Be a Professional

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting the 14th ABMP School Issues Forum in Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria holds special memories for me—home to my first job out of college, where I met my wife, where my first son was born. I am now a Coloradan (and hope to remain that way forever), but Virginia comes in a close second. Our School Issues Forum is a great opportunity to re-connect with what are now old friends (you know who you are) in the massage education community, as well as meet some of the new and future leaders of the field. The three-day meeting is a guaranteed battery-charger, and I always leave the meeting with that tired exhaustion that comes from stimulating interaction. In one of my discussions, I told the group of attendees that I consider them the “fretters” in the profession. By this I mean that those who attend are some of the field’s leaders, and by definition those leaders are the ones who seek to change the status quo, and “fret” over the field’s progress. This tendency is a very good thing; any profession has those who like to challenge the rest of us to think and improve the status quo. Interestingly, one comment that wasn’t new, but echoed again this year was the lament that (and I’m paraphrasing here) “massage therapy and massage therapists aren’t taken seriously” by the larger healthcare community. In this instance, one of the causes identified for this situation was our relatively low entry-level education standards (as compared to other healthcare professions). I will admit freely that this concern does not keep me up at night. Will increasing the educational entry requirements to the field result in greater professional recognition? Will it result in higher payment for massage and bodywork services? I believe the answer to these questions is “It could.” But, at what cost? I’m a market economics, big-picture type of guy. I want to understand how any increase in inputs (additional hours of education, at additional cost to the student) would have some corresponding degree of output (greater income potential and professional opportunities). While some might make that claim, I don’t think we have any research that gives us any guarantees.  In fact, a quick look at training requirements v. earnings tells us that doesn’t happen in those states (and countries) with higher hour standards. Several very good comments were made at the meeting to illustrate how massage therapists and bodywork professionals can locally grow the esteem factor for our field through networking and educating those in “more established” healthcare professions. So how do we become more recognized as a profession? I think it’s actually quite simple—act like it. I would argue that, while there is always room for improvement, we’re already there. We support research. We have a majority of training programs that are accredited. We hold conferences. All those attributes are trappings of a profession. But ultimately the way we prove we’re professionals is by providing one superb session at a time to our clients. We provide excellent service, compassionate care and touch, and thoughtful follow-up. We conduct ourselves as professionals, with our clients, employers, and colleagues. We treat the client the way we like to be treated. We respect boundaries, wishes, and beliefs. We hold ourselves accountable. We have fun and enjoy ourselves, and celebrate the good work that we do. And we deliver on what we promise. If we do all that, no one can deny our professionalism.