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From The Blog

Does Massage Therapy Need To Rebrand Itself?

Does Massage Therapy Need To Rebrand Itself?


“Why can’t we just be called Registered Manual Therapists?” – Kelsey Matichuck RMT

“There has never been a better time to rebrand ourselves” – Anita Wilson RMT

Masseuse, Masseur, Full Service, Happy Ending.

We’ve all heard it and gotten pretty annoyed by it.

For reasons that have nothing to do with us, our profession has a little dark side that quite frankly none of us like. In fact we’re all pretty done with it.

Why our profession, why not another one?

Why did other establishments choose massage therapy as the avenue they would use to lure clients in for acts of prostitution.

Its time for a change, time to permanently separate ourselves from these establishments.

Defining Exactly Who Is A Massage Business

With a recent change to our local code of ethics there was some heated discussion at our AGM.

A good friend of mine made the statement:

“The word “massage” in our title sexualizes the treatment environment. We can’t erase the history and connotation of the word “massage” with the sex trade and massage parlours” – Jenny Slauenwhite. 

We even had a blog post on here a couple of weeks ago telling the story about people targeting Massage Therapists for sexual reasons.

In doing research for this blog (I’m not going to cite the reference because its demeaning to our profession) I came across a blog from a person who worked in a massage parlour, explaining their experiences.

In it they described the services offered and included “Therapeutic Massage” as one of the options in addition to the sexual services offered and then stated “WE ARE A MASSAGE BUSINESS”.

Unfortunately anyone reading this site could associate what we do with what’s going on behind the closed doors of various establishments simply because of the name. Again, we’ve all heard the jokes and are getting pretty sick of it.

As healthcare professionals, what we offer is so drastically different than what is being advertised by parlours. The reality is, we are the massage business, what they are doing is not massage therapy.

Our code of ethics differentiates us from these establishments (in addition to the fact that we would never perform such acts).

We have a duty to our patients (not clients) to set appropriate boundaries and provide not only competent treatment, but also a duty to our profession.

In our code of ethics it is stated:

“sexual misconduct” means:

  1. sexual intercourse or other forms of physical sexual relations between a massage therapist and a patient,
  2. touching, of a sexual nature, of a patient by a massage therapist,
  3. behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by a massage therapist towards a patient, or
  4. sexualizing the treatment environment,

but does not include touching, behaviour and remarks by a massage therapist to a patient that are of a clinical nature appropriate to the massage therapy service being provided.

  1. Massage therapists must set and maintain appropriate professional boundaries with a patient.
  1. Massage therapists must refrain from taking advantage of a patient for the massage therapist’s own personal, sexual, emotional, social, political, or financial interest or benefit.
  1. Massage therapists must not engage in sexual misconduct with a patient.
  1. A massage therapist must refrain from entering into a close personal relationship with a former patient unless:
  1. a reasonable period of time has elapsed since the therapeutic relationship with the former patient was terminated, and
  2. the massage therapist is reasonably satisfied that the power differential inherent in a therapeutic relationship no longer exists.

While I know this is nothing new for any of us, this information could be new to potential patients as they may have seen (or possibly partaken in) what goes on at “Massage Parlours”.

But how do we get the point across, so we never have to deal with these situations?

How do we educate the general public who may associate our practice with these places?

Massaging A Name Change

I wish I could take credit for it, but the idea never came from me.

I was sitting at work one night supervising in the student clinic when my buddy Kelsey looked at me and said “why can’t we just change our name and be done with all of this”?

I don’t know if he was surprised by the look on my face but i’m sure it was one of shock.

He went on to voice his annoyance with our name and the connotation that sometimes follows it and said “why can’t we just be called manual therapists? “

We are never going to be able to change what everyone else is doing or thinking, so let’s just take some control out of their hands.

Ever since I was in college there has been discussion on how to improve our profession and get it the respect it so vitally deserves.

It’s doubtful this discussion will ever end and we have come a long way over the last several years. I have heard this idea circled around a little bit with the argument that we have done so much to improve, but we can’t turn our back on the past.

There are those who have fought and struggled to gain respect for our profession.

The ones who spent years researching, writing textbooks and truly put their heart and soul into improving massage therapy.  Everyone of them deserves our respect for what they accomplished, and what they did for those of us who are currently therapists.

Even those whose information we used to take as gospel from, but new research has changed our thinking on what they published don’t want the profession to sit idle.

I can promise that none of those early researchers and writers want our profession to just rely on the old laurel’s that got us to this point.

We need to move forward, we need change, we need more control.

Photo by: geralt

Photo by: geralt

Progress As Manual Therapists

In the past five years our profession has seen major change.

There has been constant motion in moving the profession forward and challenging our old beliefs.

I don’t think any of us just do “massage therapy” anymore. We are constantly looking for new information, learning, changing, adapting.

The majority of our treatments are not like the massage therapy sessions of old. We incorporate therapeutic exercise, movement therapy, research, we communicate differently with our patients than we used to. I’m willing to bet for the most part, the actual massage is only a part of the treatment and part of our approach.

Even our continuing education has changed.

We are moving past just having modality classes and reaching deeper to get an understanding of pain science, biopsychosocial models, movement therapies and behavioural understanding.

There are entire conferences dedicated to pain science.

The most recent massage therapy conference I went to was even called a “Manual Therapy Conference”.

There were topics covered that don’t even resemble that massage therapy of old. Things like:

  • The Importance of Modern Psychology to Manual Therapy
  • Understanding and the application of the Placebo Effect in Manual Therapy
  • Pelvic Pain Disorder in Women and Men
  • A Process Approach in Manual Therapy, Beyond the Structural Approach

These are just to name a few, but the point is we have moved past being just a massage therapist. The work we are doing has become more encompassing than just simply providing swedish massage and remembering to go distal to proximal.

As our communication techniques have gotten better with our patients there are some words that we should also stop using. The people who come to see us are not “clients” or “customers”, they are our patients.

Let’s also stop using the word “release” and I know this will be a tough one as there are some continuing ed courses with release in the name and we even loosely use the term to say we have released a muscle.

And it’s not a massage therapy “session” it is a treatment. These words are considered code words in the parlour industry, so let’s just take them out of our vernacular.

Collectively working together with our associations there is consistent improvements to our profession as we try to become regulated nationally. We are seeking out more education, more opportunity for specializations and setting up Professional Practice Groups all in an effort to move our profession forward. While we can’t turn our backs on the past and those who fought to get us where we are now, we do have a responsibility to continually move forward. Granted if we changed our name to Manual Therapists, it will still take time to educate the public and shake off what remains of being associated with “massage parlors”, however for the next generation of therapists it would make a massive difference when this is their profession. Except now I guess I’ll have to change the name of this blog. Although “Manual Therapist Development Centre” does have a nice ring to it.

As the creator of the site, I hope you like what you’re reading. I’m a Registered Massage Therapist in Victoria BC, former Massage college clinical supervisor, First Responder instructor, hockey fan and volunteer firefighter. Come hang out on the facebook page, where we can share some ideas about how to improve the perception of the Massage Therapy industry.

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Jamie Johnston

Founder at The MTDC
As the creator of the site, I hope you like what you’re reading. I’m a Registered Massage Therapist in Victoria BC, former Massage college clinical supervisor, First Responder instructor, hockey fan and volunteer firefighter. Come hang out on the facebook page, where we can share some ideas about how to improve the perception of the Massage Therapy industry.
Jamie Johnston
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  1. Eric Purves May 3, 2016

    Good article Jamie. I fully support the name change. We need to embrace change, not fear it, and move towards a better future for our profession.

    • Jamie Johnston May 4, 2016

      Thanks Eric. As long as we all keep working, hopefully we’ll get there!

  2. Jim Calland March 24, 2017

    I think another way to go would be to try and take over chiropractor. The Greek roots of the word are: chiro- ‘hand’ + praktikos- ‘practical’. We could just split it into osteo-chiropractor and maybe myofascial-chiropractor.

    • Jamie Johnston March 27, 2017

      Interesting idea Jim, but I think that could cause some confusion when people are booking in for appointments. I think they would assume the treatment would be more like a chiropractic treatment instead of a massage.


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