Energy and Integrative Massage in Recent History

When I began as a therapist in 1977, Swedish massage, Shiatsu, Rolfing, Aston Patterning, Reiki, Feldenkrais, Alexander work, Polarity, and Cranio-sacral therapy were what one mostly encountered.  There was a broad umbrella under which they all easily co-existed.

As the massage and bodywork field grew, its proliferation gave rise to new modalities, new educational standards, more schools, organizations, and various interest groups.  It has been sometimes difficult to see the forest through the trees; but it’s still there!

Lately the tree of science or evidence-based massage has been somewhat overshadowing other approaches. We have seen an emphasis on science and evidence-based massage and a relative de-emphasis on the artistic and the energetic side of bodywork. This is partly due to the excitement the field has had to attain clinical competence and get respect from the medical industry.  In addition, through more than just national interactions, massage in the U.S., which has traditionally been accepting of an eclectic mix of therapies, has been confronted with, for instance, the Canadian model, which is more of a European physiotherapy, allopathic model of massage.

Another influence is that of testing, national certifications, and licensing.  It is vastly easier to test for scientific knowledge, than for art and hands-on skills.  National exams do not contain, understandably(!), an examination of hands-on skill, energetic sensitivity, palpatory literacy, or actual therapeutic benefit – because it is recognized as nearly impossible to objectively judge hands-on work.  But the deeper insight here is that what constitutes the highest skill level in our field is indeed something that has as much to do with art as with science.  We just don’t test for the art.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t of equal or greater importance.

Progress in both the art and science, both energy and structure, is a precious legacy of modern massage therapy.  Of late the scientific perspective has been wonderfully emphasized.  I believe and hope the next step for our field is to balance this emphasis with an understanding of the essential role energy and integration play in our knowledge and therapy.