How is ‘healing’ generally defined in massage therapy?
Healing in massage therapy is a tricky subject. It is often avoided by tiptoeing around the issue, by mentioning benefits without making any healing claims.
Here are some ways how the (healing) benefits of massage are typically presented:
But, God forbid if you mention that it can actually help to cure, heal, or improve an actual disease. That can get you in trouble mighty quickly.
Why are Healing Arts practitioners not allowed to heal?
Here is an amazing fact. Massage is part of the healing arts world, but in quite a few countries, including the USA, massage therapists are not allowed to say that they heal anything.
So if massage therapy is a healing art, but it doesn’t heal anything, what exactly does it do?
There are major teaching institutions with ‘healing arts’ included in their name that teach massage therapy.
A good question would be – what do they tell their students? A healing arts institution teaches a healing art that is not allowed to heal anything. Isn’t this a strange contradiction?
What does ‘healing’ really mean?
Part of the problem is the definition of the word “healing”. What actually is healing anyway? What do you think – which of the following qualify as healing:
- A surgeon successfully cuts out a cancerous tumor
- An agitated businessman whose mind is racing uncontrollably gets a wonderful massage and now feels peaceful and relaxed
- A judgmental person decides to abandon this negative behavior and instead adopts a kind and loving attitude
Can words heal? What if someone reads an inspirational book and as a result changes their life? And how about mantras? Can they heal? Countless people say that they do.
Can love heal? Countless stories and events attest to this.
And what are healing hands anyway in Thai Massage therapy or Reiki or similar methods?
What exactly is healing? How is it defined? Can it be ‘owned’ by a particular group or practice or style?
How did ‘healing’ get hijacked by one group of ‘healers’?
Who decides what ‘healing’ means? In the USA, it seems that the AMA (American Medical Association) along with the medical establishment hijacked the meaning of this word.
They certainly succeeded in wrestling the healing out of the healing hands of the massage therapists.
If massage does not or is not allowed to heal anything, then what does it do? Is it relaxing or therapeutic or stimulating or what? Let’s look into that.
How to define ‘love’ or ‘healing’
Is healing better than relaxing? Is a ‘therapeutic massage’ more effective than a ‘relaxing massage’? Again we are confronted with the issue that we are dealing with words that can be interpreted in many ways.
Let’s switch for a moment to another word which we all use a lot and which also doesn’t have only one specific meaning either: ‘Love’.
You can love your spouse, your baby, your job, your country, your cup of coffee in the morning, your new hunting rifle, your car, or God.
Obviously, these are all very different sentiments which are all expressed by one very ambiguous word.
When one party’s love can be the other party’s hate
All throughout history people have been fighting wars in the name of their love for their country, their God, or their opinions. For many of us, this does not seem very loving at all.
It is obvious that love in its many shades can be expressed in gentle, sweet ways or in brutal and violent ways.
Some cultures have several words for ‘love’ like the Greeks. They can pinpoint a little better what they are talking about when they use the word ‘love’.
What and how do healing artists heal?
‘Healing’ suffers from the same ambiguity. Healing your drug addiction is not the same as healing your cancer. Healing your propensity to get angry is not the same as healing a broken bone.
We in the healing arts profession of massage therapy are not trying to heal broken bones. We are not qualified to do that and gladly leave that to the medical doctors.
We also do not claim to heal tumors and cancers, or at least not in the conventional medical sense.
However we can do quite a lot of healing. It just depends on how you define the word. That’s the issue. Here is one option how ‘healing’ could be defined in the massage profession.
Possible definitions of ‘healing’
Here is what I have been doing in my massage practice of 20 years.
- I explain to my clients that I move internal energy which is the precursor of all diseases (an Asian concept). Once your internal energy is realigned, your physical body has a better chance to follow suit.
- I say that I help to change cell memory in their bodies which creates a new positive healthy environment where disease is not welcome anymore.
- And I say that the relaxation that I create in my sessions is producing the ideal state for healing. After all it is a fact that the body does most of its healing in its most relaxed state – sleep.
Healing experiences in the massage profession
I also make it clear that I do not generate the healing, but that I do facilitate a state which makes it much easier for the body to heal itself.
As far as I am concerned, and according to this definition, I do healing work.
I am clear about my definition of healing, and I do not need to hide behind legal jargon or scientifically proven statements.
It does help that I spent most of my massage career in Thailand where nobody tries to restrict the term ‘healing’ like in the western world.
I had many clients who attributed their healing on many levels to my work. I have seen people recover from immune system diseases which the medical profession had given up on.
I have seen people regain control over their bodies, which they had lost, after a series of sessions.
I have seen people change their outlook on life and their state of mind as a result of my work. These are results that we love to see.
That’s why we are in this profession. We like to help people, and we have every reason to be happy and grateful when we see healing occur.
I have seen many amazing results from simple village healers all over the world. And I know that many of my massage therapist colleagues have seen amazing results in their practices.
Bringing ‘healing’ back into the ‘healing arts’
There is an increasing tendency in the healing arts profession to not make any claims. We are not supposed to make any statements about healing or claim any medical results aside from relaxing people.
‘Medical’ is part of ‘medicine’, and massage therapy is not medicine, supposedly. But in many countries, like in Thailand, Thai Massage is very much part of medical treatments. That is, part of treatments in the system of Thai natural medicine.
In the western world, massage therapists can get away with talking about ‘healing touch’. But if they say that their healing touch healed anything specific, they can be in trouble. It comes back to the definition of the word ‘healing’.
We in the healing arts professions should not have to be afraid to talk about healing. How do we make sure that we don’t run afoul of the medical establishment?
One idea is to put up a sign with your definition of healing or create a pamphlet or statement on your website. Here are some of my definitions in my Thai Massage practice:
- I move “Chi” energy which creates an internal state that facilitates healing on many levels
- I help to change cell memory from dis-ease to health and well-being
- I help create a state in the body that is ideal for self-healing – namely deep relaxation
Is there a final definition of “healing”?
Neither massage therapists nor medical professionals can guarantee results. Some people never recover from seemingly minor health challenges, and other people miraculously experience spontaneous healing from deadly diseases.
Despite all scientific advances and discoveries, the body, its internal energy, our minds, and our emotions will always remain a mystery to some degree.
The problem is that when it comes to healing, we are talking about words that have no clearly defined meaning.
For example – a heartfelt hug can be healing, as can a radiant smile and a kind word. A successful operation can heal and so can a wonderful Thai Massage. A jungle shaman can heal, and 12 step programs can be healing.
Absolute, partial, and progressive healing
Healing is not a fixed state – something that can be achieved like a fixed goal. It is really a question of degrees.
If you want to define “healing” as a complete 100 percent restoration to perfect physical, mental, and spiritual health, then you live on the wrong planet. Or you will keep looking for a long, long time.
If you define “healing” as the removal of a particular symptom, such as a tumor, then your perspective falls way short of holistic health.
However, if you define “healing” as a progressive and constant improvement towards a cleaner, healthier, happier, and more aware state of existence, then you have a realistic and achievable goal.
The good news is that if we use this definition, we can all contribute to healing, massage therapists included.
To learn more about the Thai Massage healing arts system, check out Thai Healing Massage Academy’s extensive online training library:
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses.