This blog about the massage industry was written a few years ago for the fitness group I used to be involved with. The fitness and massage industries are very similar in that there are no regulations stopping anyone setting up business as a massage therapist, or as a fitness instructor, and being unleashed on the unsuspecting public……..Selena.
I trained as a Clinical Massage Therapist completing the Diploma in Health in 2001. It took me 2 years of full time study to be trained. At the time, the training I did was first class, no other college was offering such an involved level of teaching.
I was fortunate enough to already possess a Bachelor of Applied Science, majoring in Sport Science, that meant all the Anatomy and Physiology I had to learn was already drummed into my brain (and also from having my Fitness Leaders Certificate, where it was also drummed into my brain!). So I found the whole process pretty easy at first, but as I delved further into injuries, and body mechanics, and posture, and disease, and how to treat it all, I realised I had so much more to learn, and ALWAYS WILL! I will NEVER confess to knowing it all, and I NEVER WILL!
Every day I am constantly questioning myself and my treatments and whether I did the right thing by that client, and whether what I did actually helped that person, or made them worse. I am constantly referring my clients on to a bunch of other health professionals that I hold in high regard when I feel that what I am doing as a massage therapist just isn’t enough. I continue to add to my qualification by doing courses to learn new techniques, and to fulfil my requirement with ongoing professional development. But I still want to know more. My job working at a very busy highly regarded physiotherapy clinic has only proven to me how much I DON’T know. I have toyed with the idea of becoming a physio. I need to know more.
The reason why I am telling you of my background is not so I can say ‘hey look at me I am a great therapist’, it’s so I can give you all a bit of an idea just how much you need to learn when it comes to the human body, it’s function and how to treat it. I have a very sound background, and 14 years’ experience under my belt, and I still get stumped with some clients. Throw in all the psychological stuff that comes with injury, chronic pain, workers compensation claims, loss of function, and you have a bed of issues that don’t just present to you as something easy to treat in a one hour full body massage!
Can you see what I’m getting at? When you go to a massage therapist, they really REALLY need to know their stuff, especially if you are going with a specific injury that you want treated.
I have been teaching the Diploma of Remedial massage for 10 years. In that time I have seen many therapists come and go, but I could count on one hand the ‘good’ ones.
I have recently decided to not teach any more. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I feel that with the current course structure that has been standardised Australia wide, I am no longer passing out well informed, educated, qualified, quality massage therapists. They tick all the boxes that they are meant to to be ‘competent’, but that isn’t enough as far as I am concerned.
There are so many massage therapists around for the population of Hobart but the quality ones are few and far between. I have only a handful of therapists I will refer my clients to.
SO what do you need to know as a massage consumer?
Please, do me a couple of favours:
- Do not refer to us as masseurs, or masseuses. That conjures up in my mind a whole different kind of massage that I and many other therapists have tried so incredibly hard to steer clear of and not be associated with. Unfortunately there are still these people out there that are practising as legitimate massage therapists, offering dodgy things on the side that ruin it for the rest of us professionals. And never EVER refer to our massage clinic as a Massage parlour!
- Don’t expect your therapist to ‘fix’ you. We have pretty good qualifications, but we just aren’t trained or qualified to meet that kind of pressure. We are not actually allowed to DIAGNOSE. It was heavily stipulated to me during my training that we are NOT to diagnose. We can look, do assessments, palpate and treat and come up with an idea of what is going on, and form a treatment plan according to those observations, but we CANNOT say this is what is wrong with you, period. So many clients have been to see me who have been all over the place wanting help with this and that, with no benefits, and just want me to ‘fix’ them in one hour session. Not going to happen, sorry. I will try my best, but there is usually so much more going on.
What do you need to know when looking for a massage therapist?
If you want a lovely, relaxing full body massage, generally someone with a Certificate IV in massage will be sufficient. They are trained to ONLY give therapeutic massages. Relaxation/Swedish massage only. They are not trained to treat injuries. They are not trained to do a deep tissue or a remedial treatment. They are not trained to treat a pregnant client. They are not trained to do trigger points, stretch you, or do any other form of massage. I can still do a great relaxation massage, and still give one to some of my regular clients, it’s just that therapists with a Cert IV are trained to only give therapeutic massages.
On the other hand if you want a deep tissue massage, or want a remedial treatment, that is, be treated for a specific injury, here is what you need to look for.
- They need to hold a current Diploma of Remedial Massage. It needs to have the code HLT50307. I upgraded to this a few years ago when it was standardised across the country.
- They need to have insurance. Preferably public liability and professional indemnity, and it needs to be with a legitimate insurance company. There used to be a therapist that ran his own college, giving out Diplomas in a weekend, who set up his own insurance company, his own professional association, just so he could tick all the boxes when students wanted to do his training.
- They need to be a member of a professional association. I am a full member of the Australian Association of Massage Therapists (AAMT) who are doing fantastic things for the industry. Pushing for regulation is one of them. There are many others out there too.
- They need to hold a CURRENT first aid certificate. A no-brainer!
- They also need to stay current in their training. With the AAMT, I need to obtain 40 points each year in continuing professional education points. This is similar to a lot of other health professions. Personal trainers need to do this too.
Here are a few other things your therapist should also be doing:
- They should leave the room when you get undressed before the treatment, and when you get dressed after the treatment. There are some times when the therapist needs to help the client, but as a strict rule, they should NOT under any circumstance stay there chatting to you while you undress and get on the table.
- They should use proper DRAPING. And by draping I don’t mean throw a little towel over you and hope that it stays on through the course of the treatment. Draping should include your whole body being covered except for the part the therapist is working on. There have been a few cases in court over clients being ‘exposed’ and it being misconstrued with sexual advances. If you ever feel uncomfortable, you are absolutely in your right to end the treatment and leave without payment.
- They should complete a thorough medical history with you, before your first treatment, and also continually update that during your course of visits with them. I have clients that have been seeing me for 12 years, and their medical issues could not possibly still be the same from the first day they walked in my door.
- They should also keep records. They should update your file every time you see them, documenting their treatment and the outcomes. And it should be stored confidentially and securely.
There are many other things I personally look for in a therapist, but they’re just my things. I run a mile from anyone that massages in bare feet, has crystals hanging in their doorway, and that get me to ‘OHM’ with them before they start my treatment or start waving tuning forks around my head. That’s a whole different kind of massage, one I don’t have an open enough mind for.
The BEST thing about all this……Australian health funds now recognise remedial massage therapy as a legitimate therapy for their clients to claim back on their health insurance. The catch is that you can ONLY claim back on your health insurance with a therapist that fulfils all of the above requirements. So it keeps us honest. I was actually taken off the health fund list because I completely forgot to update my first aid certificate. I was mortified, and it took me 6 weeks to be reinstated. But I learnt my lesson, and it made me realise that this is a great way to clean up the industry and keep us all on our toes. Not a bad thing at all.
I want to say a few things about the fitness industry too. When I was a squeaky clean sport science graduate back in 1996, I applied for a gym instructor’s job at a Hobart gym. It involved working on the floor in the gym, helping people with programs etc. It didn’t involve taking any aerobics classes. I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have my Fitness Leaders Certificate. A three year bachelor degree wasn’t enough. I had to go and do a couple of weekends to get qualified.
I worked in numerous gym around Hobart, and really couldn’t stand the whole body beautiful attitude. I worked with so many ‘sales’ staff that were so lovely and sweet and friendly to a client to get them in the door and get their money, then couldn’t have cared a less after that. It was all just so FAKE. I left the industry for that reason, and the fact that nobody seemed to know what they were doing. I saw so many dodgy exercises given by other PT’s, and I still do.
There are only about 3 or 4 Personal Trainers in the whole of Hobart I would even consider sending a client to, especially if it involved any kind of rehab. A physio would be my first port of call and I regularly refer clients to a select few I have faith in.
So shop around. See which massage therapist works best for you. Ask for their qualifications if they are not openly displayed in their clinic. You should be able to strike up a pretty good rapport with your therapist. They should listen to you and what you want from your treatment, not just give you their ‘routine’ that they give everyone. And you should feel comfortable.