“Prostitution VS. Massage therapy” Are we contributing to the confusion?

20+ years ago when I arrived to Los Angeles, I have obtained the only available at that time license of massage technician. Adding to my bewilderment was fact that my license was listed under adult entertainment category.

Neither of the stipulations made much sense. “How could such developed country lump this powerful health related methodology into the adult entertainment category?”

Little by little I started to understand that many so-called “massage“ places were nothing else, but illegal whore houses.

Having realized this, I still couldn’t comprehend in what way licensing massage therapists alongside prostitutes, helps to fight illegal activities or, in general, serve any constructive purpose.

From studying the US history I remembered how alcohol prohibition has shown that more Americans got addicted to alcohol, organized crime activities expanded to multi-million dollar operations, killing innocent people, etc.

With elimination of prohibition, things changed for the better: less alcoholics, more tax revenue and more education on why not to drink excessively.

Not that I am a proponent of legalized prostitution, but by this day I cannot understand why regulating prostitution was given such priority over massage therapy, bouncing it off to the road ditch of marginalization.

Why were these memories brought back to life? Because I came across the video that you can see embedded below.

Initially I thought this lady was a hooker. Then I realized she was an actress who did quite a talented humorous impression on “masseuse” whatever “masseuse” means. More than that. This video is a clever take of the stereotype that some general public has of massage: something that make you feel good, with some sexual implication, that although is not always explicit and is officially prohibited, yet nevertheless always present.

In itself the suspicion in sexual undertone is only half the problem. The bigger issue is that by perceiving massage as a cover up for sexual favors, such perception denies massage any treatment affect, reducing its healing power to a sort of voodoo.
Apparently, out of realization of utter unfairness of such perception for practitioners who put out great deal of honest physical and emotional effort in their work, lately there came a trend that attempts to elevate massage therapist from the abyss of prostitution and voodoo to a lofty heights of science. I am talking about the “evidence based” approach to massage. This approach goes into another extreme and denies all the methods of physical rehabilitation that are not supported by the latest scientific research, thus parting themselves from all hints of voodoo-ism and at the same time ricocheting at such methods as acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, Chinese cupping with all the concepts that go alone with it such as meridians, yin-yang, chi, etc. In its unchanged righteousness it also denies 9/10th of the Western massage protocols, scientifically developed in the previous centuries as long as it lies East of the Atlantic Time zone.

If my conjecture about the genesis of “evidence based” trend is true, I am startled by the great discontinuity between the popular believe and the proposed cure. In my view massage therapist should be placed more or less in between those extremes.

The country where I came from had many idiotic rules and regulations, but somehow in the field of massage therapy the globally planned economy worked well. Massage therapist over there was neither scientist nor a prostitute, but a medical professional. Like a construction worker who fulfills the orders of architect or structural engineer, a massage therapist worked with the medical doctor, and following his/her treatment plan, provided therapy to patients. Continuing this analogy, a good construction worker has to have a very specific set of skills. These skills are not the skills that allow him to calculate the sheer force or a momentum acting at the edge of a cantilever, or the knowledge of how the future building would fit in the overall city landscape, but nevertheless are highly specific set of skills allowing the construction worker to put the building together. In the same way, massage therapist doesn’t have to know the intricacies of biochemistry and cellular level or molecular biology, but there is a set of absolutely pertinent practical skills specific to massage that a therapist has to know extremely well. That is: How to perform step by step protocols that are developed by scientists for massage therapists.

Surely there were exceptions out of this rule. There were a number of brilliant researchers and medical doctors who at the same time possessed hands on massage skills. But as a general rule, the reverse wasn’t true.

I think that such approach would fit even better in the framework of highly compartmental American mentality, where a specialist knows his/her area very well, but feels quite helpless outside it.

That’s why I feel that making massage therapists to graduate Master and PhD programs, where they would be force fed by hours of anatomy, physiology and pathologies is going to be just as productive as offering PhD programs to construction workers. Therefore I feel that the group that pushes such program requirements does nothing else but promoting some special interests and, if being given a go, would hurt the entire massage field tremendously.

In my view the damaged image of massage practitioner should be cleaned up by the collective movement, medical and massage fields toward each other. Once American public stars commonly seeing massage therapist in the hospital setting, the video like the one I offered you above, would stop being done. The much larger involvement of massage therapist in the overall preventive efforts would make our nation much healthier and would free much of taxpayers’ money for bigger and better things.

During the 1st 10 years of practicing in America I was witnessed significant positive changes in regards of the general public as well as in evolution of medical societies’ views on therapies by means of massage. Thanks to the effort of some individuals, AMTA and ABMP, now we have California state massage therapy certification. It’s a very encouraging progress.

Using the opportunity would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this certifications. I was and am hopeful that little by little, we will get our desired place in the healthcare system. It was a significant move forward.

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