2008 Keynote Speech
by Ralph Stephens

Thank you! Welcome everyone. Thanks so much.

Especially thanks to Mike for bringing his dream, his vision of this meeting, into reality. Awesome job Mike - Thanks for all you are doing for the profession.

And also thanks to Cindy and her staff - awesome job of managing this meeting. Let's hear it for Cindy!

Thanks to all of you for being here.

Thanks to this great profession that has allowed me to make a living doing what I love. I am so Blessed.

It is truly an honor to be here with you today and this weekend, to be inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, and to give this keynote. Words cannot describe my gratitude for this recognition.

Thanks for staying. Have you had a good time? Then go home and Tell Somebody!!! This is going to become the premier meeting of our profession. Let people know about it.

I want to reminisce a little bit with you. When I opened my first office practice, I joined the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce. At the first social event - which is for members to meet members - the first person that came up to me and shook my hand, asked what I did and I told him I was a massage therapists. He pulled his hand back, eyed me up and down and walked away shaking his head.

Now when I answer the "what do you do?" question, it is greeted with "Cool!!" and usually a massage experience or story of some sort or a question of could massage help them?

My good friend Russ Borner has been doing chair massage in NYC since the late 1980's. As he got into elevators people would ask - "what is That?" Now they ask where is he going to be and is it open to the public?

We have arrived. The public has accepted massage and it is being recognized in all areas of our society. This is good right?!!

When I got into this profession in 1986, back in the last century, I went to one of only 50 massage schools in the country. In those days massage schools were owned by experienced, successful, accomplished therapists who either wanted to train people for their own clinics or who just wanted to pass this profession on. Sometimes both. Most of these schools owners were masters of the profession and really knew their stuff. There were no schools owned by investors, corporations, or chains - managed by administrators who have never given a massage or who are such lousy therapists they cannot create a successful practice of their own. I just learned Thursday that we have lost another great, privately owned school to The Blob of corporate, chain ownership that's consuming our premier schools.

Because non-therapist ownership of schools is going to be a fact of life for us, and it will get worse, our profession must establish mandatory standards and training programs for massage instructors and hold educational institutions accountable to meeting them.

I came to this profession because I was sick and tired of waking up sick and tired. Now I just wake up tired. Hey, it's a major upgrade.

To me massage was and still is about health; about a healthy lifestyle - for people and the environment. Massage to me is about facilitating the acquisition of health through the power of touch and through the increased awareness structured touch brings. It is about improving health through other manual and naturopathic techniques that increase awareness of body, mind and Spirit. If we are going to save ourselves and the planet, from ourselves, there has to be a Spiritual Awakening among a critical mass of people.

Massage and other forms of alternative health care are a part of this awakening. If we become integrated into the existing sickness care system, we will be co-opted, controlled, and disempowered and our potential neutralized, maybe for generations. The public could lose this avenue for awakening. That would be a shame.

We are losing the foundations and fundamentals of our profession. Losing the connection with the true roots of our profession. I am so grateful that Judi Calvert is doing so much to preserve the history of our profession and make it available to those who care to study and learn from it. I am committed, while I still can, to share as much as I can of my knowledge, experience, and the tradition of massage that has been shared with me by my teachers with as many therapists as I can.

I am also trying to influence the political landscape to leave as much for the next generations of massage therapists as possible. I cannot do this alone. I need your help and your support.

Sometimes I am asked what is the most significant thing I have done? There are lots of important things I have been involved in, but I truly think the most significant and important thing I have done is to help one person at a time, on that table, in that chair, and in that class.

Through the power of touch we are changing the world one heart at a time!

My biggest disappointment is that my colleagues, my fellow educators, who are so vocal in private, are so quiet in public. Only rarely do I see an article or hear of a speech by one of the great educators of our profession challenging the status quo. They only write of technique and self-promotion. As educators, it is our duty to lead, and when necessary, to lead against our leaders. This profession needs open debate, which sadly has been stifled and suppressed by our major associations. I challenge my colleagues to stop bitching in private and to publicly advocate for the change you believe will help this profession and the public we serve.

At one time, back in the early 1980's, we knew who we were, what we did, and what we wanted. Now we do not have any idea who we are, what we do, or what we want. We can't even write a definition of massage for fear we might offend someone. The dilution of the scope of practice, knowledge, and language of our profession has negatively affected the public's ability to receive massage.

I have a colleague who travels extensively and gets massage wherever she goes. She has been forced to lower her standard of what a good massage is to the point that she now says it's a pretty good massage if she doesn't get injured during it.

Two of my students from Illinois are here this weekend. They manage an excellent spa at a major, upscale golf resort outside of Chicago. Their massage business was dropping off so they surveyed their guests and condo owners to find out why. What they discovered was, these people, who can more than afford massage, are not fooled anymore. These people are no longer willing to pay over a hundred dollars for a lousy massage that often injures them. This particular spa has a very well trained staff and they are now having to invest resources in assuring their public that they are different and really do provide quality, safe, competent massage from properly trained therapists. This is not an isolated case. It is the beginning of a huge backlash against our profession. We grew too fast and we got too greedy. Charging high prices for low quality massage will not be tolerated by the public or by insurance companies. You cannot rip people off for very long, unless you are the government. The backlash has begun and it will be vicious, widespread, and long lasting. What a waste of such an important opportunity to help the public. Sadly, it will be the honest, competent therapists who will be hurt the most.

This brings me to the important discussion I want to have: Is massage a profession with a lot of subsets or is it a lot of separate professions loosely banded together?

Are we really a bunch of different professions under one banner or one profession carrying different banners?? I think it is one with subsets - specialties.

There are two categories our minds use to sort things, one is by sameness and the other is by differences. It is the natural tendency of the Ego to sort by differences. We think, "I am different than that." Which leads to thinking, "I am better than that." This is another manifestation of duality thinking. It leads to strife, discrimination, even wars.

When it comes to massage, I have always sorted by sameness. I see massage as a continuum, from the very dense to the less and less dense. I see the same small number of basic strokes used by all the different systems of massage. The more different massage specialties I see the more they all look the same to me.

When you press on a spot, do the pressure receptors of the person's nervous system know if you are doing Shiatsu, Trigger Point therapy, Sports Massage, or NMT? I doubt it. I think it is stimulus response. What about intent you might ask? I am sure intent is involved, but how is that taught? How is that measured? This is an area that needs to be researched.

The job task analysis done for National Certification says we are one and the same, with one of the highest correlations ever found between the various specialties of a profession. At first that was touted, but now it has been buried. It is too bad this proof of sameness is being suppressed. This inconvenient truth should not allow the Egos of our profession to claim their selfish uniqueness. By burying it we have come to be paralyzed by the tyranny of the minority.

Instead of working against each other, we could all help the public more if we would all work together.

We need a standard educational foundation, recognized by all our different specialties, that includes techniques for the dense and less dense.

Several job task analysis have documented that this common body of knowledge exists and can be defined.

We need to specify what an entry level massage therapist must know and hold them accountable for knowing it before we graduate and license them. What muscles does every therapist have to know before they can be licensed? I don't care if it is only 5, then we can build continuing education programs that advance the profession. What does our hundred hours of A&P mean? Nothing! Because it can be anything. I am still teaching basic muscle palpation and body mechanics in my advanced continuing education classes because it is not being taught in entry-level schools.

I taught at a COMTA accredited massage program in the great Northwest. Five of their instructors took my class and not one of them could accurately palpate the Quadratus-Lumborum. Yet, they panned my class saying it was too basic. How typical of our profession.

I grew up in a small farm community, the son of a John Deere farm equipment dealer. None of the 5 mechanics in the shop had over an 8th grade education, yet every one of them knew the names of very piece and part of every farm machine ever made. They knew the name of every tool they used and they proudly spoke the language of their profession. Our profession avoids learning its own language, constantly trying to simplify and minimize it. Effleurage, a well-defined term in medical dictionaries and massage textbooks worldwide is now meaninglessly called "gliding strokes." I have heard COMTA approved school owners tell their class they just need to learn their anatomy well enough to pass the tests and then they can forget it as they won't need to know it to practice. What a disservice to our students, but more importantly to the public that is seeking high quality massage from knowledgeable therapists.

The profession of Chiropractic has many different specialties from no force to high velocity thrusting adjustments. Yet, they all have a common educational foundation and they all call themselves Chiropractors. The low and no force DC's do not fight for exemptions from licensing laws or argue they do not need to go to as much school, or learn anatomy. We should learn from their example of success.

I commend our host state of Florida for holding that all touch therapy providers need the same entry education. Don't let the tyranny of the minority that rules this profession nationally, tear down your standards, Florida.

Massage is thousands of years old, yet it is considered something new in our society. People and of course the sickness based medical profession ask the silly question, "Does it work?" How did it survive for all those years? Of course it works!!! How it works may be a valid question worth investigating. But it DOES work. Further, as long as there are hands willing to compassionately touch another, it will keep working for a long time.

Massage is about wellness of both practitioner and patient. Good health is beyond the reach of ordinary science because it cannot be measured by double blind studies and it cannot be created by physical means alone. We say body mind spirit but in general our profession does not want to learn about the Body, we hardly study the Mind and we are afraid to touch, much less openly discuss the subject of Spirit. Spirit is just not PC.

Our associations are developing a Body Of Knowledge base. This will lead to Standards of Practice. Are we going to be reduced to a few routines? Some general, some specific??? Watch out for this one coming at us. It is a sell-out to allopathic philosophy and will tie our hands to treating symptoms instead of holistic health and healing.

The problem with traditional (allopathic) medicine in this country is that the focus is on the profession. There are things about conventional medicine that may be worth copying. However, I want to remain an alternative to the current sickness based system that only treats symptoms. I believe the most important alternative we can bring to healthcare is putting the focus back on the patient. Are the turf wars between PTs and DCs focused on the patient? NO, they are focused on the professions. Are the struggles we face against the DC's in California and the PT's in Pennsylvania about the public? NO, they are about the professions. They actually are to the detriment of the public as they serve to deny the public access to care from the provider of their choice. We just can't have the wrong people doing too much good after all.

If we, the massage profession, would realize we are in the people and health business and not the massage business, and IF we would put our focus on serving the public the best we can instead of serving ourselves, we would all do much better and so would humanity and our planet.

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine said, "It's far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has."

We must learn to treat people not illness. You get what you focus on - focus on illness you will get it. That is the problem with today's conventional medical system. They focus on illness. And they get lots of it and make lots from it, to the point that it is against the best interest of their system to reduce illness.

This does not serve the public and we are not serving the public by joining them in their sickness model. We are losing our alternative status. Partially because we are running toward mainstream medicine as fast as the public is running away and partially because they are co-opting us.

We so covet the approval of the allopaths, who have cut themselves off from the world of Spirit and maybe even Mind. They are money driven not people driven and most certainly not health driven.

We are a profession that is thousands of years old and yet we are considered "New". We are losing our heritage and are losing our tradition's scope of practice. We now risk being minimized and made irrelevant by our own associations as they sell our scope down the river for the sake of passing laws and "Integrating" us.

We are in danger of losing medical massage to the allopaths. We are in danger of losing wellness to sickness. We are in danger of losing the unlimited power of touch to the limited power of routine.

What can save this profession is dedicated professionals like you becoming actively involved and demanding change from our leadership. I challenge you, my colleagues, to speak out, to become involved, to hold our leadership accountable, to help drive the debates that need to take place; not for our benefit but for the benefit of the public that so desperately needs and wants high quality massage and bodywork therapy.

In closing, I'd like to share an old Irish toast:

May those that love us, love us;
and to those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn't turn their hearts,
may He turn their ankles
so we'll know them by their limping.

Take care of yourselves and may God Bless us all.


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