The Missing Pieces: Less and less body is being included in "full body" massage - It doesn't have to be.
This article came across my desk and caught my attention. The discussion is about how and why more and more, therapists and schools in the US are backing away from a true full body experience. It does not have to be. with proper training, good client communication and informed consent there is no reason why in 2019 this should be. I have interjected my thoughts in italics, but otherwise this is re presented in abridged form from Massage Magazine. published from
The anterior (front) torso, including the chest and abdomen; hips; buttocks; and medial thigh are often avoided or only given cursory attention during many massage sessions.My awareness about this developed after reading many posts on social media about “full-body massage.” Discussions with massage colleagues, educators and therapists indicate this problem is real. I Have seen many posts about the chains not allowing massage 1" below the collar bone, or glutes at all.
“There is a significant decline in the number of massage therapists that are willing to perform massage therapy on gluteal, pectoral and abdominal areas,” said Brent F. Jackson, academic program manager, massage therapy, at Central Carolina Technical College, headquartered in Sumter, South Carolina. He said he believes there are three factors contributing to this situation.
First, he said, massage therapy businesses and schools alike are wary of being involved in litigious situations, because of criminal acts by some massage therapists have made the news and are therefore overly conservative when it comes to creating curriculum.
Second, he said, “In academia, we are also encountering a broad spectrum of skill, and therefore a possible lack of qualified and confident massage therapy educators. That lack of training may be inhibiting the student’s professional growth.”
Third, said Jackson, there is simply a growing trend of the therapist not wanting to put in the effort required of a true full-body massage. Instead, he said, therapists are cutting corners.
“As a profession,” Jackson said, “it is necessary to be open to treating these areas when warranted, as would any other health care professional.”
Educator Nancy Dail, of Downeast School of Massage in Waldoboro, Maine, has also witnessed this trend. “I have long been aware that massage therapists have been cutting corners around the human body, basing massage on a rote recipe and repetitive sequence versus a treatment based on the individual’s medical history, posture, repetitive actions or injuries,” she said.
“Since society has a vulnerable perception of the abdomen, it has been the most logical area to skip,” Dail continued. As to other areas, she said, state regulations on breast massage, draping and professional conduct have led to restrictions on how the client’s body is addressed.”
However, student ignorance and state regulations cannot fully explain the diminishment of the full-body session. In my research and conversations, I have come to realize there are three pieces to this situation: incomplete massage education; apprehension on the part of clients; and insufficient informed consent across the profession.
Massage Education“Attempting to avoid excessive intimacy, my students’ hands often tense up around buttocks, chest, belly and inner thighs. I teach them instead to deliberately connect with these tissues using safe touch,” said Barbara Helynn Heard, a continuing education provider and practicing massage therapist in Seattle, Washington.
Although many massage schools provide a comprehensive education that prepares students to offer complete, full-body massage sessions, Heard’s approach isn’t how all massage students are being taught to touch clients’ bodies.
I, and many other massage educators, believe some schools’ entry-level education falls short in developing skills in positioning, draping, time management, communication and consent about the process of massage. Massage education sometimes creates fear related to boundaries and sexual misconduct litigation instead of developing professionalism. Instead of assessment and critical thinking skills imbedded into the massage session, a massage sequence is sometimes drilled into students.
For example, the common statement, “Disrobe to your level of comfort,” only creates confusion. Instead, direct instruction needs to be given. Such an instruction might sound like one of these two examples:
“I regard the anterior torso as crucial, yet it is avoided in 90 percent of the massages I receive,” said Eric Stephenson, who was interviewed for this article when he was director of education at imassage continuing education and consulting company and who is now chief wellness officer for Elements Massage. “This is one of the great paradoxes of massage therapy.”
Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the two national massage organizations do not accurately educate the public. One association’s website states, “A typical full body session will include work on your back, arms, legs, feet, hands, head, neck, and shoulders. You will not be touched on or near your genitals (male or female) or breasts (female).” This statement essentially omits the chest, abdomen, hips, buttocks, thighs and face. With these areas unmentioned, what type of expectation does this create in the consumer and employer?
Another association’s website states, “Depending on your needs, the massage therapist will massage either the full body (except private areas) or only specific areas that need attention, such as especially tight muscles.” This statement is so ambiguous that the information is confusing. What are private areas?
Despite professional strides in the massage industry, confusion between massage therapy and illegal sexual solicitation continues to occur. Something must be done so that the massage therapy profession as a whole can move beyond this degrading situation. I challenge our professional organizations and major employers of massage therapists to collaborate and directly address this issue.
Additionally, there is gender bias pertaining to male massage therapists.
“As a male therapist, I have to maintain trusted professional relationships with clients, [which includes] education about various body areas included in the massage session, to achieve client goals,” said massage therapist (and my son) Luke Fritz, an instructor at my school, Health Enrichment Center in Lapeer, Michigan.
I believe the massage field should launch a public awareness campaign that clearly discusses sexual inappropriateness by both the client and the massage therapist, and that describes body areas included in general massage coupled with an example of informed consent. There should be ethical guidance by our professional associations and employers that frames clear statements to the public and massage therapists about appropriate behavior.
Such a statement might read: “Massage therapy is a nonsexual health service. Sexual behavior by the therapist toward the client or by the client toward the therapist is always unethical, inappropriate and illegal. It is always the responsibility of the massage therapist and business management to ensure that sexual misconduct does not occur and to report sexual solicitation by clients to law enforcement. Clients who feel that the massage therapist engaged in sexual misconduct should immediately report to the business management and to law enforcement.”
The problem is that major employers are accepting substandard massage as the norm.
One reason for this may be that the confusion between massage and sexual interaction will just not go away, so employers might limit massage application to particular body areas because of the fear of sexual misconduct lawsuits.
It is very concerning if we have come to believe that the major body areas cannot be massaged in the typical 50- to 60- minute session. Massage employers and clients need to be assured that all massage therapists are providing quality massage services and can provide massage to all appropriate areas of the body.
I welcome comments on all my posts but especially would welcome comments on this one. What has your experience been? What is your preference?
I write about things that I myself need to be mindful of. ways in which I would like to improve. It is not from the perspective of preaching - but rather writing helps me work out what I myself need to do - we are all in this together.