INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES: I have just performed the duties of a Judge at the World Massage Championship in Copenhagen, Denmark and I am eager to share my impressions. To begin, I feel it necessary to share who I am so that you, the reader, understand the perspective I am coming from and why my opinion might matter. Here is my bio at the end of the article.
DISCLAIMER: Taking into consideration the melting pot of culture holding a mass of professionals who are coming from the broadest sample of schools of thought, I genuinely hope not to insult anyone. Please know that my perspective is that of the American Standard, as I know it to be, now, which has been established as it is at this point in time.
It has been one week since I attended the World Massage Therapy Championship and it has taken me as long to marinate the experience for thoughtful sharing. Additionally, the repercussions continue to show up in more and more celebration, connection, promotional opportunities explored by all, and some criticism. As I have mentioned before, but I feel should be offered again, this is my perspective coming through my lens as a US based educator of entry level and advanced bodywork, a leader in the profession, with a nearly 30 year career as a Massage Therapist, trying to hold to the highest standards as I know it them to be.
Several colleagues have brought it to my attention that they are disappointed and even insulted, if not angry at the thought of our profession having a championship competition. Here is why I understand this. Many of us have worked extremely hard to correct the stereotyping that has oppressed our profession. The long-standing misperceptions of massage therapy have been that it is unprofessional, sex work, cosmetology/beauty based, or something frivolous and expensive that only the wealthy can enjoy as a luxury.
After incalculable investment of time, money, and effort, Massage Therapy has finally started to gain traction and be known as serious healthcare. This is due to the investment in evidence-based research, serious researchers working very hard and a community of therapists such as me who champion this cultural correction by educating and promoting massage therapy as legitimate healthcare.
The research is proving with real evidence that massage therapy, whether done in a hospital setting, a spa, a gym, or a massage therapist’s office etc. is promoting the improvement of health in a variety of ways. It improves the health of those with serious health challenges, and it is great for everyone who is healthy or on a path to improved wellness. It also supports athletic performance and really supports every type of performance in life, really. The benefits are holistic meaning massage can and does address the mental, emotional and physical health of a person. Everyone can benefit from receiving massage therapy.
Allow me to repeat that in a different way. Massage Therapy is finally being recognized as legitimate healthcare and it does not matter how or where you (speaking to the MTs) do it, as long as it is being done ethically, and professionally by a trained professional. Massage is that good, and all of us involved in the field should help educate the public about these very real benefits.
I will just throw in here that we currently have an opioid addiction epidemic in the United States and Massage Therapy is now being recognized as a viable option for pain management of many conditions that opioids are being used to treat. This is happening right now. Not to forget the fantastic work being done in the realms of oncology and hospice care. I could go on and on. I am very passionate about being part of this important shift in the public perception for our profession. This shift is not coming easy.
Knowing where I am coming from should help inform you the reader why, when I initially saw that there was an international massage championship, I too had serious reservations and concerns. I was so concerned that a massage championship could be harmful to this reputation improvement effort that I looked into it deeper. The more I looked into it, the more my curiosity grew and I was inspired to reach out to the Founder to Volunteer to be a Judge and make the trip.
I was invited to come to this event. My intrigue was expanding beyond my concern. As the plans progressed and I was in the loop of developments, I saw that there were going to be more than 40 countries represented. My concern continued to diminished as I became more and more enthusiastic about the world survey of bodywork technique and approach I was going to witness and be part of.
Now that I have participated in the event what I feel strongly is the most predominant character of this project is not the competition itself, but great opportunity for community and education. The participants came from all over the world. All with diverse styles of working and differing educational backgrounds. Some were bringing with them thousands and thousands of years of history with their culture, modality and approach. It was a massage smorgasbord that you could never consume fully. A sample platter of technique describing ancient and modern innovation, invention, and creation within our beloved profession.
As for the competitors, there was love, camaraderie, people helping each other even though they were competing, curiosity and learning, sharing, hugs, and laughter! Nearly everyone there made 200 new friends who live all over the world. This bringing together of professionals with exposure to the techniques, modalities and approaches is unprecedented and I think awesome.
Now, having celebrated all of that, the event also brings together a cornucopia of not on the same page-ness with regard to standards of practice and what I know as basic and foundational rules of engagement. When you have all of these massage professionals coming together from all over the world, you are also bringing together a huge spectrum of different professional culture, specifically with regard to ethics, client draping, hygienic practices, scope of practice, and client interactions. Being who I am, I was extremely challenged by this and had to open myself up to the reality of the situation at hand, that the world was being represented, not just my safe little school haven that I control with my iron fist in the velvet glove in Longmont, Colorado.
I will be blogging more about those differences later. To close this out, please know that I am still excited about this event. I do still have some concerns. I do not think having a massage competition compromises the perception of our profession as legitimate health care. I may be wrong, but these are my two cents and I have attended the event. I feel strongly that as the event matures, more basic standards will be introduced and made compulsory which will provide an outstanding opportunity for education for those competitors who are globally providing intentional therapeutic benefits through massage. I’m very happy and proud to be part of it. I hope I am able to continue and hope to support the evolution of the project.