Defining massage therapy is a big challenge for the massage profession. Each state already defines it for themselves. I started a list of these definitions of massage a long time ago and I am sure some have now changed and new ones were added by states who just initiated massage licensing.
There is also a group of massage therapists who have joined together to try to create a unified definition of massage called the Body of Knowledge. Here is the first draft of their definitions of massage.
Here is the AMTA’s Definition of massage from their website..
MASSAGE THERAPY is a profession in which the practitioner applies manual techniques, and may apply adjunctive therapies, with the intention of positively affecting the health and well-being of the client.
MASSAGE is manual soft tissue manipulation, and includes holding, causing movement, and/or applying pressure to the body.
THERAPY is a series of actions aimed at achieving or increasing health and wellness.
MANUAL means by use of hand or body.
The historic definitions of massage as outlined by Robert Calvert in this article on Massage Magazine’s Website continues to show the problems in defining massage.
Then there is the word bodywork that makes the whole situation even more confusing. There seems to be some groups who represent different techniques who want to be referred to as bodyworkers and not massage therapists, making it even more confusing for the general public to be able to figure out what people are doing when they do massage or bodywork.
I also think one of the biggest things is -do people who are receiving massage really even care what it is called!
When you look at all of the different types of massage and bodywork, it continues to grow even more confusing. I still have people asking me about the different types of massage and what they do. I say that it really has little to do with they type of massage as they all can achieve results. It is more about finding a person that you can work with who understands your situation and has a similar philosophy of healing and health so you can work together to create better situations.
Is cranial sacral work massage or bodywork? Is Hellerwork massage or bodywork? Is reflexology massage or bodywork?
As Bevis Nathan points out in his book Touch and Emotion in Manual Therapy:
From the patient’s point of view, the touch has it’s roots in non-verbal communication or communication. She does not experience the touch as merely a technique or procedure on her body tissues, it involves her self. She is being held, cradled, stroked, caressed, valued, cared-for, healed. This patient’s experience is above all a phsychological and existential one.
So how should massage be defined? How should bodywork be defined? With keeping in mind what most people can understand or comprehend or make sense of? What do we need to do to come to a consensus or is it even possible?
Touch and Emotion in Manual Therapy by Nathan Bevis
Updated 08/07/2021. See the latest post on Defining Massage, Massage Therapy and Massage Therapy Practice.