Why I’m happy to call myself a Soft Tissue Therapist. By Imi Testa
I quite often read or hear in therapy forums, blogs or podcasts how other therapists can be “more than just a massage therapist/soft tissue therapist”, or how manual therapy is passive and of little value. I see massage therapists aspiring to be Physiotherapists and (and I am absolutely guilty of this) saying “I’m just a massage therapist”. Others advocate for our training to become a degree qualification and that the fact that we don’t hold a degree means that we are of lesser value. I disagree.
Whilst I absolutely bow to the fact that Physiotherapists, Chiropractors and Osteopaths have a much higher level of training and responsibility than we do and that we absolutely need higher levels of regulation (although not as high as chartered professions as we don’t hold as much responsibility), I do not believe we need degrees and I do believe we add enormous value to the industry.
Degrees are expensive in both money and time. This makes them prohibitive for many. It also raises the charge that those having them may ask for their services once qualified. Many people who work as massage/STT’s work part time alongside other jobs or childcare commitments. The cost of a degree would not make this an attractive option.
It is a vocational job. Whilst we must follow in our practice and narratives the latest evidence and continue to work to update and expand our knowledge, being able to read, digest and argue the minutiae of academic papers is not essential for us. Does this mean we are less than – no, the skill set we bring is just different. I do think we have lost the respect for vocational craftsmanship and non-academic skill that we once had. The chef who can turn everyday produce into a delicious meal, the care worker who can meet the needs of the most challenging patient with kindness and dignity, the artisan craftsman, the hotelier who can anticipate the wants of their guests before they ask. The skills that we bring are not in the modalities or styles of touch, but critical thinking, the nuance of reading body language, of listening to our clients (really listening), customer service, assessing (not diagnosing) and ruling out red flags and referring if needed, networking so we have the absolute best list of practitioners to refer to, being able to work together with many different people with whatever priors they bring to our clinics and building that precious balance of therapeutic alliance rather than either dictate treatment or not earn their confidence and trust. And the touch itself. Yes, I believe there is huge skill in this, not in any modality, but knowing and adapting how we touch each client in each moment with them to help facilitate positive changes. Being able to make touch feel safe, good, non-threatening, confident, calming. Yes this should be alongside assessment, safety, movement and supporting self-efficacy.
For many of “the worried well” who make up the majority of our clients this is all they need. Reassurance, validation, as Greg Lehman would say “calming shit down and building shit back up again”, cheerleading and installing confidence and resources in their own capabilities for self-management. This can save the time and resources of those higher qualified than us to help those who have more complex needs or who only have the financial option of the NHS.
So yes, I am going to work much harder at not saying I am “ONLY” a Soft Tissue Therapist.