The View from There

For many years now I have read with fascination and wonder Ralph Stephens’ column in Massage Today. A basic tenet of journalism is for a newspaper or periodical to have competing views in print, to provide balance, interest, and variety. As I mentioned once before in regard to Stephens’ column, his role is to “stir the pot.” I for one find this entertaining and useful. On occasion our organization has been in Stephens’ crosshairs. In fact, recently. That’s OK; the actions of our organization are not above reproach by any means.

However, another important tenet of responsible journalism is to report facts—or at least do your homework. The two most recent postings by Stephens fail to meet that standard.

In the December 2009 issue of Massage Today, Stephens wrote an article titled, “Year-End Observations of our Profession,” where he rightfully gave praise to the efforts of Janet Kahn and the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium. As we are all aware, the health care debate in this country is as contentious an issue as we have experienced in quite some time; having a voice like IHPC at the table has been a great step forward for our profession. What was not noted in the prior article was that both AMTA and ABMP are supporters of IHPC, recognizing it as an appropriate conduit to represent massage therapy along with other complementary and integrative health care disciplines. In our case, ABMP has been a financial supporter and our Chairman Bob Benson served on the IHPC Steering Committee during its formative years. We are delighted to work with IHPC in this pursuit.

Stephens goes on to extol the virtues of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) as the organization with the potential to “salvage the mess made primarily by AMTA, and by ABMP to a lesser degree,” and “raise the standards for our profession, something our associations and massage schools have no financial incentive to do.” We’ll take that comment as some form of thanks; ABMP helped initiate the effort to establish the FSMTB in 2005 and provided a loan to help the organization get off the ground.

In his most recent (January 2010) column, “Heart on the Bottom Line,” Stephens advances the premise that associations and schools are in collusion to limit massage therapy’s scope of practice. It is difficult to rationally rebut an irrational statement. In my 15+ years of involvement in the massage therapy profession through ABMP, 24 states and the District of Columbia have enacted massage regulation laws. During that time, ABMP has been on all sides of the debate, because ABMP’s legislative principles had not changed—we seek to ensure the most favorable climate possible in which to practice. If Stephens had been involved in any one of those state-level efforts, he would have an understanding that there has been an effort (at least on ABMP’s part) to establish a consistent legislative standard, should one be needed. However, those 24 states view our profession through their own lens; the reasons that Alabama and Nevada have different licensing laws have a lot to do with those two states, and nothing to do with liability insurance. We believe raising the standards of our profession happens through better curricula, better instruction, better schools, and more successful graduates and therapists.

Has the regulatory development of the massage profession been disjointed? Absolutely. Could we as a profession have done better? Of course. Will the regulatory environment improve in the future? I believe so, for the same reason Ralph Stephens does—establishing FSMTB will only increase the states’ abilities to work together.

News flash: The massage and bodywork profession is imperfect. As a leader in this profession, we at ABMP understand that the easy path is to blame “the big guys” for things that aren’t the way we want them. We have no illusions about the role of Stephens’ column: it is an opinion piece. However, we do feel that he should do some homework before sharing those opinions.

Compassion overfloweth

When I heard the news, it sounded like some kind of cruel joke—Haiti was hit by an earthquake. There is no good place for an earthquake to strike, but this desperately poor country is probably one of the areas least likely to withstand Nature’s ferocity.

The news coverage of the tragedy is excessive, yet somehow necessary. This is a horrible disaster and countless fellow humans need help; showing us the realities of the aftermath inspires support. My wife and I made a modest contribution, but as I watch the massive recovery efforts unfold, our donation feels like it probably should—only marginally helpful. The images of merciless destruction and bottomless grief overwhelm us.

Of course, when disaster strikes, ABMP members and others call us and ask two basic questions:

  • What can I do to help?
  • What are you doing to help?

In cases such as with Haiti, the response is oddly simple, and likely unfulfilling to those who are moved to do something—anything—to provide support.

Give.

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, massage therapists were in need and many stepped forward to help them; ABMP worked to get practitioners back to their practices. After the attacks of September 11th, ABMP members volunteered countless hours providing relief to first responders. Groups such as Emergency Response Massage International are specifically trained for these types of circumstances.

People typically join the massage & bodywork profession because they are compassionate, caring individuals. A tragic situation like the Haiti earthquake calls to our mission to provide relief. However, this time the need isn’t next door. Worse yet, it’s in another country—a country that had a challenged infrastructure before the disaster. Now Haiti’s need is compounded and our desires to help are thwarted as the cycle of desperation builds upon itself. It is not practical (or perhaps even possible) to coordinate a relief effort yet (if at all) that provides massage therapy. How would I get there? What system is already in place? Perhaps as time passes the realities will change and doors will open, but right now there just isn’t a way to be actively involved.

My advice to those who feel a strong desire to help: channel that desire to help humanity into your practice, send healing thoughts, and, if possible, share your good fortune through a donation. ABMP made a donation to the Red Cross on behalf of our members; we intend to monitor proceedings to see if there is a constructive role we can play. If you’re looking to donate, check out CNN’s long list of organizations providing relief and choose the one that most resonates with you.

Money won’t solve all the problems, or take away the pain, or bring back those who perished. But even a modest contribution—multiplied many times over through individual acts of generosity and compassion—can provide relief.

Moving Forward, Looking Back

If you spend any time online (or reading, or watching TV, or just being conscious), you have likely seen and read plenty about the end of the decade—whether it be the debate over whether it really has ended, or identifying the athlete of the decade, or a news story, or great lists like this one. I have no list (and thankfully no mug shot), but the turn of the calendar and the decade certainly provides good fodder.

I took the opportunity to read through the turn-of-the-century editions of Massage & Bodywork (M&B), Massage Magazine (MM), and Massage Therapy Journal (MTJ). MM and MTJ each had articles about “the future of touch,” while M&B focused on a more-pragmatic issue of avoiding “Y2k” trouble. The late Robert Noah Calvert wrote an article in MM lauding “The Stars of the Century,” recognizing the leaders of the field in the 1900s (he included himself). An interesting part of the futuristic articles was looking at the names who were asked to comment; many are still the profession’s thought leaders. Most fascinating? The hairstyles (guilty as charged, Lynda and Diana).

In a parallel but unrelated exercise, I used some time off over the holiday break to do some much-overdue purging of collected treasures/junk in the Sweeney household. It is an interesting self-examination to look through things from earlier in your life. Invariably, the overriding question becomes, “why do I still have this?” followed by “look at my hair in that picture.” Glad that wasn’t in Massage Magazine. Undertaking an exercise like this, followed up by seeing “Up in The Air” with George Clooney, gets you thinking about what’s in “my backpack.” How much do we really need? It’s a question I can always do a better job of reflecting on than acting on. Our colleague Marissa Macias posted a similar discussion on massageprofessionals.com; she does an excellent job of framing the issue as it relates to our professional lives.

For me, the New Year brings excitement—a chance for ABMP to build on its successes, and learn from our challenges; another year of using our role to help advance the profession and its members; personally, the calendar seems to be turning ever more quickly, and spending time with my boys suddenly seems an increasingly elusive goal.

What’s exciting is we never know what the calendar has in store for us. Tiger Woods was named athlete of the decade, the same week he was a national punch line. The future of massage will be determined day by day, session by session—not by me, or “leaders of the field,” but by you.

Another year is upon us—what do you have in store for it?