How Do Seasoned Massage Therapists Accomplish a Whole Session with Established Clients? -- Luann Drolc Fortune, PhD (Spring 2012)
Luann Fortune, PhD is a licensed massage therapist and bodywork instructor. She also has an extensive management background in the private sector. Her professional private practice delivers wellness consultation, educational services, and massage therapy to businesses and the community in the greater Washington, DC area. Dr. Fortune’s research focuses on the holistic aspects of massage and alternative wellness practices, as well as somatic awareness and embodiment techniques for scholarship, research, and practice. Her writings and publications span multiple disciplines, and promote translational value in scholarship and practice. Some of her papers can be viewed online at http://lufortune.wordpress.com/about-luan/
Consumers and medical professionals increasingly use massage therapy as a complementary or alternative medical (CAM) treatment. Concurrently, the literature focuses on evaluating massage’s clinical efficacy through randomized clinical trials (RCTs). This scientific research is likely to affect practice standards. Yet despite recent scholarship, there is scarce knowledge about how the massage therapists (MT) actually execute their work. My research addresses both the need for foundational qualitative 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 study 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 paired to work with an established client. My data collection involved a series of steps geared to capture real time experience with minimum disruption. Ten MTs completed a whole massage session that I collected on video record. Immediately afterwards, the MTs and their clients described what occurred during the sessions as they viewed the video recording. Their recorded descriptions and my field notes constitute the primary data.
In this research, my interpretation is hermeneutically embedded in my perspective as a massage practitioner and teacher. As a researcher, I am aligned with phenomenology. 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 experiences. 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.
KEY WORDS: Bodywork, complementary alternative medicine (CAM), clinical reasoning, client-centered, ethnomethodology, holism, manual therapy, phenomenology, professionalization, qualitative, somatic, therapeutic relationship