Perception

Posted on April 23, 2013 By

Perception is an interesting thing.  As a Massage Therapist, and Bodywork provider, I am increasingly aware of the differences in perceptions that people have about what I do.  And I notice that people’s perceptions of what massage therapists do, affects their perception of our professionalism, and that affects how they treat us.

These perceptions are guided, at least in part, by a number of things.  But in the end, it seems to boil down to this:

Folks tend to see Massage and Bodywork in one of three ways:

  • Massage is part of preventive healthcare and/or health maintenance
  • Massage is part of reactive healthcare (used to fix a problem)
  • Massage is a luxury

Sometimes, folks also see that Massage (as part of healthcare) can be beneficial for conditions unrelated to muscle responses (including depression, anxiety, asthma, headaches … etc. etc.).  And sometimes, people still see massage therapy as something …. slightly … turpitudinous.

How do people come have one opinion over the other?

Some of it is likely to be prior experience and background.  We can’t change that.

But other things come into play.

Media.

How massage therapy is portrayed in movies and on television shows colors our views about massage therapy.  Unfortunately, it’s rarely shown as part of healthcare; it’s mostly shown as something available to those mysteriously wealthy people who don’t appear to have jobs, and if they do, those jobs clearly do not pay for the wardrobes and cars and vacations they have.  That can be changed, but it will take a lot of time before the folks who make movies start showing preventive healthcare as part of the story line.

Location

Yep, just like the old Realtor’s say, location is important.  It impacts people’s perceptions.

When massage therapists are found mostly in salons and spas, folks tend to think of them as luxuries.

When massage therapists are found mostly in Chiropractors’ offices, folks tend to think of them as related to healthcare, but only to the extent that they think of Chiropractic care as healthcare and not some bizarre charlatan’s trick – and only to the extent that the care is related to backs.

When massage therapists are found connected or adjacent to Physical Therapist’s offices, folks tend to think of massage as related to healthcare, but only to the extent that they are involved with fixing something that has gone wrong.  Massage can help you recover faster from knee surgery, but not keep you healthy.

When massage therapists are found in strip malls, people tend to get … inappropriate ideas about massage.

How people perceive massage and bodywork affects how they perceive massage therapists.

If they perceive massage as part of healthcare, then they perceive massage therapists as professionals.  They also perceive us as having real training – knowing about physiology and anatomy.  And they value our work.

But if they perceive massage as a luxury…. They tend to have less respect for therapists.  They don’t think of our training as having been rigorous.  And some still forget that there are boundaries they ought not cross.

Perceptions are strong, and they change our behavior.  But knowledge can change perceptions.

This means that one of my jobs as a massage therapist is to educate my clients and those people with whom I come in contact.

Education

But … when healthcare providers start recommending massage to their patients, those patients can begin to see that massage and body work can be part of overall healthcare.  Luckily, more and more healthcare providers are beginning to discover that massage and other bodywork can be hugely beneficial to overall healthcare.  This is especially true today, when people are being asked to do so much more each day, with slowly decreasing resources.  People are working longer hours, and processing more and more information daily; and thus more and more people are suffering stress.  And stress can lead to all kinds of illnesses and all sorts of pain.

When stress leads to pain, current medical practices seem to be to medicate it.  Pain killers and muscle relaxants may temporarily relieve the backaches and headaches and sore necks.  But they don’t cure the problem.  Massage, on the other hand, can relieve the intermediate cause of the pain (by softening over tight muscles, and eliminating “knots”.  And, while massage can’t eliminate the root source of the problem (high stress jobs without job security, increasing bills, less time for self, etc.), massage can give the body a chance to escape from the perpetual fight or flight responses that those high stress jobs impose.

Unfortunately, one massage will not resolve months or years of stressful living.

Luckily, regular massage can dramatically reduce the impact of the high stress lifestyle.  In so doing, massage can reduce the likelihood that a given person will experience some of the more debilitating stress-induced conditions.  And, it can help alleviate a lot of the pain from the medical conditions linked to stress, including depression, anxiety, headaches, even asthma.  Massage can also alleviate some of the discomfort associated with other conditions (even things like COPD, if the proper techniques are used by a well-trained therapist).  Massage and bodywork can be extraordinarily helpful in places you wouldn’t expect them to be (like addiction recovery).

Sure, massage is a treat.  Anything that feels good is a treat.  And things that let you feel good afterwards (even if they don’t feel great at the time, as is the case with certain therapeutic massage techniques) can also be treats.  But massage and body work are also great preventive medicine.

How people perceive massage and bodywork affects how they perceive massage therapists.

If they perceive massage as part of healthcare, then they perceive massage therapists as professionals.  They also perceive us as having real training – knowing about physiology and anatomy.  And they value our work.

But if they perceive massage as a luxury…. They tend to have less respect for therapists.  They don’t think of our training as having been rigorous.  And some still forget that there are boundaries they ought not cross.

Perceptions are strong, and they change our behavior.  But knowledge can change perceptions.

This means that one of my jobs as a massage therapist is to educate my clients and those people with whom I come in contact.

Broader Issues