Drama, Education, Massage, Musings, Spa, Uncategorized

Is It Worthwhile to Consider a Name Change for Professional Massage Therapy?


A few weeks ago, I came across an article from England suggesting that it might be worthwhile to consider a name change for Professional Massage Therapy. Unfortunately, I no longer have that link, but a conversation developed on LinkedIn and I found Paula Moreland who suggested as much. The conversation sprang from a discussion about a new Lifetime Network show called The Client List, based on the movie by the same name, and starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a single mother and Massage Therapist at a day spa that provides something extra of a sexual nature at the end of each session. The Linked In conversation was about whether or not it there should be a direct protest this portrayal of Massage Therapy and if contacting Lifetime Networks about it was worthwhile. Paula suggested that as long as we are tethered to the name Massage Therapy, we are going to have to fight with sexuality in some form or fashion. She did a short article musing on this thread that you can find here but I wanted to expand on it.

When I graduated from Massage School, I graduated with dual certifications in Integrative Deep Tissue and Neuromuscular Therapy. I have been comfortable calling myself an Integrative Deep Tissue Therapist just as often as I called myself a Massage Therapist and I have treated the two labels interchangeably for at least ten years now. At first, the idea of Massage Therapy needing a makeover linguistically was a non issue but after discussing the idea with Paula and seeing a clear example of what she’s talking about illustrated by the new Lifetime show The Client list, I am beginning to form a new opinion.

Rarely do you see medical professions described by what they do but rather you see them described by what they focus on or treat.  You visit a Opthamologist when you need an eye exam, a Dermatologist for skin disorders, an Oncologist when you have cancer and so on. Physical Therapists come closer to having a description for what Massage does, but even they fall short in an accurate description of what they treat. As Paula points out in her article, in modern medical care, you don’t tip your health care Professional but you do tip your Massage Therapist and this is a huge bone of contention for many massage therapists who feel that further integration with the medical professions would erode our standard of living. But does a name change have to include this caveat? What is the basis for suggesting that a name change or Professional make over for the Profession would be in our best interests and why?

Ultimately, I think the best reasons for considering a name change for Professional Massage Therapy are found in the current state of academics and in industry. The erosion of standards which define and delineate the boundaries of professional massage are continuing to expand. What is needed is a term that denotes what we treat not what we do. We are more than a modality and yet we define ourselves as a modality to the medical profession and to the public. We are a commodity not a resource by this definition. I think that a name change is in order for Professional Massage and that the longer we wait to begin discussing this issue the Profession will suffer.

I think there are several reasons for considering the value a name change could bring to the Profession. For one, the words Massage and Spa have become expanded to include so many newcomers to the field that the words have lost their boundaries and their initial meanings. Hair Salons claim to be Day Spas if they have a backroom closet set aside for massage, cosmetologist now claim to be Aestheticians because of their associations with the Beauty Industry, some Day Spas claim to be Medi Spas if they have a Dermatologist on call for appointments. Part of this break with tradition can be said to have resulted from some of the overall Industry growth that has occurred within the past twenty years but this is no excuse to abandon the study of cultural aesthetics for esthetics, or to otherwise lump the two together and forget all about the foundations of the meaning of the word and it’s application to Industry as a whole. An analogy of growing pains in children with the growing pains of an Industry shouldn’t blind us to real and pressing needs within allied Industries to manage and develop standards and limits regarding how this growth is proceeding. In the massage profession, all too often, issues such as these are blamed by authors such as Ralph Stephens from Massage Today as problems in massage education alone. Massage Education is an important issue but not the only one where we find standards sorely lacking in some quarters.

In Paula’s point of view, as long as we use the term Massage Therapy we are connected with sexuality in the minds of many around the globe. What kind of language would we need to come up with, to envision, that would allow us passage out of this intersection that isn’t a half-hearted attempt to integrate with the medical profession, such as typifies the use of the term medical massage therapist? I hope Linguistic Anthropology can shed some light on this question, so I joined a discussion group affiliated with The Society for Linguistic Anthropology that deals with issues of language and culture formation. I hope to be able to ask some pertinent questions of their members and aficionados of the subject and to generate future discussion amongst massage therapists on this topic, as Linguistics, and linguistic theory has always interested me. But I also want to consider why it is that so many massage therapists struggle with this issue and feel the need to go on the offensive when a question of changing labels arises.

I for one don’t have a problem with the label massage therapist. I find it to be gender neutral and to be inclusive of sexual difference but what I don’t like, is the fact that it’s gender neutrality is it’s only claim to fame. I once met a fellow MT who loved the word ‘Masseur’ as he was male and felt that this label best described him. I thought it was horrific and awful. I still do. This therapist so loved the term ‘Masseur’ that he put it on his license plate for his car. To me, it smacked of retrogressive cultural tendencies that I believe are problematic culturally. It did me no good to argue with him and at the time, I couldn’t understand why he found ‘Masseur’ to be an empowering label. What I completely overlooked was that he was fresh out of massage school and still reveling in the totality of massage culture and obviously embracing his gender’s contributions to the profession.

Defining ourselves as a commodity to be consumed is the chief reason I think we should begin a search for a new term to define ourselves. I hope that you will join me in this search for new territory and that if you have any suggestions, you will post them in the comments sections below.

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