The Practice of Massage

An Interview with Bodywork Pioneer Judith McKinnon. HTML, reprinted from Open Exchange Magazine, October-December, 1998.

Q: What does it take to become a massage therapist?

Judith: The dictionary of Occupation Titles indicates that one can learn massage in less than a month. That would equate to 100–125 hours of training. In California, there are presently no licensing requirements, so in point of fact, one would be able to practice with no training. However, cities require a massage certificate to become licensed in that city, and employers require insurance, which necessitates having a massage certificate from a licensed vocational school, and massage suave clients, of course, are interested in credentials.

Q: It is surprising that massage is not licensed in California. Are you anticipating that that will change?

Judith: I do not anticipate that changing in the next few years. The point was driven home when I served as a gubernatorial appointee to the physical therapy examining committee. During that period this state began deregulating rather than regulating, and it came to my attention that there has not been a profession that has attained the status of licensure since 1982.

Q: I find that astonishing. Why is that?

Judith: First, licensure is not given unless there is a very clear and distinct danger to the public that can be proven. Obviously massage poses little threat to the public. It feels good.

Q: It is my understanding that many states do require licensure.

Judith: Yes, that is true. Some states have required licensure for fifty years. The massage may be medically oriented. Other states have structured licensure to deal with the problem of prostitution, which incidentally it has not fully stopped. In California, however, we took more of a “growth” model stemming out of the ‘60s and the entire Esalen human potential movement rather than being attached to the medical model or the prostitution problem.

Q: I understand that there is presently a National Certification Exam. Can you say something about that?

Judith: The National Certification Exam has been in place for six years. The present requirements are adopted in about 50% of the states. There is still, however, not reciprocity from state to state, which was in part a driving force in creating the exam.

Q: Why was that a driving force?

Judith: There has been a hope within the bodywork community that we might be able to create a national standard which would allow easy mobility. While this is a lofty goal, we are still dealing with an emerging and developing profession. Some backward states would still not even consider massage to be therapeutic. When you consider the size of the US and the differences of the people in the US, we can understand what a tall order of business this is.

Q: What is required to take the National Certification Examination?

Judith: For an entry level practitioner, the requirement is 500 hours, 100 hours of which must be in anatomy and physiology. The balance of 400 hours would be in various massage modalities. The key here is that no training is acceptable in increments of less than 100 hours. This means: one 500 hours training, two 250 hours trainings, five 100 hours trainings, or some combination of this model. In addition the school must be a licensed vocational institution.

Q: So does that mean that weekend workshops do not count?

Judith: Yes. In effect that is what this means, and I have concerns regarding this issue. People are not always in a position of having enough time to sign up for 100 hours or have the funds available. I have structured certificates in increments of training that stand on their own within programs that develop a body of knowledge. For example, sports-deep tissue certificates allow one to take the four components over three months to fifteen months, paying for the segments as they take them and learning a skill that can be easily incorporated into their practice. This provides an immediate benefit of adding new clients to your expanding business.

Q: Business. Hmm. Most people don’t refer to massage as a business.

Judith: Yes, that’s true, but they should. And in my opinion it is the reason most practitioners limit their business. This must be viewed with the same business suave as any other venture would utilize. It has always been my intention to balance ethical, enriching livelihood with good business practice, allowing my work and spiritual values to be lived through service. For example, one may enter the field of massage with 100 hours of training and an investment of $999. My view on this is to calculate how many massages would need to be given to recoup one’s investment. For simplicity, let’s say that would be about 20-25 massages if one is in private practice. Let’s consider an esthetician’s training. Training is 600 hours at a cost of about $4000. In order to practice one must be licensed, which involves another $40-50 in fees and time. Just calculate how many facials at $45 would be required to cover those costs. Now, let’s factor in a massage therapist spending $400-500 for a table as opposed to an esthetician spending $5000 on required equipment. I think it becomes very apparent that the field of massage has some very distinct advantages.

Q: Could you speak more about the advantages of entering the massage field at this time?

Judith: It seems to me an incredible moment in this profession. We are poised with complementary medicine becoming a part of everyday vocabulary. The National Institute of Health section of Alternative Medicine is considering massage studies in their 1998 budget, and Alta Bates Medical Center is sponsoring a complementary medicine symposium for physicians in November, at which I will be speaking. In addition, Alta Bates, in the fall, is sponsoring a free evening series for the community, at which I will be presenting massage as a healing modality.

Q: It would seem to me with these and other developments that I have been seeing, that the field has come into its own.

Judith: Yes. The opportunities are becoming more accessible day by day.

Reprinted from OPEN EXCHANGE MAGAZINE, Berkeley, CA, October-December 1998

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