Massage Therapy - What's in a name?

So most of us recognize the Shakespeare quote, which continues:

“That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." [Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)]

Since I retrained and swapped careers, I have been so busy loving my work and the world I am building for myself, I hadn’t given too much thought to the terms and labels that come with it – although I’m a huge fan of that lovely label, ‘self-employed’! But actually, these things do matter.

A client was talking to me today about the fact that she didn’t like being referred to as a ‘housewife’. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with what she does, in fact she loves it and has chosen to undertake her role for a number of years. It’s just the term ‘housewife’. “I don’t even mind the term ‘stay-at-home-mum’ although there is nothing easy about this career option!” We chatted for a bit and roundly agreed it might perhaps be the vision of 1950s women, applying the lipstick as their husbands drove into the drive at predictable-o’clock that sent shivers down her spine at the term – although anyone who has seen Mad Men knows that the world of Betty Draper was far from dull!

No, I had never really thought too much about the terminology used by other people to describe my job title or profession - masseur, masseuse, massage practitioner, massage therapist - these are all titles given to people who have trained, qualified and earn an income through providing massage. Perhaps this is because even whilst I was on my year-long course, I came to think of myself as a massage therapist.

I read an article a few months ago which obviously jangled slightly, because it’s been rattling around in my head ever since, and I’ve started to notice my reactions to the terminology used to describe my role a lot more. Here in the UK there are no national regulations regarding commercial massage, although there are governing bodies, awarding bodies, codes of ethics and conduct galore, and of course insurance. Perhaps this is why in the UK there can occasionally be the odd ‘mix up’.

My radar for what I term “those calls” is pretty good. I am always slightly surprised and very disappointed but consider myself polite, courteous and considerate when I gently inform them that I am not available for such a massage.

The article I read was about Kate Codrington, a fellow massage therapist who works in the Watford area who has taken the decision to no longer work with male clients. She received telephone calls in the middle of the night, or has instances of clients arriving and subsequently request ‘additional services’. After 21 years in the industry I find this really sad, both for her and for her male clients who are genuinely seeking the pleasure and benefits of massage therapy with no agenda.

But that isn’t what got me … it was the press coverage this received. With articles in both the local press and tabloid papers, about half of the reports used the term ‘masseuse’. And there’s the rub … ok, bad joke, but you don’t expect a good one from me do you?!

Because of the lack of national regulations here in the UK, it is possible, and legal, to set up providing massage having received no training. Scary. No wonder it is so hard to decide ‘what sort’ of massage to book, since the over all title makes no differentiation between a beauty therapists’ massage, a post-sports rub down massage, a sexual massage and the full range in between. Even Wikipedia lists 35 different types and methods of massage.

I must be fairly traditional, because in my mind the terms masseur and masseuse suggest a form of massage I don’t provide. Until I read the article, I hadn’t really noticed whether I had a reaction to either of these terms being used or not. Turns out that whilst won’t come out in a rash if these terms are used, that’s not my preference, just as I’d prefer not to be known as Vicky, and my client would prefer not to be called a housewife.

So why “Massage Therapist”?

Practitioner is fine, I’m happy with that, but I do have an active preference towards using the term therapist. According to the Collins English Dictionary (Complete & Unabridged), the word Therapy originates from the Greek word therapeia meaning ‘attendance’. Perhaps a more accurate origin is the Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary:

1840–50; < Greek therapeía healing (akin to therápōn attendant)

I guess in reality there isn’t any difference between the word practitioner and therapist – but my preference has been to see myself as a Massage Thearpist who can accompany and be alongside my clients on their journey – how very X-Factor!

The massage practitioner [or therapist] is a facilitator through touch, working with and guided by the client. To quote Deane Juhan:

Touching hands are … like flashlights in a darkened room. The medicine they administer is self-awareness. And for many of our painful conditions, this is the aid most urgently needed. [Job’s Body; Deane Juhan; Station Hill Press; P. xxix]

[“Holistic Massage: How to do it” Part 2 of the series from Massage World, published in December 2002/January 2003 written by Andy Fagg]

Much more poetic!