After 43 years in the field, Sandy Fritz might know a thing or two about the massage and bodywork profession. Starting out when the field was just beginning to take shape and forging her way through obstacles and challenges that would make most people quit, Sandy not only endured but also wrote the book that laid the groundwork for what most of us now practice today. A teacher, a leader, and an icon, Sandy Fritz relives her journey and ponders how it seems to have come full circle.
Rebel Massage Therapist:
My name is Allison. And I am not your typical massage therapist. After 20 years of experience and thousands of clients, I have learned that massage therapy is SO MUCH more than a relaxing experience at a spa. I see soft tissue as more than merely a physical element but a deeply complex, neurologically driven part of who you are. I use this knowledge to work WITH you—not ON you—to create change that works. This is the basis of my approach. As a massage therapist, I have worked in almost every capacity, including massage clinics, physical therapy clinics, chiropractor offices, spas, private practice, and teaching. I have learned incredible techniques and strategies from each of my experiences. In my 20 years as a massage therapist, I have never stopped growing. I currently have a private practice based out of Long Beach, California, where I also teach continuing education classes and occasionally work on my kids. If they’re good.
The Academy of Lymphatic Studies (ACOLS) promotes the quality and integrity of continuing education to practitioners in the field of lymphedema and edema management. Manual lymphatic drainage helps to reduce edema of various genesis including post-traumatic and post-surgical edema; as well as several pathologies such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, and chronic pain. Highly skilled manual lymphatic drainage therapists with advanced training are instrumental in supporting the healing process in patients recovering from oncology treatments as well as cosmetic, reconstructive and gender affirming surgery. ACOLS offers Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) Certification and Complete Lymphedema Therapy Certification courses in both in-person and hybrid options. With 150 annual course offerings all over the country, students can find the right course for them.
0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: This episode is brought to you by Rebel Massage Deep Tissue Body Butter, crafted because oil is too slick and lotion absorbs too fast. These organic professional grade bodywork butters give you the grip you've been looking for. The best techniques in the world can get lost without the right product to support them. Try the get a grip version for a more specific focused work or the total meltdown version for that grip with a little extra glide, made by a massage therapist for massage therapists. Head over to rebelmassage.com to get your grip today.
0:00:43.7 S1: Become a certified manual lymphatic drainage therapist with the Academy of Lymphatic Studies, ACOLS. ACOLS offers a variety of courses addressing edema and lymphedema management. The popular manual lymph drainage certification and complete lymphedema therapy certification courses can be taken completely in-person or in a hybrid format. With 150 annual course offerings all over the country, students can find the right course for them. Visit acols.com to find a class near you. That's acols.com.
0:01:33.7 S1: Sandy Fritz literally wrote the book on massage therapy. From her early years of finding her way in an undefined career to an author, teacher and leader of our industry, Sandy's journey has been anything but straightforward. But in all of her experiences and in education in what we do, Sandy has come to an important realization.
0:02:01.2 Sandy Fritz: For all the people I learned from and all the stuff I studied on my own and all of that stuff, I have routinely come back to massages, massages, massage. Good caring massage. Soft tissue manipulation. Movement. Not fancy, not fancy is our strength.
0:02:29.9 S1: Before reaching this seemingly simple conclusion though, there were a lot of twists and turns along the way. Sandy's origin story as a massage therapist came at an interesting time in history, combined with their own need to support herself, she forged a path in bodywork when a clear map in the field simply didn't exist.
0:02:49.3 SF: Of course, I've been doing this forever, 43 years, I was thinking about that knowing that this was coming up. [chuckle] I come out of the '60s. Now, I graduated from high school in 1971, came of age in the later '60s, was married very young. I had my first child at 20, and did the stay-at-home mom thing. On the side of that, I was very interested in the holistic health, organic gardening, not necessarily hippie, but the communes and all that kinda stuff that came out of that era that influenced me. Massage in all of its crazy renditions back then was part of that. So, my marriage fell apart and I needed to support myself. So my side interest in self-care and that whole holistic sort of a thing put me on to massage therapy, which was really alternative at that time, let me tell you. And I was pursuing it then at that point, not just from a hobby status, but from a, I gotta keep a roof over myself and my kid's head.
0:04:22.4 S1: I'm not sure about you guys, but when I went to school, and even at the schools I taught at, having to learn, write about or even create a timeline about the history of massage therapy was an important part of the training. Turns out, Sandy lived a lot of that history, apprenticing under those who were also working to understand the work as it was emerging, her studies and her future began to take shape.
0:04:47.7 SF: Medical doctors did not come into our area. Medical care was primarily provided by osteopaths. They were in transition in how they were becoming part of a more traditional medical system at that point, so a lot of osteopaths were my clients and they taught me stuff. And when you got closer into the '80s a lot of guru type stuff emerged. Oh, that's where the applied kinesiology was coming forward, and some of the Rolfing, Rolfing was coming out of that, which brought attention to the connective tissue types of things. There was a lot of overlap with massage and spirituality, and distance healing and all of that kinda stuff was in there. And I didn't fit well with that, so I was seeking places that were more concrete to learn. In the early days, I did learn from... I did spend four or five years working with John Barnes, it was later that I met Dr. Leon Chaitow, and he was probably my best influence in terms of grounding me and how I wanted my massage therapy practice to unfold at the time. And it was really a rodeo. It was crazy during that time coming up. But it changed a lot in the mid '80s, and then really took a shift in the '90s.
0:06:31.7 S1: Sandy found patterns and in how she worked and what she needed to do to support her family.
0:06:37.2 SF: I developed a very regular client base, and so retention, people that you see over and over and over, and even though I have changed career focus two or three times, it's still always been about retention. So there's always been tension between how much can I charge and how much can they pay in order to have massage therapy as regular care, and trying constantly to find that balance on where that is and cover my own expenses.
0:07:17.7 S1: Facing a vague future in the field of bodywork and massage, Sandy still emerged as a preliminary thinker and writer on the topic of Western and science-based work. Her ability to do so stemmed from a balance of self-awareness and driven determination.
0:07:32.9 SF: I'm a believer in synchronicity. Things happen, and if you are focused, if you have intention, then you'll recognize when those things happen. And so I've always been a little on the pragmatic side, and I was always a little uncomfortable with the mix between heavy spiritualism and spirituality in with what seemed quite mechanical with massage therapy. And so I... If I could... The amount of money I spent in the classes I took, I took weird... Anything that people would sometimes now call weird, I took those classes. [chuckle] There was... Oh, I took all kinds of crystal healing stuff, and I took distance healing stuff, and a lot of the energy-based stuff. Clarity was the main focus 'cause that was what was popular at the time.
0:08:43.9 S1: Sandy was most heavily influenced by a couple of teachers at the time who guided her to be the therapist she was looking to be.
0:08:53.6 SF: The class type structure that I took with John Barnes was probably, at that point, more grounded than some other that I had been exposed to at the time. But the biggest influencer on me was Dr. Leon Chaitow. And he came into my world through an exposure to his textbooks that he had, or his book that he had out at the time, the blue covered Soft-Tissue Manipulation one. And I was so hungry at that time for something where my feet could stay on the ground and my spirit could stay in my body [laughter] to do massage kind of a thing that I called, I called him, and I said, "Where are you going to be? I will be there." [laughter]
0:09:51.3 SF: And he was gonna be in Chicago. And it's when he'd just started traveling, and I did. I followed him all over the place. And where he... When he asked me to do something, I did it. And I was just so honored, when I look back on it, so fortunate to be able to be in his presence and trying to figure out what he was talking about. [laughter] And then another teacher came into my life, Dr. David Gurevich, who was a Russian Jewish refugee physician. And during the early '80s, there was turmoils, and his son got out and then brought him out. And then Russian Relocation Services, I had the school by then, I asked if there was... Because he couldn't bring his medical license with them, and he was older at the time. And I learned a tremendous amount from him because he practiced physical medicine. And so he had a huge influence on me. But I would ask him all of these crazy questions, "Well, what do you think about polarity? What do you think about this? What do you think about that?" I remember one time he threw his hands up and we communicated pretty good, but his... He didn't speak... He didn't speak English as his first language. He threw his hands up and he says, "Ugh, Sandy. I'm not God. I am only doctor. I don't know." [laughter] "Where is pain I rub." [laughter]
0:11:40.8 S1: So Sandy found a lot of answers to the questions she had, but today is different. As a teacher, her perception of this current generation's challenge is different from what she experienced when she was a student.
0:11:53.7 SF: But it is different because the information is thrown. I had to go hunt the information. And a new graduate right now or a student or somebody who's trying to grow in their professional development, it's two mothers too much, and they don't know, and we've got so much research now. The grounding is there, and their hunger is to get back to the foundation instead of all this periphery. And I remember with Dr. Chaitow, one time he was in... I had sponsored him at the school to come teach, and he was teaching a lot of osteopathic technique at the time. And it would be my job to kinda go, "How has this been the scope of practice?" kind of stuff. And somebody asked him a question along the lines of, "Well, I don't wanna just do massage. That's... I wanted... " And he said, "If you lose massage, you've lost it all. Massage is the foundation of all of this."
0:13:03.8 S1: So, what does the term massage mean to Sandy Fritz?
0:13:08.9 SF: You have identified one of the most confounding problems we have in the massage community right now, we have, as a community, not defined Massage, we do not have a definition. The closest that's out there and what I use in the newer editions of my textbooks are the definitions brought forth by Ambler Kennedy when she analyzed the Best Practices content that the best practices symposium was... Oh, I don't know how many years ago, but a bunch of thought leaders and leaders in the field internationally were brought together, and we spent three days trying to sort through this question right here. So if you look at it very pragmatically, massage is introduction of a mechanical force, and then if it's a human body, it's into soft tissue, [laughter] but you can massage a loaf... Bread dough, right?
0:14:20.0 S1: Right. [laughter]
0:14:20.2 SF: So, when you introduce mechanical force into a material, two things happen, either that material changes shape, or moves. If it can move, like if you push a ball, the force will generate movement, but if it doesn't move, like if you push down on the ball, the ball will change shape, and then the cascade of events happens, whether it's the movement or the shape change.
0:14:58.0 SF: And if you step back and you look at all of the variety of bodywork modalities that are there, if you are manipulating soft tissue, you're introducing a force, and all the different modalities that name it all different are just... They introduce the force in this direction and they call it that, or they introduce the force using a tool, and then they call it that. So then the next step on that with massages is that we use... It's a manual therapy, massage is a form of manual therapy, so that means that one practitioner, a provider is introduced, a human is providing that, or it's been expanded so that there can be some machine-introduced mechanical force, and so then you adapt, you think, you adapt, you go, "Okay, this client wants... The outcome for this client is pain management, or the outcome for this client is better sleep, what am I gonna stimulate?" 'Cause that mechanic force then becomes the stimulus. Most of what we do is a stimulus response situation, but there can be some mechanical effect too.
0:16:35.4 S1: So in the midst of defining and redefining what massage is, Sandy wrote her first book, I asked her how she came to that decision.
0:16:43.7 SF: Yeah, I never did wanna write a book. [chuckle] I am very dyslexic. And the computer thing was just sort of starting, and actually it had ended up being a saving grace for me, primarily with spellcheck, some of them. But I didn't wanna write a book. My school started by people saying, "Please teach me." Okay. And that was in the early '80s. And so I was looking for something to teach from, and I contacted... It was Mosby at the time, I had reached out to a sales rep and was trying to make books work, even though they weren't really targeting massage. Now, there was the massage book, and I used it, and it was a great book, and I loved it, I still love it.
0:17:55.8 SF: And so I said, "You need to have a book written, you need to do this," and this sales rep got a promotion, and they moved into a new division of Mosby at the time called Mosby Lifeline, and they were reaching out into new markets. And they came back to me, and he said, "I know you've been bugging for a book, why don't you write one?" And I said, "No." [laughter] I said, "No, I'm not gonna do that, but I'll see if we can find a way to get a collaborative book together," 'cause there was a lot of other separation in the massage world at the time, that was when there was infighting over the various organizations, and there were problems with, should we have national certification or not? Should we pursue a license? A lot, a lot going on.
0:18:52.6 SF: So, I suggested leaders in the field that could be recruited to write this book, and they wouldn't do it, they wanted either a big advance or something like that, and so I said, "Okay, let's go to Ontario, Canada." And the Canadian group didn't wanna write entry level. They had one chapter on entry level, and then they wanted to get into all the treatment stuff. So they came back to me and they said, "We can't find anybody to do it." And I said, "I just, I don't know that I can do it." And they promised me a ton of help, which they gave me. And so the closest book at the time that I felt could be a model was a book for medical assistance written by Sheila Sorrentino.
0:19:54.9 SF: And I got that book and I looked at it and I said, "Okay, here's the sanitation part. Here's the client record part. Here's the... This part right here, massage therapists can't do, but this is where I can introduce that," and I used that book as a platform. And it came out in 1995. And I used what research was available at the time, and it still at that time kind of sort of had the classical massage, Swedishy thing. That was kind of the embedded terminology, so if you look back at that first edition, you'll see language like effleurage and petrissage, but that's just such a narrow, narrow, narrow focus of massage and massage therapy, that by the time the next edition came around, I was looking for a broader base of terminology.
0:20:58.2 S1: But the delivery of information has changed drastically since Sandy wrote her first book. As the new evolving method of imparting information keeps expanding, Sandy finds herself looking at the new generation with curiosity and respect.
0:21:14.2 SF: I am not in a technology theme, but technology helped me so much with the dyslexia, and to say that massage therapy education cannot be presented through a hybrid format is just asinine. It's asinine. The newer generation needs that flexibility and in education. The old brick and mortar model is just done. I've got a three-year-old and a four-year-old grandsons, and I look at that and I go, "That to not have that part of what their experience is, it is... That's a shame," that they... And it's just second nature to them.
0:22:04.6 S1: Speaking of how to maintain self-worth in a constantly changing cultural climate, Sandy weighed in on what status means in the healthcare community and how we as bodyworkers can navigate our own merit.
0:22:19.4 SF: So this idea, status, and where we belong on the pecking order, so to say, that's really old think, by the way, and in this consortium of all of these different professions, massage therapy is not seen as below. The value of massage therapy is equal to the value of everything else, but there is status, and it's based on education, and status goes towards risk and risk management. So, if a person has committed to an extensive education, like an osteopathic physician does, they have had the time and the exposure and the practice and the education of years and years that allows them to navigate and manage more and more risk, so they get to deal with clients that have more fragile situations or they have skills to identify what's going on. And there are a lot of technicians underneath them, lab techs and people that run the X-ray machines and the MRIs and all that kind of stuff, that bring them the data, but they have honed through this period of molding, educational molding and experience molding, the decision-making. And so I've never felt like I was less than them, but my job is different.
0:24:03.6 SF: I don't want to see massage therapy, which is a health care service, a health profession service. I don't wanna see us educated out of our ability to deliver this, and I don't wanna see us absorbed under the medical technician arena, I am very supportive of our ability to have autonomous practice, but our strength is not in complicated care, our stress is in well-being and health service, and that is where we have... That's what Dr. Chaitow was saying, "Don't lose your value." If I wanna work in more complicated situations with a vocational education, then I align with somebody who has the academic degrees, and is... Been skilled to identify that. I cooperate, I a corporate with an equal within my strata of experience and strata of education.
0:25:07.7 SF: I have never been ashamed to be a massage therapist. I have things that I could do as a massage therapist, vocationally-trained, vocationally-licensed that other academically-trained professionals wish they had, like autonomy and not having to be ruled by the health insurance, medical insurance, the corporate medical delivery system that I don't have to fix it. I am not held to the idea of a cure that helping somebody feel better for a while is enough. My value on status is determined on, did the person do better? Massage is gonna wear off, it is always gonna wear off, it is not a fix it. Most medications are not fix its either; they wear off, you have to take them over and over, and so to be of service and helping people feel better for a while and not loving the expectation that you have to get better, you have to. What a wonderful thing!
0:26:27.9 S1: Sandy Fritz continues to be a champion for massage therapists and the massage and body work community to this day, not quite ready to fold up her table and put it away, Sandy persists in her research, writing, teaching, and practice, and gracefully evolves with this ever-changing world of health and wellness. Please refer to the show notes on how to access her immeasurable work and endless efforts.
0:27:00.2 S1: Members are loving ABMP five-minute muscles and ABMP pocket pathology to quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP five-minute muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos plus origins insertions and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by body workers. ABMP pocket pathology created in conjunction with Ruth Werner, puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today. ABMP members log in at ABMP.com and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your Member home page. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at ABMP.com/more.