Blog Post

Navigating the Quackery-Infested World of Massage Therapy

JA writes: "I've been thinking about becoming a licensed massage therapist.  The only problem is that I know that part of the curriculum in many massage schools consists of learning about the new-age techniques and putting them into practice. . . .

"Even the massage therapy certification program at the Catholic college called Trocaire does this.  I was wondering if you could tell me which techniques are new age and if there are any massage schools anywhere that don't teach any new age techniques as I've been having trouble finding one that doesn't teach new-age techniques.  NY Institute of Massage for example teaches some new age techniques.  Although it might be possible to at least be exempt from the practical portion of these new age classes and participate in these classes only in a theoretical context if I tell them that my religion prohibits me from practicing those techniques."

Unfortunately, the field you are considering is riddled with quackery and you are wise to do your homework before proceeding.

First of all, it's relatively easy to spot New Age massage techniques because they claim to be manipulating subtle "life force" energies that supposedly infuse the universe. These energies go by the name of chi, ki, qi, prana, yin yang, universal life force, bioenergetic field, etc. In some techniques, the therapist's hands never even touch the body.

For instance, practitioners of Therapeutic Touch (aka Hands of Light, ) hold the hands palm down about two to six inches from a patient, moving them over the subject and supposedly discerning the location of harmful energy. The practitioner then “rechannels” the energy to other areas which they claim results in improvement in the patient’s physical or spiritual condition. In Reiki, therapists actually allow spirit guides to channel this energy through them and into the patient.

Bodywork such as Reflexology, Shiatsu, Polarity Therapy and massage involving crystals or stones should also be avoided because these too are based on the manipulation of an alleged energy.

Basically, any massage technique that involves channeling or manipulating energy is considered to be New Age. This alleged energy has no scientific validity and the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Interreligous Dialogue refer to it as "the new age god" in their document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life.

You may also want to review this article, written by MDs, that goes into detail about the American Massage Therapy Association and other so-called accrediting agencies that license the different massage therapy techniques so that you will not be fooled into thinking membership in these organizations means the practices are legitimate. It also provides extensive write-ups on questionable massages techniques.

The American Medical Massage Association is a legitimate organization that you may wish to contact in your search for a massage school that does not teach New Age methods (if one exists). The AMMA is not affiliated with any of the dubious licensing agencies that promote fringe massage practices.

Legitimate massage therapies include deep tissue, Swedish, and sports massage.

The best thing you can do as you consider this career is to stay close to God in prayer and ask for His guidance in avoiding any practice that might offend Him. This kind of request, made from a sincere heart, is irresistable to our good God. Do all the homework you can, then trust the rest to Him.

Our Learn to Discern series has several booklets available on the subject of illicit massage therapies, such as Therapeutic Touch, and Reiki. Both booklets contain a chapter on Energy Medicine which is very informative!

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