How Do Seasoned Massage Therapists Accomplish a Whole Session with Established Clients? -- Luann Drolc Fortune, Student, School of Human & Organizational Development
Consumers and medical professionals increasingly use massage therapy as a complementary or alternative medical (CAM) treatment. Concurrently, scientific research that evaluates massage’s clinical efficacy will affect practice standards. Yet despite recent scholarship, there is scarce knowledge about how the massage therapist (MT) actually executes their work. My research addresses both the need for foundational research and a desire to involve massage practitioners in scholarship. In this qualitative study, I examined how MTs accomplish a whole treatment session. I situated this inquiry in the context of massage therapy research and related literature from multiple disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, and philosophical somatics. Since the majority of MTs work as independent practitioners, I selected MTs in private practice working with an established client. My data collection involved steps geared to capture real time experience with minimum disruption. Ten MTs completed a whole massage session that I captured on video record. Immediately afterwards, the MT and their client viewed the video and described what occurred during the sessions. Their descriptions and my researcher’s observations constitute the primary data.
As a researcher, I am aligned with phenomenology. My interpretation is hermeneutically embedded in my perspective as a massage practitioner and teacher. I used principles from ethnomethodology to frame this study, and also to identify foundational commonalities present in the MTs’ work. My analysis also revealed complex individual differences in the MTs’ work. Based on my findings, I propose a theory of intersecting dimensions to describe how the MTs experienced their work in its totality. My conclusions offer insights to guide future research and policy making, as well as inform training, practice, and regulation of massage practitioners. Although future study is indicated, I recommend that MTs work towards healthcare integration without sacrificing the diversities and richness inherent in their work.