists who can provide significant and lasting relief for medical issues other practitioners cannot become FAR more valuable, MUCH faster.
So if you want to be in hospital based massage therapy, it is best to get such knowledge sooner rather than later. And you never know when the national massage chains (like Massage Envy or Elements) might start trying to set up in hospitals, meaning they’ll be providing lower cost massage overall, driving your wages lower if you’re not well prepared for that very probably near future.
In my on-going process of all this, I got very interested in the questions of what ARE they teaching, and WHY, in Medical Massage Therapy School for the 21st Century professional challenges?
Sharply Focused Trade School
What seems to have happened, rather than see themselves for what they are — narrowly focused trade schools — many of the schools appear to be attempting to be more engaged in being seen as higher (and wider) level academics. … Or at least moving that way. They’re trying to cover too wide a range of material, especially in physiology.
The physiology and anatomy teachings in medical massage therapy school should be very specifically RELEVANT to the practice of medical massage. This is especially true in that most massage schools are only 500 to 1,000 hours long. They don’t have time to waste teaching stuff the student is not going to need to know, and probably will never apply in their practices.
For Example, the massage practitioner really does NOT need to know about fibroblasts and osteoblasts, involved in the processes of formation of bone tissue. If the student wants to work in, say, a highly specialized orthopedic ward, where bones are directly addressed, such bone physiology could be an elective in post-graduation classes.
But MOST massage therapists, even highly & specifically therapeutic ones, will never need to know about osteoblasts and fibroblasts.
Yet many of the “educational elite” in the massage world overtly state they hope for the day massage is “recognized by the health care system,” therefore gaining benefits of being part of the medical establishment. Such benefits (allegedly) include more prestige, more client referrals, insurance payments, and a higher level status in society in general. To that end, they are looking to make massage school into a multi-year process, similar to a two or four year college.
So the question is, HOW do we make Medical Massage Therapy School VERY relevant, and directly useful, to the student?
I — David Scott Lynn (DSL) — had never gone to massage school until much later in my career, even though I’ve been in professional massage / bodywork practice since 1981, and a yoga teacher since 1976.
I became a clinically successful massage & bodywork therapist without ANY formal training as in attending massage school. What anatomy & physiology I needed to know to improve my skills, and make myself more relevant to more potential Clients, I learned as I needed by reading books or talking to other already successful therapists or physicians.
And because I knew and worked with many leaders in the massage field, I became VERY involved in the political aspects of the massage industry in the early days of the push for licensing (late 1980s, early 1990s).
Later on, I decided to go to massage school. It was primarily that I moved to a state, Arizona, requiring licensing, and I was long past the grandfathering cause. So I went. I attended a school with a reputation for being one of THE most therapeutic and clinically focused schools in the country.
I was NOT very impressed, and very often disappointed with what I experienced there.
What’s Missing from Modern, Medical Massage Therapy School and Bodywork Trainings?
- An Integrating Philosophy Underlying the Sciences, Patient Assessment & Treatment Strategies
- Consistent, In-Depth understanding of relevant Physical & Medical Sciences and how they work AND APPLY in the human body and therapy
- Comprehensive Assessment Processes for creating effecticient* Strategies & Tactics
- Deep Understandings of Fundamental Processes of Clinical / Medical Massage & Myo-Structural Bodywork
- How to work with Complex Cases not fitting into the usual categories of assessment, procedures & contra-indications
* Effecticient = Effective & Efficient, because they should go together.
A Philosophical View of What They Don’t Have Time To Teach In Medical Massage Therapy School
On How To Become A Medical Massage Therapist
Many years before becoming a massage & bodyworker, I became very interested in the philosophical & psychological underpinnings of how mind-body and body-mind practices worked. (Yes, there are differences.) As I started with martial arts, then meditation, later moving into yoga, I learned about “thinking” as both an intellectual AND a feeling process. While they are often thought of or taught as in opposition to each other, they are in fact, or can be, VERY complimentary.
As I learned about such things, I got very interested in the very nature of education, how we learn, and what are the best ways to get educated, especially applied to medical massage and bodywork.
One thing about massage therapy is discovering how to FEEL via your hands what correlates or corresponds to why you KNOW in your mind. Part of the process of becoming a great bodyworker is learning how to integrate thinking and feeling.
For Example, when becoming a great carpenter, the person hears lots of “stuff,” lots of information, about how to use tools properly. But until the carpenter swings hammers and draws a saw across wood, that information is nearly meaningless. But when you start actually USING the tools, and FEELING their function, you start to be able to APPLY the tips & trick, the information, you heard from other people along the way.
In therapy, the various elements we learn appear, at first, to be independent of each other, separate areas of study. But as we get more proficient, those seemingly distinct areas of study begin to merge into one, integrated experience. We no longer break them up as much, or at all, in our minds.
So each element of a massage education ought to be considered as to how much the new therapists will be able to integrate a piece of “data” or “information” into what they see in their clients posture and pathologies, into what they feel in their hands as they treat the muscles.
Th learning experience should be built around that process.
No Underlying Philosophy
Many years ago, in a private conversation, a Naprapath* (see below) I knew quite well offered this insight:
When in Naprapathy School, students received 1.) an excellent education in basic physical medicine sciences, 2.) excellent evaluation & diagnostic methods, and 3.) equally excellent contact & treatment procedures. Yet the naprapath said there was presented no underlying, interconnecting philosophy integrating the three distinct courses of study & practice of therapy.
Therefore, unless a particular Client fit well into a specific, pre-established, easily recognizable diagnostic category, the newly practicing naprapathic physician / therapist was not equipped to produce a valid and “effecticient”** strategy for the Client. The Client then “fell through the cracks,” not receiving the best and most well-targeted care. Their therapy might or might not have worked, due to some degree of lack of precision of relevance to their exact condition.
* Naprapath: a system of treatment by manipulation of connective tissue and adjoining structures and by dietary measures that is held to facilitate the recuperative and regenerative processes of the body.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definition of Naprapathy HERE
Naprapathy is, then, quite similar to chiropractic and osteopathy. Differences in methods are more nuanced and subtle than, for example, when comparing chiropractic with orthodox, allopathic medical practices.
“Modern” Orthodox Medicine
Has Same Failings
Surprisingly (or not?), the modern, orthodox medical professional (often referred to as allopathic*), with the vast amount of information they must assimilate in school as it is, also runs into this philosophical problem. They learn extensive sciences, in-depth diagnostics, and precise treatment protocols; but little in the way of an underlying philosophy to connect them all, not giving practitioners the tools they need to deal with those Clients or Patients whom do not fit neatly into the pre-defined diagnostic categories. Much of the dissatisfaction certain Client’s have with the medical system is due to this lack of underlying, or overarching, perspective.
* Allopathic = treatment by dissimilars, as opposed to:
* Homeopathic = treatment by similars
Yet unique illness requires unique Evaluation & Treatment.
There is a book titled How Doctors Think that showed me I was not alone in this assessment of the orthodox medical profession.
In both examples above, naprapathic and allopathic medicine, the root problem is similar:
Philosophical Integration of
Health Care Sciences & Practices
Insufficient common, underlying philosophy of health and healing allowing everyone, and every component, to work together in support of the Client, and connecting sciences, diagnostics and treatment protocols (standard procedures) in giving practitioners the tools necessary to deal with those who do not fall neatly into the predefined diagnostic & treatment categories.
THAT is the difference between a superior practitioner and an average practitioner.
The above conversation with the Naprapath inspired this author (me, DSL) to approach all my own training programs with this in mind: all of my own programs would be designed such that Students would receive, to the best my ability, the underlying philosophical foundations linking and coordinating the sciences, the diagnostics, and the treatment systems.Ironically, this problem of disconnect between elements of what we were taught is exactly what I encountered when I recently attended a 720 hour massage program with a reputation, supposedly, of being among THE most therapeutically focused massage therapy schools in the country. …
Although I was NOT surprised at all, I was disappointed, to say the least. But agin, NOT surprised.
To be fair, however, it must be noted that (although not true for all orthodox physicians and practitioners) when it comes to actual inter-cooperation on patient care delivery, the orthodox medical system does have more of an an underlying philosophy of cooperation and full consideration for fellow practitioners.
And they do, more-or-less, subscribe to a common and highly organized philosophy of medicine in general. This allows them to cooperate more closely than most wholistic practitioners are, generally speaking, at this time capable of. And, right or wrong, orthodox practitioners are more philosophically aligned that drugs, surgery, radiation and such procedures are the main features of a healing paradigm, with little real dissension on that core issue.
MORE On What They Don’t Have Time To Teach In Medical Massage Therapy School for the 21st Century
Minimal RELEVANT Foundations
& Sciences of Therapy
It seems the massage “industry” is so intent on “fitting in” with the orthodox medical system, and pushing to become “higher education,” they get a few things somewhat, or quite, wrong.
One of these “things” I experienced in massage school (within the last few years) was a near complete lack of teaching of medical and massage sciences in ways making them directly relevant to what a massage or bodywork therapist actually does in the treatment room. This is NOT just basic massage schools, either. Advanced Training programs fail here as well.
For Example, in the 1990s, I was traveling a lot to various cities teaching the DSL Method, now known as DSL Edgework, to mostly neuromuscular (NMT) therapists. NMT made a pretty big deal of being “science-based.” They had taken, almost word-for-word, the information from Dr. Raymond Nimmo’s system called Receptor / Tonus Technique. Dr.s Nimmo and James Vannerson (both chiropractors) invested quite a bit of time — years, actually — in developing the scientific foundations and explanations for their soft tissue techniques (primarily focused on resolving “Trigger Points”).
Exposure To Sciences is
Not Application of Sciences
So NMT trainings supposedly “taught” the basic neuromuscular sciences underlying NMT. Yet in MY classes, when I asked the students if they ever actually USED the NMT sciences in the treatment room, most of them said NO. Meaning they really had no clue on how to apply basic scientific knowledge to producing physical assessments and developing treatment strategies.
If you’re NOT going to use the information, WHY learn it?
So too, in the six months I was in massage school, while they spent a LOT of time “teaching” a wide range of scientific concepts, there was VERY LITTLE in the way of explaining HOW to apply those concepts to actually practicing massage and bodywork.
I even remember attending a graduation for a class that was ahead of my class. I was quite surprised, even horrified, when I heard the Keynote Address given to the graduating class of new massage therapists by a practicing physician who also taught at the massage school.
She said to the class they would probably never “think about actin-myosin filaments again.” Well, I had recently written some articles describing how THINKING ABOUT and ACCOUNTING FOR actin-myosin filaments was a focal point of performing therapy. Or, at least, it was in the way *I* do — and teach — therapy.
In fact, one of my articles was on how the actin-myosin filaments were and are The NEXUS between various aspects of the human being and the Therapist with the Client. The focus of the article was primarily yoga therapy, but the principles are the same, and cross-apply to bodywork and massage, as well.
Muscle As The Nexus In Therapy
Anyway, we solve many of these problems in the DSL Edgework Training & Coaching programs.
MORE COMING LATER!!!
Thanks for Reading,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net
Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System