The Art of Therapeutic Massage

Fortunately, as more and more people these days recognize the healing and health-preserving benefits of massage, the term "therapeutic" has become somewhat redundant.
07/27/2011 03:49 pm ET Updated Sep 26, 2011

My guest today is Dori Conn. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dori. Your business card describes what you do as "therapeutic massage." What does that mean exactly?

I'm going to take your question on a couple of levels, one being, "Is there a distinction between 'therapeutic massage' and 'massage,' and what is it?" The other being, "Tell us about the therapeutic qualities of massage."

Fortunately, as more and more people these days recognize the healing and health-preserving benefits of massage, the term "therapeutic" has become somewhat redundant. Unfortunately, the specter of "massage" as a code word for prostitution looms yet in the minds of policymakers and would-be clients, rendering the "therapeutic" clarification well-advised for marketing purposes.

As for therapeutic benefits, numerous studies have shown that massage measurably slows the heart rate, deepens breathing, reduces blood pressure and increases immunological properties in the blood, as well as feel-good hormones and the chemicals that release them. Plus, research subject groups that receive massage perform better on physical and mental tasks, report fewer sports injuries and heal more quickly.

Premature infants gain weight 47 percent faster with massage, and leave the hospital on average six days earlier than their peers without it. But the most obvious and immediate benefits for most people are pain relief, increased mobility, a general sense of relaxation and better sleep.

And, it feels great! I'm a big proponent of massage, having enjoyed regularly scheduled appointments for decades. How has massage therapy weathered the economic downturn?

Thankfully, my practice has done fine. It even seems to have increased more than a little, though I can't see a clear explanation. I've heard suggestions that massage business has increased as the economy has sagged. It's got the appeal of luxury and the promise of health care going for it, so folks who want a vacation and folks dealing with pain are both inclined to seek massage as an affordable alternative to airfare or a doctor visit. And people who already valued massage now see it as even more important, to stay healthy and in a positive frame of mind.

But there's some inconsistency to it as well. While generally my weeks are fuller than they'd been, every once in a while for no apparent reason, I'll have a really slow one. And I know from colleagues that that inconsistency is happening to them, too.

Well, the economy is still in a slump and that affects everyone. Even if they might be personally doing well, they look around and there's that nagging suspicion that the bottom could drop out at any moment. So, I'm sure that affects spending -- especially the discretionary kind. Where did your interest in massage come from and what kind of training did you receive?

I had grown up thinking I'd go to medical school, but cut-throat attitudes among some of my premed classmates steered me away from that, leaving me a bit adrift after college graduation. I sort of tripped into massage, having gotten the idea from a friend who was already doing it. I'd never received a professional massage, just thought that massage school sounded like a safe, fun place to pass time while I figured out what to do with my life.

That first day of massage school as I started to understand what massage therapists actually did ("got to do," was how I saw it) and I thought, "This is what I always wanted when I thought I wanted to be a doctor." It's the whole bedside thing, and actually making people feel better, without any of the unpleasantness that can come with medical healing. Plus, I love that I'm helping people with my own hands and my own skills. I feel lucky to have one of the few careers that allows human touch.

I went to the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy. It was a 600-hour program with classes in Massage, Anatomy and Physiology, Pathology, Kinesiology (how bodies move), Ethics and Business Practices. About halfway through the program, I volunteered to receive a shiatsu session from a student in that program, and I loved it so much that the next day I was in the office signing up to earn a Shiatsu certificate, too. So then, I had classes in Oriental Medicine, Meridian Theory and such. Plus toward the end, [I participated in a] Professional Clinic in both modalities and an internship, which I did in a chiropractor's office. I was in school full-time from January '93 through August '94.

Were 600 hours enough for you to feel prepared to go out there and do this professionally? What was your first job after graduation?

I did feel ready and qualified to work after 600 hours. The hands-on classes gave me more than adequate training in the mechanics, and the clinic and internship were explicitly designed to mimic "out there," but with the protection of clients who understood we were still learning, (i.e. prone to goofy blunders).

For me the practice sessions we had to log for homework provided great "out there" experience, since I had no family or longtime friends nearby. It meant I had to find willing strangers, or friends of friends to practice on, so the interpersonal/professional introduction training was built in, as well as general marketing, and the ability to discuss massage and expectations.

Those pseudo-professional contacts, in fact, lead to my first professional gigs. For example, there was a couple I'd massage every week in their home for homework, and when I passed the national certification exam and became licensed to work, they graciously had me continue the visits for pay. Similarly, when my chiropractic internship ended, I was able to continue the work I had been doing for market-level pay. So that was my first real "job," though I've always worked as an independent contractor.

Is what you do covered by anyone's health care policy? It seems like it should be, since massage can be so beneficial to mental health.

Mmm, good question. I think some smart companies are covering massage under certain conditions. In my career, I've had maybe a dozen clients request receipts so that they could be reimbursed, or have it qualify for some "elective procedures."

I know there are massage therapists in physical therapy settings and hospitals who bill insurance companies for services, so it's definitely happening. But insurance is such a mess right now, and my skill set is definitely not organized paper processing, so my work won't be covered anytime soon.

I just Googled you, Dori, and I see that you're a doula, too. And you live car-free. What an incredibly interesting and versatile woman you are. We'll have to talk more soon so I can find out the rest!

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Dori Conn, Sunny Palms
Massage, Shiatsu, and Birth Services
Evanston, Illinois
Dori's LinkedIn profile

Author's Bio: Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of transparency and the ability to accurately check and authenticate the vote cast, these systems can alter election results and therefore are simply antithetical to democratic principles and functioning. Since the pivotal 2004 Presidential election, Joan has come to see the connection between a broken election system, a dysfunctional, corporate media and a total lack of campaign finance reform. This has led her to enlarge the parameters of her writing to include interviews with whistle-blowers and articulate others who give a view quite different from that presented by the mainstream media. She also turns the spotlight on activists and ordinary folks who are striving to make a difference, to clean up and improve their corner of the world. By focusing on these intrepid individuals, she gives hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise be turned off and alienated. She also interviews people in the arts in all their variations - authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, and artists. Why? The bottom line: without art and inspiration, we lose one of the best parts of ourselves. And we're all in this together. If Joan can keep even one of her fellow citizens going another day, she considers her job well done. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at Huffington Post, RepublicMedia.TV and Scoop.co.nz.
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