Massage training is complex and varied as there are over 80 different types of massage and relaxation therapies.

The approach to massage training can be categorized as either “clinical”, which is the modern form, or “non-clinical”, which is more like the traditional form handed down from generations that has almost disappeared.

Here we look at both approaches, explore the reasons that the clinical form of training is so widespread, why the non-clinical form has alomost disappeared and at how resorecterd. This would require a change psychological change to ones attitudes and beliefs as regards the human body, massage and sensuality.

Clinical Massage Training

Clinical are modern forms or approaches to massage training and practice. In the UK, Europe and the US most massage training available is clinical based.

Here the focus is on ‘Professionalism’ – Uniforms, Bureaucracy, the Therapist-Client power relationship (where the Therapist is in charge), Contra Indications, Hygiene, Towel Draping regimes, No-Massage Zones (only certain areas are massaged – specifically not any body parts that may be considered erogenous zones, like buttocks, hips, inner thighs and chest), Indemnity forms and other such formal matters.

In the UK, accredited organization such as ITEC and FHT offer such training, and this seems to be the qualification of choice required by clinics and spa’s.

Statistics suggest that over 97% of all massage done in the US and UK is clinical massage. Most popular is Clinical Swedish Massage, followed by Clinical Deep Tissue Massage and Clinical Sports Massage.

My feeling is that the huge social popularity of clinical massage forms is due to the repressed, fear based organized and controlled modern society that we live in.

People are scared of all sorts of things – nations seem to be gripped by fear: fear of germs, fear of intimacy, fear of sex, fear of rapists, fear of emotions, fear of money, fear of being sued, fear of terrorists, and fear of what have you.

Non-Clinical Massage Training

Non-clinical massage therapies are quite rare because most modern massage training is clinical based and caters for the mass market.

A non-clinical approach to massage believes that there is more to massage then the clinical, physiological benefits. The magic comes from the energetic, healing or sensual touch of the therapist.

The pleasure from the touch becomes the focus and the reason to have a massage. The pleasure from the touch is not treated as something to be avoided as it tends to be in clinical massage, neither is touch just used as a means to an end.

Non-clinical massage is given from the heart, with unconditional love for the receiver. This helps the receiver to take time out, to drop for a while the masks and the concerns that plague ones mind.

Non-clinical, organic forms of massage training are more suitable for highly experienced therapists, who are trained in a wide range of massage types, and have a wide range of techniques at their disposal.

The therapist, or giver, needs such human qualities as the joy of giving, unconditional love, empathy, loving kindness, ability to connect with another human being, good verbal an non-verbal inter-personal skills. These are qualities that can not be taught in a classroom, but are taught by life itself.

The receiver will then feel able to trust the therapist, relax, let go, tune in and enjoy his or herself.

An aim is to not reinforce any psychosis that the receiver may have associated with his or her body image, sexuality, or past conditioning, but to create an environment where the receive feels able to drop such concerns and allow the energy work to heal the psychosis. Hence, for example, no forced draping of the client unless the client requests it, and no set massage routines, techniques or modalities are rigidly followed.

Another necessity is to drop the client-therapist power relationship, so that both the giver and receiver are on an equal footing, or where the client is in charge. Hence no uniforms, and no focus on things like germs, bureaucracy and monetary benefits.

Non clinical massage forms or approaches stem from the older, more traditional forms of massage that have somehow survived over the years. They are found in countries like Thailand, China, Japan, Southern India and Hawaii. These societies have an ancient tradition of giving and receiving massage, that often by-pass the strict social and sexual norms of the societies.

Giving for the inner needs of the receiver, often unstated or even not consciously known by the receiver, are the only concern. The purpose of the massage is to meet those needs.

The therapist does all that he or she can to be instrumental in the mechanism whereby the receivers needs are met by the celestial Spirit or by the ‘Hand of the Almighty’

The Father Doctor Jivaka Mantra used before a Traditional Thai Yoga Massage embodies this principles of non-clinical massage.

In Thailand the Thai King and Thai Royal Family support Thai massage, which gives the ancient tradition a respectability and ensures that the crazy moral brigade can not outlaw or denigrate it because there may well be sensual pleasure from the experience.

Similarly, in Japan, Shiatsu is supported by the Government, and successive Prime Ministers regularly have traditional Shiatsu massage. Japanese Shiatsu, unlike the clinical western form, is traditionally given after a hot bath, without clothes. In traditional Japanese Shiatsu, the feeling, the energetic touch of the therapist is considered to be of the utmost importance, and Shiatsu therapists were sought out depending on the energetic or healing touch. In clinical western schools of Shiatsu training, this is almost entirely ignored.

In India and China, the various traditional, non-clinical massage forms are popular amongst the Government, the Elite as well as the general public. Many ancient Indian massage forms such as Chavutti and Tantra are considered far too sensual by the UK training Colleges, and hence there is little or no training available outside of India, or even in India due to the lingering effects of the British Empire and the British educated Indian elite.

A Critical Look at Clinical or Robotic Massage Training in the UK

The ITEC Anatomy, Physiology and Massage is considered the best, standard massage qualification in the UK. FHT also offer similar courses. Some 97% of all massage in the UK is conducted by ITEC, FHT or similar trained professionals. This is what the general public wants, and it is what ITEC delivers.

These are good qualification to have, however in this section I want to focus on what I see as specific defects in the training and the syllabus, with specific reference to ITEC Holistic Massage training course.

ITEC anatomy and physiology is based on books written by a lay person, which though simple, do contain errors when viewed from a more advanced medical perspective.

One third of the ITEC exam and syllabus is about elementary business (rules, regulations, taxation), which has nothing to do with massage, but everything to do with Government control and bureaucracy.

Another third is about Contra Indications. A high sounding, ‘professional’, clinical term that in effect consists of newly made up rules about why you must not massage a person or body area with a particular health condition or symptom. These Contra Indications in most cases were probably treated with massage in the past, and patients with most of the said Contra Indications would be given a massage in countries like India, China, Japan and Thailand today – countries that have an unbroken massage traditions going back severl thousand years.

In practice, most of the Contra Indications are there to protect the therapist from the fear of being sued!

Then there is another large chunk about Uniforms, Hair, Make Up, Jewlery, Maintaining the Therapist-Patient power relationship and Detailed Record Keeping, consisting of totally irrelevant medical and other details about the massage recipient.

Why is a formal appearance, uniforms and therapist-client power relationships required in a massage? Why this detailed personal record keeping?

What massage therapist in Greek, Arabic, Roman, Indian, Chinese or Japanese massage traditions ever kept such personal medical records?

Then there is another large chunk for the ITEC favorite ‘Preserving Client Modesty’, where you learn all sorts of rules about how to use towels and areas of the body that the therapist must not touch.

These rules are very specific, they are about covering the therapists own view with a towel to prevent therapist accidentally looking at the clients bare body! There are very specific instructions to follow from the start , during and end of the session.

Then during the massage there are again very specific rules. The therapist must ask patient for permission to lift the towel from the ankle say, then he massages the area, then covers it again quickly with towel. When turning over again there are very specific towel rules. When the treatment is finished, there are more towel rules to be rigidly followed about getting the client off the table and dressed, ensuring that the therapist does not accidentally see the clients legs or any other part of the body.

Within this ‘Client Modesty’ there are rules about what areas not to touch – any area that can be considered erogenous is out: no buttocks, no inner thighs, no chest, no hips. Of course, certainly not any area that is near the genital areas.

There exist rigid ‘Client Modesty’ are very specific rules intended to ensure that the therapist does not touch specific areas of the body that in other traditional massages would receive particular attention such as the buttocks.

This is is sharp contrast to traditional massage forms, yet ITEC consider their massage to be ‘Holistic’ rather then clinical. How can a massage form that specifically excludes sensual pleasure, sexuality, spirituality and even natural, informal human to human contact be considered Holistic?

Another chunk in the ITEC syllabus is about hygiene – again a high sounding term that covers the absolute need for the therapist to clean his or her hands with a disinfectant cloth wipes before the treatment, several times during the treatment (before and after touching the hair and feet), and after the treatment. Also the absolute need to clean patients feet with disinfectant before and after treatment.

How comes Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese traditional massage therapists don’t use these disinfectant wipes again and again or even know what they are? How comes they managed to survive for all these thousands of years without being wiped out by these lethal, all powerful germs?

The actual ITEC Massage trainiung consists of just a few simple strokes based on ‘Swedish Massage’ that are repeated in all the allowed areas of the body, in a set, robotic routine.

The ITEC course does a reasonably good job of covering muscles, functions, circulatory and other systems – but, again, these are not necessary for massage. Traditional Indian or Thai massage therapits with a lifetime of practice and a tradition several thousand years old don’t know the names of mucles and have no need for this information. Neither does the client who goes to receive a massage need to know the names of muscles.

ITEC hope that by setting these ‘Standards’, they will gain acceptance and respect from the general public, traditional medicine and hence the NHS. The latter shows little signs of happening as Complementary Massage Therapists in NHS hospitals have a low reputation or usefulness. This is for good reasons:

The level of ITEC Anatomy and Physiology is below an ‘A’ level in Human Biology, which is a two year full time course, and way short of what is expected from a medical student, never mind a doctor. A medical student needs something like 3 GCSE ‘A’ levels and 10 ‘O’ levels, all at grade A or better just to get in to medical school.

So it is unlikely that massage therapists will gain respectability in NHS hospitals, and it is a mistake in my view to even try. Even if this were to change, and complementary therapists were given greater credence, it would be a mistake. The ITEC Anatomy and Physiology training is inadequate, hence dangerous and would be detrimental to the reputation of better trained therapists such as Homeopaths, Naturopaths, Osteopaths, Acupuncturists and Shiatsu Practitioners.

It would be better for ITEC to focus on the massage itself, as the massage alone has the general health and other psychological benefits. As it is, the ITEC syllabus seems to be like a factory designed to mass produce human robots, conditioned to behave and perform massage in a set, robotic, clinical way – which seems to be what the general public loves.

Massage Parlors, Prostitution and Effect on Massage Training

If you look in local classifieds, you might see adverts under the ‘Massage’ section that offer sex rather then massage. Massage parlors are also fronts for women offering sex rather then massage. They women do this presumably because they can not legally offer sex in the newspaper or legal sex shops, so hide behind the facade of ‘Massage’,

The effect of this is that genuine massage gets associated with prostitution, and gets a bad name because paid sex is considered demeaning to women.

The original ‘Society of Masseses’ that re-established Massage as a respectable occupation in Victorian England later changed their name to ‘Physiotherapists’ to avoid the stigma associated with sex and massage in the minds of British men and women.

As massage still has Victorian based associations with prostitution, in order to gain respectability modern ‘clinical’ massage training seems to go overboard in denying any possible connection in the massage to sexuality.

As explained above, respectable massage training bodies such as ITEC, FHT, and others do this by making the massage training clinical, above board, professional – like a commercial patient-doctor scenario.

Here the focus is on ‘Professionalism’ – Uniforms, Bureaucracy, the Therapist-Client power relationship, Contra Indications, Hygiene, Indemnity forms, personal patient records and other such formal matters.

There exist rigid guidelines that come under the label of Preserving Client Modesty, intended to ensure that the therapy can not in any way be considered to have a sexual component of any shape or form.

By these means the training institutes hope to gain acceptance and respect from the general public, traditional medicine and hence the NHS.

This clinical professionalism has unfortunate consequences, and is the reason that the standard of massage training is so low. The logic here is faulty, upside down – as is the case with all matters connected with sex in the modern, “enlightened” world.

It should be the other way round – a prostitute is someone who sells his or herself for money. It’s business, the prostitute might say, implying that his or her heart is not in it, it’s just for the money. The prostitute is a true professional, money is all that the prostitute cares about and the prostitute does not let his or her heart come in the way.

This is very much like clinical massage training with its focus on business matters.

A broader definition of ‘prostitute’ would be someone who does work that he or she does not enjoy, does not want to or love to do, but does in order to receive a monetary benefit. This pretty much puts us all in the same boat! Most of us are in jobs that we don’t love, but do them just for money – we prostitute ourselves. Some of us might be in relationships that we maintain for monetary reasons, some people select partners for monetary or status reasons.

These are all broad forms of prostitution. We sell our time, sell our lives and sell our souls for money. Money that we will leave behind when we die.

Clinical forms of massage are given in a robotic, clinical, business like, professional way.

Non clinical massage on the other hand is given from the heart, with love. It is given for the pure, genuine pleasure and joy that comes from giving pleasure and happiness to another.

It is the application of what Rumi said:

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do


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