Therapeutically speaking…

This year, the WA State Board of Massage enacted a change to our professional credential: from licensed massage “practitioner” to licensed massage “therapist.” Besides the linguistic hitch of remembering to say or type a different word, is there a difference?

There’s Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo & Juliet) We could argue that many people already have a vague or simplistic understanding of what massage is, so the name change doesn’t alter the need for public education about the what massage is and isn’t.

When I first heard of the name change, I’ll admit, I inwardly rolled my eyes a bit: ‘here’s another set of administrative editing and reprinting I have to do.’ (Editing, like any other chore, which actually only took about 1/10th the time that my resistance imagined. Ha!) As I’ve been sitting with it, however, I’m now glad for the title change.

While I liked the emphasis on ‘practice’ that our previous title held, I’m glad for the alignment of our title with the intent of our work: therapy. The definition: treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder. (In another post, I’ll take this a step further: what’s the distinction between orienting to the disorder and orienting to the health within the system.)

Whatever the method — and there are so many good methods that achieve positive change — what we have in common is using our touch (through hands, sometimes forearms or feet!) to help others heal from injuries or insults, expand their body’s expressiveness or strength, and live with a more complete and vital relationship with their bodies. As Marge Piercy writes, in her poem:

To Be of Use

The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek hand of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields of harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in the common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles into dust,
but the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wind and oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries out for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.