From effleurage to petrissage to regulation

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Linda and I were chatting the other day about what inspired us to train in massage.

Both of us started or manual therapy career with relaxation massage and then went onto train in remedial and sports massage.

Linda was very sporty in her younger years. She was a junior athlete winning medals for her achievements as well as playing both tennis and hockey. Me, I’m not sporty at all. I hate even wearing jogging bottoms with a ‘tick’ on them, just not me.

After Linda completed her degree in sport, she had a long career of over 25 years in the Police retiring as a Police Inspector, one of only a few in Scotland at that time. She laughingly says that despite retirement, she still works as hard now as a manual therapist than when doing shifts for the Police.

Linda’s Police Inspector hat, slightly dusty now and her on parade.

My focus after leaving school was to be a registered nurse. I had obtained a provisional place in the Army. I had ideas of working on a hospital ship or emigrating to Australia to work as a nurse there.

However, these hopes and dream never came to pass for me. I have an eyesight condition which held me back resulting in being forced to leave my Student Nurse training as I was deemed too much of a risk.

My R eye is slightly better than my L. These are pics of my retinas. The fovea, or dip, for my optic nerve is too shallow meaning that my eyes move constantly to find a picture to send to the brain. My left eye moves all the time and the world always appears very shaky and out of focus. This conditions is called nystagmus and is hereditary.

My retina pics

The 1990s were challenging years for me. I was diagnosed with Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome or ‘yuppie flu’. I’m sure you know that this is what we call Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME. I have my ideas of my ME being a result of the stress and strain of having to give up my dreams of being a nurse through something that was not my fault.

However, being of that strong Scottish spirit, or just damn stubbornness, I kept going. I ended up working in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry for about 12 years eventually working in Florida at Epcot for the Millennium Celebrations in 1999/2000. Yes, I worked for the ‘rat’. They say that, at some point in their life, every Floridian has worked for the ‘rat’.

Florida is where I found a bit of a direction in life, taking me back to my keen interest in anatomy. After my contract ended at Disney, I attendee a massage training school in Florida for nine months, full time, this school had a fantastic reputation. It was bought a few years ago by the Cortiva Institute. I still look back on my massage training with fond memories. I loved the challenges, the learning and where this training has taken me.

I have one particular memory of just starting to learn how to move around the massage table. For a week, we had to learn how to keep our hands slowly moving while pumping massage lotion out the pump bottle fastened around our waist and without missing a step. One day, our massage teacher said that ‘y’all need to get used to this cos one day you’re gonna be massaging the fanny’. Well, this wee Scottish lass stopped dead in her tracks with mouth gaping trying to comprehend the comment. Whaaaatttt?

My Disney and my massage qualification graduation’s

One of my fellow students was from Trinidad and Tobago, a British colony, and he completely understood my panic. He began to laugh and laugh while I’m standing traumatised.

I remember trying so hard to collect my thoughts. I knew what ‘fanny’ meant in the US, which is different to the UK, but, in this context, I struggled to bring that knowledge into focus. The class stopped. I was asked if I was ok. On explaining my predicament, the whole class just burst into laughter.

Two years later, I was at my first John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Seminar in Tampa. I sat next to another therapist, and we got chatting. It turned out that we went to the same massage school at the same time although she was at the evening classes and I was attending the day-time classes. As we chatted, without giving out our names, she stopped me and said ‘OMG, you’re the gal who got freaked at having to massage the fanny’. So, I have a reputation! The teacher now tells that ‘fanny’ story to every new class. This lovely teacher and I do mean that as she was a fantastic teacher, just retired last year from Cortiva.

What is the point of this post? For me, the solid foundation I had in my training gave me the confidence and the skill to take the work where I wanted to take it. Do I think that my US training is ‘better’ than training in the UK? No, no better, but, I do believe it was more comprehensive in that there was more emphasis on building skills. We had days and days of student clinics as well as classes on law, ethics, infection control, risk assessment, marketing, how to correspond with other medical and health services as well as how to know how to deal with situations requiring urgent referral to social services. In the US, you need to sit the mandatory theory and practical exams for the sate board as well a national licensing exam. The national licence must be renewed regularly to maintain your’ licence to touch’. Without this, you can’t practice as massage is statutory regulated in North America in almost all of the US states and Canadian Provinces. You must prove your continuing education units (CEUs), the equivalent of our CPD. Still, theirs is mandatory and must include things like law and ethics. You must also have the equivalent of a PVG check, that is a check for criminality, and you have to pay to renew as well, a lot more than what we pay here!. If you want a little look at massage in the US, click HERE.

In my opinion, we have so many great training schools here and, some don’t deliver what they could and should. But, we don’t have any regulation in the UK. This leaves our industry open to scrutiny and scepticism. Our industry is designated an ‘unregulated and voluntary profession’. The Professional Associations (PA) are self-regulating organisations who have set their standards and who regulate and provide a register of therapists who meet those standards. The PAs will guide their members specific to their standards and to the disciplines they accredit. This is why you see the PAs all saying different things as they are directing information to their members. Often, information ‘out there’ can be very different.

As we are unregulated, we don’t have to join a PA by law, nor do we have to do CPD. PAs are a way of promoting your work and offer you voluntary regulation. They should also ‘have your back’ and fight your corner and, now so more than ever, should be providing you with up-to-date, relevant and accurate information. That’s what you pay them for. If you’re not getting that, you can decide to move on.

But, despite not having to be on a PA register, the teachers in our industry don’t even need to be teachers. There are no regulations about the skill level and experience a teacher needs to have in the industry before they teach therapists. Suppose you want courses accredited by a PA. In that case, most will ask you to have an introductory teaching qualification. But, you should know about equality, diversity and discrimination in teaching and not just how to stand up and teach a subject. It’s also about how to teach a class of individuals all with different needs. More importantly, it again is how to adapt and implement changes to meet diversity.

There has been a lot of talks, due to Covid, about getting regulation. Getting regulated is no mean feat, and I have my doubts that it could be done and, once you’ve seen what that means, I think you may have other concerns.

This profession attracts people to it from previous careers, just like myself and Linda. Many have done the rat race and have climbed the ladder now want a quieter, more fulfilling life. Others have this as a second income; it’s not their primary job. This industry is attractive as it offers diversity with limited constraints where its popularity is mostly due to it being unregulated. People don’t have to achieve standards continually, fill in copious forms, pay through the nose for mandatory CPD or adhere to health and safety standards, and so much more. Regulation would result in a job that was not the same. Regulation would change the way you learn. It would dictate standards in education, both the minimum and ongoing, in that they would need to be fit for purpose. It would be the end of many educational programmes (in some cases that wouldn’t be a bad thing IMO) if they did not meet the standards.

However, maybe regulation would be a good thing. Perhaps it would weed the ‘wheat from the chaff’. Maybe it’s what needs to happen or, do we carry on regardless? It is no doubt that our industry flourishes despite Covid. It has issues which have been highlighted over the last few months, and it’s my hope that we take this on-board as now as, more than ever, this is an excellent time to address so many things and come together as an industry to prove our worth.

What I do know is, that regardless of what happens, we (all of us at MFR UK) love what we do. We have ben privileged to meet so many amazing people on our journey along the way. We always have a good laugh as well as completely enjoy what we do. We hope that you will join us when we announce our brand new courses in the coming months.

Myself, Linda and Karen.


Ruth Duncan

Ruth Duncan

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