Massage By Any Other Name

By Robert Chute
[Practitioner Parables]

 “You’re a what therapist?”


“Oh.” Dismissive grunt. There it is again, the visceral reaction to the M word. Sure, we’re making gains as a profession, but we’re still too associated with the sex industry through the M word. Wouldn’t it be easier if we called ourselves something else?

“It’s called massage,” an airhead TV reporter once said to me, “so I think of it as a frill.” I pointed to her cameraman and said, “Ask him.” He hefted 40 pounds on his shoulder all day. He didn’t think massage was a frill. Massage therapy allowed him to work. As offensive and wrong as she was, she had a point about how massage is too often perceived. To the uninitiated, our calling looks remarkably similar to work illiterate Roman slaves performed for their masters centuries ago. And, yes, the pay’s often about the same.

Ours is a low-tech solution to many ills, but society is high on its love affair with technology. I treated a very technically oriented guy, so I laid the theory and the technique on him. He thought I was full of little green apples. He loved technology so much that when his back gave out (due to the sedentary lifestyle made possible by that same technology), he believed that only medicine that uses machines with red blinking lights could save him.

Nonetheless, he tried bodywork and he was awestruck. “I’m sold,” he proclaimed.

I made the appropriate noises of approval. On the inside I was thinking, “Duh!” It is especially nice to win over a non-believer. So many more need to be converted. Would a different title lure more people our way?

I’ve been called a massagist. As a former martial artist, I kind of like the sound of massage artist, but these still have the M word, so let’s get away from that. Myo-neurofunctionalist doesn’t roll off the tongue. I like somato tactician. Tactician sounds like it shares a common Latin root with the word “tactile.” It might put clients on guard, however, thinking this is war against the body. I try to persuade the body to change, not coerce it, so that’s a no-go.

Bodyworker is fine with me. One guy said it sounded like we repair dented fenders. Really? Wouldn’t the context resolve that? Even if he’s right, isn’t it worth a change in title to get away from any word association with massage parlors? I guess the alternative title I like most is biomechanic. I think it captures much of what I do without being too goofy or too arrogant. What do you think?

 Robert Chute is a regular columnist for Massage & Bodywork magazine. If this subject tickles your fancy, send your suggestions to him at