Growing up I was raised with a certain belief system.
It worked well for my parents, family, and most of our friends. However, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. I tended to question things, and couldn’t always get a good answer (or at least an answer that satisfied me).
Quite often when I asked questions, I was told not to question things (and was sometimes reprimanded for it), that there were some things we just didn’t know the answer to. It rarely felt right to me, not to be able to get, or find those answers, to just accept things as they were.
It got to the point, I would just stop asking. Sometimes out of mere frustration, sometimes out of fear, sometimes because I just got fed up with feeling out of place. It was probably just easier to follow along and not try to push the envelope as it were.
Later in life, I took a different direction.
I went back to school to learn something new and would be the first one in my family to go to college. It seemed pretty daunting, but I took the same approach. Don’t ask questions!
I went through college assuming that everything I was being taught was correct, so there was no reason to question it. I knew all the things I was learning was what I would be examined on both in school and at our board exams, so really there seemed to be no reason to question the information.
Challenging More Beliefs
For some reason, I’ve been seeing a lot more discussion online lately about some of the old theories around Massage Therapy (specifically about pregnancy and massage for some reason). I’ve even heard of a patient being denied treatment because they were pregnant and a therapist thought it was contraindicated.
I still find it remarkable that some of those ‘myths’ are still being spread around and believed.
But then I think back and realize just how hard it is to challenge our beliefs. If there are certain modalities or contraindications we have been using for long periods of time and we’re having a reasonable amount of success treating this way, why would we ever question it?
The difficulty isn’t just within our own practice, sometimes it means challenging the establishment, and even other colleagues. There can be significant kickback from those same colleagues, especially if you’re starting to challenge their belief system.
Part of the issue is that when our beliefs are challenged, we feel threatened. Look at any of the many facebook groups about massage therapy, and watch how people react when certain modalities are challenged (and even proven wrong with research). It is usually met with harsh denial from some parties, quite often to the point of getting quite angry.
Regularly I have people comment on blog posts or unsubscribe, then send emails citing their complete disagreement with an article, and their years of experience proving the article wrong as the reason. And for a long time, I was that guy! I took it as a personal attack when going through various facebook threads, or seeing comments challenging what I had learned in school. I had to leave some of those facebook groups because they got me so angry.
Then for some reason, I started to reflect on those experiences growing up when I would ask questions and people would get upset. It didn’t seem reasonable to me then, so why was I reacting like this?
I started taking courses where the instructors were challenging the old ways of thinking and didn’t mind being challenged by students in the class. Usually, they were able to come back with reasonable explanations to the students who were challenging them. And the best part was, they never got upset. They took it in stride and were able to change the students view with updated relevant information.
I started to go back to some of those groups watch, learn, and try not to take things personally. Turns out lots of good information was being shared and there was never any ill intent behind the discussions taking place, they were just that…discussions. While some debate takes place, I came to realize there is such a thing as healthy debate, and debate causes progress. What I always thought was just people arguing and puffing their chest out, was actually just people challenging beliefs and literally trying to help advance professionally. While sometimes better language and communication could have been used, I don’t think anyone was ever trying to personally attack anyone.
Rather than expecting others to change, I had to step back, look at those groups and say “it’s not you, it’s me,” but rather than it being a break-up, I was trying to stay in!
While there is always the chance of repercussions when we start to challenge things, there is a positive side to it as well.
If I hadn’t challenged my beliefs all those years ago, I would have never gone back to college, never gotten the chance to work in sport, and most certainly wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog. However, there were major repercussions I had to consider when challenging things, mainly around relationships with family and friends. Even though there was a real possibility those relationships would fade away or end, to my surprise (for the most part) they didn’t. The ones who mattered are still around today.
The same thing happened over my concerns with colleagues. The more I started to challenge ideas within our profession, the more relationships actually grew, became stronger, and new ones developed. The kickback I expected (because of the way I was interpreting things online) didn’t really happen, and I noticed more people started questioning things as well.
The other thing that happened…my interaction with my patients got better.
When we start to challenge things and leave those old ideas in the past, there is a certain amount of freedom that comes with it. So many of the things I thought were contraindications with massage aren’t, so I don’t have to worry about those things anymore. I also don’t have to give my patients fancy explanations around what I do, because I’m not wrapped up in explaining biomechanical things that aren’t relative to a treatment, or trigger points, innominate rotations, and certainly not worried about touching a pregnant woman’s ankles! What’s even better is the simpler explanations I give now, make more sense to the patient.
In a conversation I had with Alice Sanvito last week, she made a really great point about this kind of communication. If we are using the explanations around some of these old beliefs we aren’t actually getting proper consent from our patients when treating them. How could they consent to treatment when what we’re describing isn’t actually an issue, or the modality isn’t backed by evidence?
I hope as a profession we start to question things more, in fact, to become more respected and evidence-based, we HAVE to start challenging information more. While there will be resistance from some (and probably some anger), with any hope it will also bring us all a little bit more freedom. I also hope no one will be left feeling like an outsider, worried about the reactions of others, but rather open to asking questions and finding appropriate answers.