Massage is for EveryBody Awards!

$1,000 Winners Exemplify the Campaign’s Guiding Principles

To see previous Massage is for EveryBody winners, please visit the archives.

ABMP received a number of passionate essays explaining the many ways in which practitioners work tirelessly to support the guiding principles behind Massage is for EveryBody. We at ABMP are deeply grateful to you all for your healing, inclusive work. You make the world a better place. Congratulations to the following winners (essays below) whose work exemplifies the healing and inclusive values of the campaign:

Read about the 2022 winners here and 2021 winners here.

Guiding Principles

Because Massage is for EveryBody, we will:

  1. Serve as advocates for the powerful physical and emotional benefits of massage and bodywork.
  2. Support and advocate for efforts that bring massage and bodywork to underserved populations.
  3. Spread awareness of career options in the massage and bodywork profession.
  4. Honor the healing role practitioners play in our communities.
  5. Emphasize the importance of self-care, including receiving regular bodywork, for massage therapists and bodyworkers, and their clients.

Intercultural Healing: Massage in LGBTQ+ and BIPOC Communities

Portrait of By Ihotu Ali

My name is Ihotu, meaning "love" in my father's language of Nigeria in West Africa. My mother is Polish-American. As a mixed-race woman, I have always been drawn into diverse communities. I spent my 20s living in Harlem in New York City and working with the United Nations, traveling across Africa and the Caribbean as a public health researcher alongside Western doctors and local traditional healers and midwives. In 2016, I returned to my hometown in Minnesota as a massage therapist and birth doula, committed to create more spaces for Black people and African immigrants to thrive, reduce health disparities and racism in health care, and honor our own cultural ways of healing and birthing.

After the murder of George Floyd in my neighborhood in 2020, a health center two miles away invited me to open a bodywork clinic that would be run by and for people of color and LGBTQ+ communities, in their new integrative health wing. Today, the Oshun Center for Intercultural Healing hosts eight practitioners of color, all who offer sliding-scale prices. We are a place where White and people of color connect to receive and practice Western, Eastern, and indigenous approaches to heart, soul, and womb healing. We imagine what US health care would look like if it had developed evenly and fairly, acknowledging the influences of folk medicine, midwives, and homeopaths.

By telling the history of medicine's colonization, and imagining its reintegration, we hope to bring new medicines to everyone. We believe no one should have to choose between broken hearts or broken bones, or between Western, Eastern, or indigenous healing. Our pain and illnesses are varied, and we deserve options, informed choice, and affordable access to our own cultural ways of healing. We are also mostly volunteer-run, and we could really use this scholarship! Thank you!

Beyond Words: Massage and Cancer Treatment

Portrait of Josh CaseyBy Josh Casey

My initial education in massage taught me that cancer was a contraindication. A human with cancer was a human not to be touched. Since beginning my work in oncology massage in hospitals in 2011, I have had the honor of sharing massage with thousands of cancer patients. I am the senior massage therapist at the Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, Oregon.

I live in a world of masks, gloves, and gowns, where most human touch is in order to take a blood draw, give a shot, or access a port to administer chemotherapy or infuse stem cells. It's a world that rarely feels gentle and even more rarely feels good, a world where the nursing staff is so spread thin the one thing they are guaranteed to never have is time to spend with a patient. As massage therapists, we know our touch brings a myriad of amazing qualities, and I feel the most important thing our touch carries is our humanity. When we reach out and touch someone, they know they are not alone. We can share in the fear and the joy, the hope and the mourning. When there is no right thing to say, we go beyond words. If there was ever any doubt in the power of touch, a day in my world reveals all the proof you'd ever need. We cannot deny touch to the most sick and vulnerable of our neighbors, as it is the sick and vulnerable who need our touch the most.

After Domestic Violence: Massage as a Recovery Companion

Portrait of By Margaret Finger

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 people every minute experience domestic violence from a partner. This equates to 10 million people every year. In many cases, these victims are an underserved population and for many reasons—fear of further injury by being in public, unable to work because of injuries—victims may reside in shelters during their recovery. As a result of the violence against them, they experience physical, mental, and emotional pain.

Because of my background and heavy involvement in this community, I have had several domestic violence victims referred to me for intervention. Massage therapy can promote health and wellness in this population. It is our role to help the person feel safe and in control, which empowers them, and to provide healing massage.

During the interview and assessment portion of the massage, I disclose that I am a thriver of domestic violence. This has built a rapport in all cases thus far. Sometimes these clients do not feel comfortable undressing for the massage, so I tell them to wear a tank top and gym shorts until they become comfortable with me. I give them a gentle massage, all the while watching for responses to my touch. I usually include craniosacral techniques to relax and reset the nervous system. I tell them that whenever they want the session to end, let me know, and it is done.

I have found here in Kansas there are a few state and county agencies that agreed to pay for my services. I had one success story of a client who safely left her abusive husband and is doing well on her own. I gave her a list of community resources to help her on her way, and luckily, she has supportive adult children. It was a very rewarding experience to watch her transform and thrive.

Shoulder Rub? Massage for Down Syndrome

Portrait of Aly George By Aly George

I grew up with my brother, Mack. He was 15 years older than me. However, most of the time I was helping take care of him. Born with Down syndrome, he'd received open-heart surgery when he was only 2 years old.

In the world of disabilities, there is a set of terms used: “low functioning” and “high functioning.” Mack was considered “low functioning” because his speech and learning abilities were severely limited. He never initiated physical contact.

But I saw brilliance in him, as he sat for hours creating elaborate stories, intricate artwork, and assembling puzzles. It was a daily routine. Then, one evening, I noticed him gently stretching his neck from side to side, something I'd never seen him do before.

So, I decided to try something new. I asked my brother as he sat in his chair, hunched over his creations, “Mack, do you ever hurt after sitting all day?” He nodded. “Can I rub your shoulders?” Another "Yes".

Shoulder rubs became the way my brother and I bonded. Every day I'd ask, "Shoulder rub?"" He never said no. Just because he wasn’t a hugger didn't mean he did not need touch. It's just that no one ever noticed, because he never complained.

This was the spark that ignited my passion for massage therapy.

This year, Mack went in for a second open-heart surgery. Our mother gave him foot rubs throughout his recovery. I continued giving him massages after he safely returned home. He received them more gratefully than ever.

Today, I openly offer massage to differently-abled individuals, and I try to encourage more awareness and inclusivity through my practice. I hope to open up the world of massage to these groups that seldom receive it, because I believe massage is for everyone.

In Recovery: Massage for Addiction

Portrait of By Jessica Irelan
Business Facebook page: ButterflyTherapeutics

As I massaged her neck and temples, Ella began to cry. I could feel her body shaking. She then told me how grateful she was to receive empathy and massage while she was recovering from drug addiction.

I have found helping addicts through massage therapy to be a profound experience. Massage therapy has shown to be effective as well as rewarding for both myself and the addict. As someone who has witnessed the devastating effects of addiction firsthand, it was refreshing to learn about a potential alternative treatment that goes beyond traditional methods. The idea that massage therapy can provide a safe and noninvasive approach to addressing the physical symptoms of addiction withdrawal particularly resonated with me. I have seen how debilitating these symptoms can be for individuals trying to overcome addiction.

Ella described her physical experience: “Massage soothed my muscle aches, nausea, and headaches; it is truly remarkable.” Moreover, the psychological support massage therapy offers to addicts by reducing stress and anxiety is equally important. It is no secret the journey to recovery is emotionally challenging, and anything that can help individuals regulate their emotions and cope with cravings and triggers should be highly valued.

Brian relaxed deeply in his session, I could feel a sense and calmness encompass his being, body, mind, and spirit. He said, “I felt safe enough to relax.” Ultimately, this treatment led to better sleep patterns, which helped provide him with the tools he needed to develop healthier coping mechanisms.

My clients experienced a profound reconnection with their bodies and regained self-awareness. Addiction can often cause individuals to disconnect from their physical selves, leading to a distorted perception of their bodies. The fact that massage therapy helps rebuild this relationship and promotes self-acceptance and increased body awareness is empowering. It encourages individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices and develop a greater respect for their bodies, which is crucial for long-term recovery.

Overall, I am so grateful for the experience of using massage therapy as valuable adjunctive treatment for addicts. By addressing physical discomfort, reducing stress and anxiety, and fostering self-awareness, it has the potential to significantly enhance the overall well-being and effectiveness of recovery programs. I believe incorporating massage therapy into addiction treatment should be seriously considered, as it provides a holistic approach that supports addicts both physically and psychologically.

No Limitations: Providing Massage from a Wheelchair

Portrait of Erica LadenthinBy Erica Ladenthin

In 2018, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on my cervix. I beat cancer but the radiation I received damaged my spine. Over the course of seven months, I went from walking to needing a wheelchair full time. By this point in my journey, I had stopped working, was no longer able to drive, and was struggling hard to adapt to the world that was now so inaccessible to me. It really took its toll physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was so lucky to have LMT friends give me massages weekly to help me cope. But every time I would get a massage I would cry because I missed working so much. I knew I had to find a way to continue practicing. I tried Googling “massage therapist in a wheelchair” only to find “massage for people in wheelchairs.” That pushed me even more. I have been working with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation since 2021 to restart my business. Finally, after many hours put into my business plan and office hunting, construction on my new space starts in August.

I've recently been fortunate enough to receive massages paid for through a community waivers program, and I look forward to becoming a vendor to offer my services to others in need.

I've been asked to speak to massage students at the school I attended about accessibility and other considerations when working with wheelchair users. It gives me hope to see how receptive they were to learning things they wouldn't otherwise have thought of.

The world becomes smaller when you are a wheelchair user. My mission in life and career is to open it up as much as I can where I can.

I'm excited to create a space that is accessible to not only me, but EveryBody.

Caring for the Caretakers

Portrait of Darryl LangstonBy Darryl Langston

I believe one of the best things to have in any community is a good hospital. Of course, a hospital can only be as good as its staff. Therefore, hospital systems everywhere implement programs to take care of staff members. The hospital system I work for employs a team of us who go to the nursing units and other departments and provide free chair massages to these frontline essential workers.

During these sessions, I support the first guiding principle with empathy and respect. Having worked alongside these caregivers in various roles, from nursing assistant to surgical technologist, I can attest to the physical and mental challenges they confront each day as they care for our injured, our sick, our mothers as they bring new life into this world, and comforting others as they transcend to the next. The familiarities motivate me to be there for them, physically and emotionally, as they are for the patients in their care. And there is where I find absolute reward.

Living close to one of the hospitals I serve, I often see these caregivers walking up and down the sidewalks leading to the hospital. During the height of the pandemic, when everything else was shut down, I’d still see them marching toward their shifts. Watching them face this crisis head-on should fill anyone with pride and gratitude. So, when things opened up and we were allowed to return to the departments, I was all too willing to give back to those who had given and continue to give so much. Upon finishing and leaving the departments, they always thank me for coming. I always tell them that it’s an honor to take care of those who take care of everyone else and thank you for having me here.

Hardship and Healing: Massage for the Underserved

Portrait of Julie PlachtaBy Julie Plachta

Our life experiences shape who we become. I believe I am in a better place to be able to serve others because of the hardships and healing I have been through myself. I am a trauma survivor, I grew up in poverty, and I have watched several family members navigate challenging situations with mental health and chemical dependency. Amidst these experiences, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m not sure how I could have found my way without the aid of bodywork. Besides helping me return to “being in my body,” it has taught me the importance and effectiveness of self-care.

One of my core values is that everyone should have access to healing treatments and safe human touch, regardless of their financial status. I work tirelessly to provide my services to anyone in need—often volunteering my time and energy to benefit those unable to pay.

I advocate for calming the nervous system while addressing physical discomforts, and I’m certified in various techniques that can do this effectively.

In my community, many have suffered trauma from human trafficking, domestic violence, poverty, and war. At a recent VA (Veterans Administration) meeting, I proposed a special clinic for veterans to receive treatments for their nervous system once a month, free of charge. It was unanimously approved, and I already have two other practitioners committed to joining the clinic. I’ve also been brainstorming ways to work with the local alcohol and drug addiction recovery center, and I plan to approach them this fall with a proposal. I want to create a team of healing arts practitioners who make an enduring impact among the underserved.

I can finally live out my heart’s mission to serve others in a meaningful way because I have a daily practice of being the change I want to see in the world.

At the Heart: Massage for Breast Health

Portrait of Jennifer TelfordBy Jennifer A. Telford
Instagram handle:

In my 20s, I began to educate women on a holistic approach to breast health using self-massage and self-lymphatic drainage techniques as a certified massage therapist. A feature by Karrie Mowen in the June/July 2001 issue of Massage & Bodywork magazine called “Breast Massage: Afloat in a New Era of Thinking” spotlighted professionals advocating for massage therapy and lymphatic drainage as an effective tool to support breast health. It was wonderful validation of the work I was passionate about.

Later, I would study breast massage indications/techniques, lymphatic breast care, and postop care for breast surgeries or breast cancer recovery with some of the leading experts, including Debra Curties, Cheryl Chapman, and Bruno Chikly, and in 2018 I became a Certified Lymphedema Therapist through the Vodder School in British Columbia, Canada.

Teaching laypeople and health professionals the theory and practice of these modalities in the support of breast wellness, I then started attracting women who were recovering from breast cancer. They were thrilled there was a service addressing their symptoms, including pain, discomfort, and swelling as a result of breast cancer and other breast-related surgeries. This offered validation to these women, knowing they found a place to receive help.

In recent years, I’m observing more therapists being trained in these techniques that can support breast-related concerns; massage therapy and lymphatic drainage offer a valuable service in their physical and emotional healing. After 23 years serving hundreds of women for these reasons, what has touched my heart is the stories of those who have found healing by using massage therapy and lymphatic drainage as a self-care modality.

Today, as an integrative life and health coach and CLT, CMT, I support women in redefining their lives as they navigate health changes/post-op recovery. My vision is that massage therapy and various manual lymph drainage techniques therapies will continue to be seen as an effective modality in breast health wellness and may offer a preventive approach to breast diseases.

Lasting Touch: End-of-Life Care

Portrait of Esther WhiteBy Esther White

I have been a bodyworker/massage therapist for 30 years, and I am blessed to still be serving my very first client! Many of my clients have been with me for 20 years; together we have weathered illnesses, surgeries, and accidents. I have been invited to attend and serve clients before weddings, in labor, when hospitalized, or in rehab. I have served the disabilities community, from quadra- and paraplegic clients to those with head trauma, cerebral palsy, and polio, and on the autism spectrum. I even have clients that bring in their cats and dogs or ask me to work on their horse. Truly, massage has been a key part in enriching the quality of each life. However, in my experience, the most sacred calling of a massage therapist is to serve my clients in their final days and even hours.

What a privilege it is to give these precious people some relief and comfort from being bed bound or pain from their illness. Sometimes, it is the reassurance of massage that calms the fears and softens the looming reality of their limited time on this earth.

Recently, while attending my client in her final hospice days, she was restless, and her comfort meds weren’t calming her. So, I asked if she would like her back massaged, and her eyes lit up as if to say, “Oh, would you?” So, while the familiar massage music played, we spent our last hour together as we had for so many years. When I had finished, she had drifted off to sleep, so I tucked her in with her favorite blanket. I knew that would be our last massage.

Finishing touches are touches of completion and often the very most important. Massage is the most beautiful finishing touch one can give another life even in death.


Washington Massage Board Vacancies

The State Department of Health and the Washington Massage Board are seeking licensed massage therapists to fill professional member vacancies. Apply before the June 30 deadline.

Maryland Bills Add Instruments, License Requirements, Practice Violations

In May, Governor Wes Moore signed into law two bills affecting massage therapy. House Bill 1497 allows instrument-assisted techniques, amends the license reinstatement process, and adds a new requirement for some licensure applicants. House Bill 1498 addresses unauthorized practice violations.


Julie Plachta: Serving the Underserved

Woman massages a client who is lying facedown on a massage table.

As we get closer to celebrating Massage Is for EveryBody, July 14–20, 2024, we wanted to share more of Julie Plachta’s story, which exemplifies the inclusive values of this campaign.


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