A bill has been introduced in Maine, HB 0255, “An Act To Define Licensed Massage Therapists as Health Care Practitioners,” clarifies that massage therapists and massage practitioners are healthcare practitioners and that massage therapy is a healthcare practice.
I suspect that many massage therapists will bristle at this. They will say, “I don’t want anything to do with healthcare. Healthcare is a broken system and I want no part of it.” Despite appearances, however, healthcare is not a system. It’s not just for sick people and it’s not “a thing doctors and hospitals do.” If you are a massage therapist, whether you practice in your basement, in a studio, in a spa or in an ICU, you are a healthcare practitioner.
“Healthcare” has become a bad word in our profession.
Many massage therapists feel they are “better than that,” or say, “I just do relaxation massage.” When you touch a person and affect their nervous system with the goal of relaxing them, relieving their pain or otherwise improving their health or function you are practicing healthcare. Healthcare practitioners do what they do in all kinds of settings. Some take insurance. Some don't. Some work in medical settings some don't. The vast majority of them go to work in the morning with the intention of bringing clinical skill, experience and compassion together to make people's lives better.
Massage therapists, you have nothing to lose by embracing your role as a licensed, credentialed healthcare practitioner and everything to gain.
If you are a massage therapist, you don’t get to decide that you’re not a healthcare provider. When you draw that line in the sand you are doing a disservice to yourself, to the profession and to the people you serve. You must take the trust of your clients and patients seriously. That means a lot more than many of us think it does. It means staying current and employing evidence-based practice methods and knowing and respecting your scope of practice. If massage therapy is truly going to be a part of creating a healthy world, we have to up our game.
Nobody is going to do this for us.
While Maine considers this bill that will elevate the status of massage therapy and massage therapists in Maine, there are changes in the regulatory landscape for massage therapy in many states ranging from shifting responsibility of regulatory oversight to complete deregulation.
We have to come to the table, as Senator Barbara Mikulsky suggested at an integrative health conference 2 years ago, “Credentialed, compassionate and convincing.” These traits have to exist in equal measure. Extra compassion doesn’t make up for poor or no credentials and “flushing toxins” and “releasing lactic acid” are not convincing (or real). We have to be prepared to advocate for the discipline of massage therapy. We have to have relevant skills that improve real lives in real ways.
Personally, I am deeply optimistic about the possibilities that lie in legislation that will recognize massage therapists as healthcare practitioners. This is an important milestone…
The massage therapy profession is not ready for it.
Readiness is going to be a very heavy lift for our profession. We will not be ready until we know that “certification” is not something that can happen online or in a two-day class without supervised practice with real clients and patients. We will not be ready until we understand that
meaningful certification can be offered by a variety of competent and experienced people, not just by those who are expressly invited by certifying bodies or agencies.
When we are ready to be healthcare practitioners, we will stop telling the people we serve that they have “knots” in their muscles and we will stop suggesting that we have an essential oil that will cure their [insert condition here]. We will show and feel respect for other providers of all disciplines and recognize that they, too, are doing their best to make people’s lives better.
Massage therapists have to make massage therapy matter.
I recently attended the National Health Policy Conference in Washington, DC with 600 other people who are not massage therapists and for whom massage therapy is simply not an issue of importance. Every time I stood up at the microphone to ask a question about massage and Medicare or massage therapy and healthcare access, the experts on the panels would respond by saying something like, “Well, massage therapy is in a lot of the provisions now,” or “Oh, I love massage. It’s really important.” None of them had the time or the bandwidth to talk with me about how to make massage therapy matter in the current healthcare climate.
Just because massage therapy is mentioned in some of the legislation and guidelines now doesn't mean it's happening or that people who need it have access to it and it certainly doesn’t mean that massage therapists are ready to contribute and safe, effective and meaningful ways.
Stick with us in the coming weeks and months as we continue to explore the landscape of massage therapy practice, regulation, elevation and action.