Research and Approaches to Healing


I’ve been thinking a lot about research lately. Rather, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I used to think about research and how, lately, I seem to do so less and less.

I was a psychology major in college and, as such, had to read lots of research and execute a few studies. Quantitative methods was required for my course, and, as much as I see the place for quantitative research, constructing and executing just one “gold standard” double-blind study in an academic setting with plenty of help and guidance mostly taught me a) that I did not ever want to do it again, and b) that quantitative research is complicated and often imperfect, and as a bonus, it reinforced my belief that many people tend to misread, overgeneralize, and overstate the extent to which studies “prove” things. I do not mean to suggest that it doesn’t matter. Quantitative research matters very much, gives us valuable information and insight into this world of ours, and results in crazy advances for all humankind. I’m just not the girl to carry it out.

Qualitative research, on the other hand? Oh how it makes my heart surge. Qualitative methods was not required for my course, and it was a pretty small class. I understand why. To do it properly requires hours of transcription and coding and analysis, and, at the end, you essentially wind up with a story. It’s a little less sell-able  a little less shiny, a little less likely to turn up in the health section of the Times than quantitative studies with control groups and placebos and scientific method set out to measure the effects of one thing on another (unless, of course, there’s either a quantitative element or a large enough study to detect quantifiable patterns). It doesn’t disprove a hypothesis, and thus it is often sidelined, but I think it is pretty important stuff. It provides new ways of listening, new insights into stories. And stories matter. You can’t extrapolate from them the way you can with quantitative research, can’t say that the experience of a handful of people that you have carefully taken down and parsed and come to understand will predict the experience of another, but that doesn’t mean those experiences don’t matter. They do.

The other day, I saw a post from the marvelous Melissa who administrates Anatomy in Motion’s Facebook page (on the off chance you are not already up on it, Anatomy in Motion is a fantastic app she and her husband created, and they post great content on Facebook that yields many interesting discussions). She was dismayed that someone was posting anti-massage sentiments on some of their infographics in a vaguely troll-like fashion. I had plans to leave the house within a few minutes of seeing her post. Because internet drama bests my feeble time management skills time and again, I chose to forego brushing my hair and packing my bag for yoga in favor of scanning the recent posts to see what this guy had to say. What I found was a fairly straightforward post from Anatomy in Motion citing some information about TMJ (it didn’t mention massage as a treatment), and a response from someone declaring that massage does not ever help this ever, and that no study has ever shown that it does. Ever. He used some language that didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t foul-mouthed by any stretch, but he suggested that telling people that massage helps with TMJ dysfunction merely adds to the misinformation that “consumers have to wade through.” I felt a little lumped in with snake oil salesmen. I didn’t like it. I left the house as planned, and when I next looked at the discussion, someone with more time than I (OK, it was Melissa/Anatomy in Motion) had hopped onto PubMed and posted four great quantitative studies demonstrating the effectiveness of massage in treating TMJ dysfunction! Problem solved!

But my wheels had been spinning since I’d left the house. The snake oil association had got me thinking about the way that so many people approach healing, about our reliance on research that we take to be cut and dry, but that rarely is, on the reluctance to trust intuition and give complementary care a fair shake. I appreciate the studies that demonstrate that massage helps people who are suffering from TMJ dysfunction. I look for new research fairly regularly, share it when available, write blog posts promoting new information from time to time. I love that stuff. But I was twelve years old when my jaw first slid out of place and started popping every time I opened my mouth. I’ve had TMJ problems longer than I have not. And, when I pin the clavicular attachment of my SCM and tilt my head to the side, I feel the stretch through my neck, up into my masseter, feel a slow and achy opening in the joint itself. And that matters just as much as any study.

Sometimes, it really can feel like we are wading through information. There is so much we don’t know about the human body. For people who don’t “believe in” or use acupuncture, the meridians and elemental associations sound like mumbo jumbo. For people who don’t know about massage, I imagine talk of trigger points can sound similar. But it’s pretty commonly accepted that massage works on muscles, and muscles act on joints, and it has always made sense to me intuitively, long before I ever had a massage, back when I was just a kid with a cranky, painful jaw, that pressing the muscles could help ease the pain.

When I studied qualitative methods in college, in addition to course work and our main study, we had to submit a reflection paper at the end of the term. I remember vividly hand-drawing a cover (a little juvenile, perhaps, for a college paper, but the word “reflection” was in the assignment, so I guess I kind of went for it). I drew a human form, gingerbread-man-style, arms and legs and head, but empty, and I filled in the body with interlocking puzzle pieces. What I loved about my study, which was entirely interview based, was the idea that, rather than looking at people through the lens of an external hypothesis, I started from an open-ended place and let all data arise from interviews, from the individual. I loved my qualitative methods psych class for the same reason I now love massage: all the answers are within the individual, the pieces fit together always, in a unique and fascinating and way that has something to teach us.

The truth is that much massage research usually relies on both quantitative and qualitative measures, and it legitimizes the field, and it informs techniques, and it is fabulous. My issue is not with research itself, but with people like the man commenting on the TMJ post (and other posts, apparently, that I didn’t catch), who insist that the only effective treatments are those that have been pinned down and scrutinized and documented via quantitative methods. I wish that experience and common sense mattered a little bit more, that feeling a change in a joint, however subtle, was enough to demonstrate effectiveness or, at the very least, to not inspire rage. Massage helps me. It helps my clients. As much as I love research and will continue to use it to try and legitimize the field to nonbelievers, the stories I’ve seen of massage working wonders, however few and however undocumented, are just as important to me.


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.


ninja killing pirate

“If I had an enemy then my enemy is gonna try to come and kill me ’cause I’m his enemy” -The Black Eyed Peas

Pain is not your enemy. Hunting it down and beating it into submission will not help. Getting angry when it refuses to respond to your treatments will not help. Pain is a symptom and a signal, and sometimes an unfortunate fact of life. But it is not your enemy.

Money is not your enemy. Blaming your career and personal problems on its unwillingness to flow your way will not help. Being unwilling to spend any of it thoughtfully and intelligently to advance your career or your personal life will not help. Money is a tool and a part of society. But it is not your enemy.

People soliciting sex are not your enemy. Calling them creeps and perverts will not help. Getting angry about the fact that they’ve accidentally called someone who doesn’t sell sex will not help. Prostitution exists everywhere, whether it’s legal or not. But it is not your enemy.

Your competition is not your enemy. Trash-talking them in front of others will not help. Putting effort into destroying their business instead of building up your own will not help. Competition means you have to work hard to stand out. But it is not your enemy.

There are two problems with making false enemies out of situations, people, and things:

  1. Vanquishing enemies is a full-time job. Just ask any superhero.
  2. Enemies have a habit of fighting back.

If you can’t get past the need to do battle with your foes, find the ones that are actually out to do you harm: your complacency, your insecurity, your unwillingness to try something strange and new. Whatever it is, make a plan for kicking its ass. When you do so, you might find that the very folks you considered your enemies turn out to be your strongest allies. Mr. Do-you-do-light-sensual-massage has certainly helped me land a punch to my unassertiveness, and money is a great cheerleader when laziness comes to call.

That’s the nice thing about giving up on old hatreds. When you pick your battles, there’s a great chance you’ll actually win.

Kat Mayerovitch is a licensed massage therapist practicing in a nonprofit chronic pain management center in Cleveland, Ohio. She also works as a copywriter, volunteers like mad in local community development, and plays the ukulele. If you liked this, Kat writes more good stuff at LMT or Bust.

photo credit: Dunechaser via photopin cc

On Ignorance

When I was really little, I believed Canadians didn’t attend church. I knew that my family didn’t go to church because of my father, and my father was different from other people’s fathers because he was Canadian. Furthermore, I had met quite a few Canadians, and none of them attended church either.

The fact that my grandmother’s house in Montreal was right next to a Catholic church didn’t phase to me. (Also, not only did I eventually figure out that my extended family was not representative of Canada as a whole, but I also learned what “Jewish” meant. Look how far I’ve come!)

Sure she’s cute, but can she drive a stick shift?

The truth of the matter is, we all start out ignorant. While the fact that I confused nationality and religion in Kindergarten certainly caused some laughs, nobody got angry at me for what I should have known. Our tolerance for ignorance usually decreases with age: it’s okay for an 11-year-old not to know how to balance a checkbook, but we get annoyed if they still don’t know by 22. While the opposite is sometimes true when talking about new technology, most of us set age-based standards for wisdom.

You should use the toilet by 3. Learn to read by 6. Do algebra by 15. Understand the electoral college by … probably never. 

Unfortunately, these assumptions on our part can hurt not only our businesses, but our community.

When I was 26, I read LMT on a business card and had no idea what it meant. I got annoyed with the person. What the heck were they trying to convey, the fact that they knew the alphabet? Why wouldn’t they just tell me what they did? I wasn’t stupid, but someone assumed that I would see that their business was a spa, make a list of possible spa occupations in my head, somehow match one of them up with the letters I’d been given, and decide they were the person for me.

They lost my business.

When we assume that very young massage therapists can’t do a great job because we were ignorant at that age, everyone loses out on what might have been a great professional relationship.

When we assume that just because a massage therapist has years of experience and a well-known practice, they must also have a firm grasp on ethics and professionalism, we can get ourselves into sticky situations.

When we’re furious that someone doesn’t realize there’s a difference between a massage therapist and a prostitute, we effectively stop that person from ever coming to us with a back injury.

When we get angry at new massage therapists straight out of school who’ve been taught that massage flushes lactic acid from their muscles, we lose a chance to educate and to foster the growth of a potential advocate for scientific literacy.

There are lots of blameworthy characteristics in the world: dishonesty, untrustworthiness, egotism, greed. We do what we can to avoid dealing with people who show those qualities, because there’s not much good that can come from it.

But ignorance? Ignorance is a shockingly easy fix. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have schools, we wouldn’t have newspapers, we wouldn’t have blogs or libraries or advertising, for that matter.

So take a minute for the ignorant. Explain your techniques to a client. Explain why your decision was the ethical one. Write out “Licensed Massage Therapist” instead of leaving your business card a wash of alphabet soup.

Just because we’re bodyworkers doesn’t mean we can’t be knowledge-workers as well, so get rid of your “shoulds”share what you’ve got. Potential clients, students, colleagues, (and possibly the occasional churchgoing Canadian) will thank you for it.

Kat Mayerovitch is a licensed massage therapist practicing in a nonprofit chronic pain management center in Cleveland, Ohio. She also works as a copywriter, volunteers like mad in local community development, and plays the ukulele. If you liked this, Kat writes more good stuff at LMT or Bust.

photo credit: ` TheDreamSky via photopin cc

Witness to a crime

A recent post by Steph Lasch on Facebook sparked an old memory of mine, when I had my massage business.

I was working late at my massage business on Main Street, when I noticed something, that I never wanted to see. It was a man obviously intoxicated getting into his vehicle and driving away. I immediately called the cops and luckily, the cops were able to arrest him, and he spent the night in jail. After that I felt really good about what I did and didn’t realize that the next day would be a nightmare for me.

The next day when I got to work, the owner of the bar came in right after me. He seemed pissed and wanted to talk right away. He asked me if I reported a drunk driver last night, and I told him I did. He then started threatening me and the police were asking him if he was selling alcohol to an overly intoxicated person. He then told me that he would do whatever it takes to have my business fail. He even told me that he would tell every single person in the bar, not to go get massages across the street from me. I had my business in a town of 2,000+ people, and you know how information travels in a small-town…very fast!

After that I told him, if I ever see another intoxicated person trying to get into their vehicle, that I would report them too. Afterwards, he stormed out mad, and I thought that was the last of it, but I soon found out it wasn’t the case. I had another job too and I worked in a nursing home, and a couple of the employees that worked there also lived in the small town were I had my business. They began to threaten my business again, and it made my life a living hell, because they were trying to get me fired at my nursing-home job (I found that out from some other employees).

After that, I thought this had gone too far and decided to go talk to the Mayor. The Mayor didn’t seem too concerned and told me to let him know if any other problems come up. Soon after that the bar owner came to my place of business again and told me he has most of the town against me and that I should close my business down. I then went to the Mayor again, and he told me that he would talk to the bar owner.

Soon after the incident, I got a call from a past high school classmate wanting to know if I wanted to teach massage. I was scared to death at the thought of teaching, but I also didn’t want to deal with the harassment anymore. I called the college on a Friday, had the interview on that same day and started teaching on Monday.

One of the main reasons I’m so against driving drunk, is that a drunk driver killed my sister in 1999 and she was 2 months away from graduating high school and turning 18. The killer received 3.5 years in jail and never apologized to my family (I also found out that he started drinking again, after he got out of jail). She was the baby of the family and my only sister.

If I had to report another drunk driver; I won’t even think about it and report them too!

Get This Crap Off Your Website

I like simple websites. That’s why I hired a minimalist designer for my Blue Streak site. That’s why Kelli Wise made my massage practice site so clean and crisp.

If you’ve got decent content, your website is clear and easy to navigate, you don’t need bullshit music or animation. And if you’ve got it? You may well be driving traffic away. I go apeshit when I hear chimes start up. I can’t close the window fast enough. I can’t stand fancy animations or PDFs of your menu of services. They’re hard to navigate through. If I have to squint to look for a litte magnifying glass icon to zoom in, you’ve lost me.

Please, take just one moment to think about this: what is the main reason people visit your website?

Does your website look like this?

It’s not “To listen to my choice of music.” Don’t include music or video that starts automatically. If you want people to know about the kind of music you use during your massage, write a blog post about it, and include an audio sample. But I don’t wish to hear the chime-y version of Pachelbel’s Cannon blare out when I’m browsing online in Panera. Hush up.

It’s not “To see ads.” Don’t include pop-ups or other intrusive advertisements, and especially not for products and services that you don’t personally offer. When you have Google ads on your site, it makes me think you’re a crappy therapist who can’t make a living doing massage so you sell space on your site for advertising. Ick.

It’s not “To read a paper brochure.” There’s no reason to include a PDF or fancy animation of your print materials. Not only does it make the information included in it more difficult to access, it also makes it useless from an SEO perspective.

It’s not “To look at all kinds of fancy fonts.” Don’t use such an elaborate font that I can’t read the words easily. And don’t use more than two fonts. It’s too distracting.

It’s not “To read flowery and totally subjective descriptions of how great your services are without learning anything about what you actually do.” Be clear. Use words non-therapists can understand.

So why do people come to your website?

  • To learn about your services.
  • To learn about you.
  • To find your location.
  • To schedule a massage.

Make this information the focus of your website, not the afterthought. Of course, you can show these things through words, images, forms, video, or even the colors you choose.

If you’ve got great content, you don’t need bells and whistles. Most aren’t impressed, and some will be actively turned off. Give the people what they want in a way that is clear and free of bullshit. Show them from the very beginning that you understand their needs.

Bonus tidbit:

I sure as fudge will never call a place to ask about pricing. I’ve got stuff to do, and there are 3 other massage places in town that DO have prices listed on their sites. I’m not looking for mystery, I want information from your site, that’s why I’m there. It’s not exclusive or intriguing. It’s annoying. Stop it.

Allissa Haines is a massage therapist with a full private practice in Massachusetts. She creates marketing and business resources for massage therapists at Writing A Blue Streak. She is also a marketing consultant, professional speaker, and a frequent snacker. 

Kat Mayerovitch also helped write this post. Give her high fives if you run into her, because she loves that shit.

photo credit: McBeth via photopin cc

360-degrees in the massage profession

 I have done a little of everything in the massage field, and it has satisfied my desires to the fullest, but nothing is more gratifying as giving massages. I’ve worked in the field for over 15 years and started out working for someone out of their garage (yep, she made her garage into a massage studio and it was gorgeous). After that I moved around a bit from working in a spa, health club, private practice and eventually opening up my own massage business. Moving around from five different places, in three years was hard to keep a regular clientele, but I was always looking for that carrot on the end of the stick.

Then I found guaranteed money with teaching, and it was great from 2001-2008. I never had to worry about classes being cut, because massage was really popular around that time, and I would consistently have 10-15 students per class. But then the recession hit, and it was harder for students to get loans, and I eventually started seeing classes be cut, and my class sizes drop down to 4-6 per class. Luckily, I started a few years before the recession, and I could possibly handle my hours being cut, but I was so used to a regular amount each month, that I had to find other opportunities.

I got a job at Bon Vital’ as their social media director in April of this year and gave my notice the very next day. I actually gave the world’s longest notice, with six weeks, because it was in the middle of the quarter, and I wanted to finish my students out. I told my students about two weeks before my last day and most of them were devastated. It was so hard to see them upset, and I hated to do it, but I knew I couldn’t play the yo-yo game with not knowing if I had enough classes to teach that next quarter.

I was starting to feel a void in my life for the first time in a really long time, because I didn’t have that human contact as much and I was lying awake at night thinking what I could do to ignite my passion again. The very following day one of my past clients from 13 years ago found my number in the phone book and asked if I was interested in giving him a massage. I can’t tell you how much joy I felt after that phone call, and I scheduled him for the next day.

For the last few months, I’ve been averaging 3-4 massages a week, and it totally satisfies me. They always say that a massage therapist never completely retires from giving massages…They just cut down :)