Movements have sparked discussions that can lead to changes in attitudes and policies around the world, particularly in regards to issues of diversity, equity, equality, inclusion, abilities, and privilege.
It has been stated that the only constant in life is change, and when we consider the current state of affairs in communities and societies around the globe, we can’t help but agree. At every turn, the status quo is being challenged and questioned in light of the profound changes occurring in political and social spheres. Campaigns for racial and social justice around the world have raised long-overdue awareness of the oppression and injustices faced by minorities of all colours and races.
Contrary to Popular Belief, Massage Offers Minimal Variety
Perhaps it is against this backdrop that we, as massage therapists, have begun to reflect on our work and how ideas of equality, diversity, and inclusion affect both us and our customers.
Two researchers from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville have analysed the current state of diversity in the massage field and begun a discussion on how the current landscape could be expanded for established therapists, those interested in working in this profession, and clients seeking massage therapy services in an effort to answer some of these questions.
Oluwakemi Balogun, PhD and Ann Blair Kennedy, DrPH, LMT, BCTMB (2020), authors of “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Massage Therapy Profession,” candidly describe the beginning of their work together as a collaboration between a black medical student and a white college professor and the importance of an honest conversation about race in laying a solid foundation for their research collaboration.
Initially, the research team established a foundation by analysing data from the National Health Interview Survey about Americans who have received massage therapy. They found a significant gap between the sexes and between the races. More women and non-Hispanic whites than men and Hispanic whites use massage therapy services. They determined that massage therapy services were used by ethnic and racial minorities less frequently than by non-Hispanic whites based on the evaluated data.
Next, the authors analysed data on the demographics of massage therapists from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and discovered that women make up 83.6% of the field and that white people make up over 70% of the workforce.
Balogun and Kennedy looked into the public’s conception of massage therapists, and they found that most online representations of this profession’s practitioners and clients alike tend to feature white women, with the former generally depicted in tranquil, elegant spa settings with candles and flowers. They came to this conclusion because the photographs showed exclusively white people and portrayed massage as a luxury service rather than a health care modality, both of which are problematic representations.
The massage therapy industry’s lack of racial and cultural diversity is problematic since it reduces the number of available treatments that target specific marginalised communities. The health care sector would benefit from more therapists from different backgrounds, as this would increase customer satisfaction and make it easier for more people to find work in the field.
In light of the fact that there are also fewer people of colour who get massages, it follows that the two trends are related. A lack of first-hand experience with the field may account for the disproportionately low number of people of colour who pursue massage therapy careers, as fewer individuals of colour receive massage treatments overall.
Balogun and Kennedy looked specifically at the Black community to determine potential causes for the underrepresentation of persons of colour in the massage therapy industry. They found that lack of diversity was related to poverty, education, and access.
Integration of massage therapy into primary health care facilities as a means of generating better access and offering more knowledge is one potential approach that increases the availability of massage therapies for minority communities. More individuals of colour will be aware of the benefits of massage therapy and more likely to use these health care services once doctors begin to recommend their patients not only to physical or occupational therapy, but also to massage therapy.
An increase in the number of people of colour who seek massage therapy for themselves may encourage more people to enter the field. This would improve the variety of treatments offered and the number of therapists of colour available to customers seeking massages.
Since many other factors also play a role in this complex system, the proposed solutions to increase diversity in the massage field are not as simple and straightforward as described, and more research is needed to gain a better understanding of the situation and to identify feasible, successful, and sustainable pathways to change.
We don’t know why some groups are under-represented in the massage therapy field or if a more diverse workforce will lead to better patient results. Clinical assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville, Ann Blair Kennedy, DrPH, LMT, BCTMB, informed me. “But this also means this is an area ripe for conversation about the inequities and future exploration and study by and for the massage therapy profession,” she added.
According to Kennedy, “we do know from the scholarly literature that:
• Diverse groups tend to produce higher-quality work;
• Patients tend to have better health results when they see a doctor who “looks like them” (e.g., a Black patient seeing a Black doctor).
• It is important for underrepresented groups to see themselves reflected in the media in order to inspire them to pursue careers in which they are underrepresented.
In order to better the massage therapy field, Kennedy says, “we can leverage these discoveries from other health professions and apply those strategies to stimulate dialogues, conversations, and for future research.”
Eliminating Prejudice and Dispelling Myths
It has become evident that as massage therapists, we are asked to investigate our own perspectives, biases, and abilities while dealing with clients of varying cultural backgrounds, even if we don’t yet have many solutions to problems about diversity in the massage therapy field.
As the number of their clients of colour grows, white massage therapists will need to be more sensitive to and knowledgeable about how to interact with people of all backgrounds. Awareness of racial and ethnic stereotypes, health inequalities, and prejudice are all part of this process. As therapists, we must be aware of the problems that may arise when working with clients from a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and we must learn how to address the disparities in health care access that exist between different racial and socioeconomic groups.
Monnica T. Williams, PhD, a clinical psychologist, writes in her blog post “How well-meaning therapists commit racism” (Psychology Today, August 31, 2013) that many therapists unknowingly show racism despite thinking of themselves as open-minded, welcoming, and progressive. We therapists, whether in mental health, massage therapy, or some other health care field, genuinely care about our clients and behave with the best of intentions at all times.
Microaggressions, as defined by Williams, are small slights directed at members of marginalised communities. These slights, known as “microaggressions,” are typically conveyed through careless comments or other forms of covert disdain.
To cite only a few examples, consider the following sentences: “Your English is fantastic. Can you tell me where you’re from? or “I don’t notice any differences between people.” To me, you’re simply another human. Clients from marginalised communities may be especially sensitive to the power dynamic between therapist and patient. If the client experiences stigma or judgement, trust between them decreases, and the client may decide to end therapy prematurely.
Those who care about fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion in the massage therapy field and beyond must develop greater cultural sensitivity and a willingness to address their own prejudices and biases.
We are aware that discussions of race, racism, diversity, and ethnic stereotypes are fraught with potential for misunderstanding and hurtful repercussions for all parties involved. My goal in writing this piece is to highlight the value of discussing delicate issues like diversity and cultural competence.
By presenting recent findings, I hope to emphasise how they contribute to a fuller comprehension of the processes at play as we seek answers and methods to make the massage therapy profession and beyond more welcoming, equitable, and just for all.
Also Read: LGBTQ People Need Massage Too