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Op-Ed: Massage Therapy is a vital part of Complimentary Medicine (Includes interview and first-hand account)

The acupuncturist, the chiropractor or certified massage therapist, they all provide an important role in the relief and management of various types of pain. Arnold Wulz understands this very well. He, like many others who believe in a holistic approach to health has been pursuing a full-time career in massage therapy.

Commonly referred to as a CMT, usually, a CMT assists in basic lower-back pain or achy muscles due to exertion or strain. And, like the chiropractor along with other similar-minded alternative/complimentary medicine practitioners, CMTs work to help the body heal itself, without the use of drugs, surgery or invasive procedures.
California and other states throughout the U.S. have laws, official regulations, certification councils and governing boards to ensure practitioners are properly trained, educated and professional in their work. And, these laws, regulations and procedures are there for public health and safety.

The Journal of Participatory Medicine, The American Journal of Public Health and The California Massage Therapy Council among many others note the important role complimentary/alternative medicine provides to people. “Estimates for the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia all hover near the 50 percent mark as well, and in France, 75 percent of the population report the use of alternative medicines,” notes the AmJPH in its Oct. 2002 issue.
Much of the complexity centers around the fact that each approach in the complimentary/alternative medicine sector has its own traditions, schools of thought and culture. CMTs for example can utilize many different forms of massage therapy. They can range from Swedish to Shiatsu to a Sports medicine approach.
For someone like Wulz, he likes the Bowen Therapy Technique. As with most approaches and techniques, Bowen is holistic and views the body as interconnected. Yet, his dilemma is the fact that some approaches and techniques are not officially recognized, like the Bowen technique. Developed by Australian Thomas Bowen over 50 years ago, as with many approaches it seeks to help the body heal itself. According to the Bowen Technique Federation of Australia, “many musculoskeletal, neurological, neuromuscular and other health or pain problems could be found in the soft tissue. The Bowen approach through specific soft tissue release and integration techniques, stimulate specific receptors that enable the body itself to correct dysfunctions and restore a natural balance holistically. (This is only one of several interpretations of the Bowen Technique).

Also, that while Wulz and many others claim this therapeutic approach has benefit, the scientific evidence and research is not completely conclusive. As detailed at Wikipedia and other sources, Bowen during his lifetime did not document his technique. He claimed that his method was ‘a gift from God’ as he often referred to himself as an Osteopath. But he was not officially licensed in the Australian register Osteopaths.
So that means, Wulz’ efforts to obtain certification and licensing specific to this particular Bowen method are difficult.
Wulz expressed his frustration in aiming to become an expertly trained Bowen Therapy Technique specialist. California has strict rules about certification and other licensing requirements. The use of any technique or method must be scrutinized, examined and approved before any certification can be given. Unfortunately, because of the lack of documentation of the Bowen technique or method, Wulz must find an officially approved path to his licensed CMT goal.
Currently, according to sources like Wikipedia, there are 17 “manipulative and body-based methods.” Osteopathic, Chiropractic and Physical Therapy are on the list. Finding a certified and accredited school is crucial, especially when one is trying to learn the various or particular techniques.

Wulz noted that working full time and taking courses is not easy. Having to maintain a full-time job while trying to pursue a new profession has caused him delays and presented obstacles. He is not alone in his goal. “There are over 50,000 active certificate holders in the State of California, notes, “Mark Dixon, chair of the California Massage Therapy Council, a private, non-profit organization authorized by the State of California to assist applicants with the licensing and certification process. According to sources such as Massage the number of massage therapists practicing professionally nationwide in the United States, currently is around 90,000.

“I’ve retired from massage in 2013, said CMT Steve Vaccaro, but it was 24 years of a very good income, great clients and a job I really enjoyed and loved.” He could relate to Wulz and his frustration. But as he points out, “all the time spent doing this must be thought of as an investment in yourself. Persistence pays off.”
There are many schools an aspiring CMT can attend. This in and of itself can become a dilemma as Wulz found out. Some schools stay within established/traditional methods and may not know of or care to know about other techniques like Bowen. While officials in Australia in 1975 attempted to examine the technique, after Bowen’s death in 1982, the interpretation of his technique has varied mostly due to his lack of documentation.
Even as new approaches and techniques emerge, the importance of being trained in officially certified methods and techniques is essential and required by law.

“At the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley I took a total of 600 plus hours of classes over a time period of about seven to eight years. I got my 150 hours of certification right away after doing an intensive one month of classes in 1990,” said Vaccaro.

Of course, this promoted Vaccaro to make changes to his schedule and to make new priorities. “I took a leave of absence from my full time job at the Kelly Moore paint store on Divisidero in San Francisco,” he said.

“The classes I took were not just acupressure classes. I also took Thai massage classes and one in Barefoot Massage as well as various related alternative modalities including what is called ‘5 Element theory, Acu Massage, Oil Massage, Tui Na, etc.”
According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, there are five classifications to the more than 17 basic Manipulative and body-based methods. They are: Alternative Medical Systems, Mind-Body Intervention, Biologically Based Therapy, Manipulative Methods and Energy Therapy. The Glossary of alternative medicine listed at Wikipedia and other sources is extensive.
Just as Wulz had said about his frustration about the entire process, Vaccaro noted his experience. “The school (Acupressure Institute of Berkeley) itself has closed and was moved and integrated with the McKinnon Institute in Oakland a few years back.”

This is one of the reasons why Vaccaro worked hard to reach his goal quickly. Opportunities in training and schools that become available are not there forever. “Because of all the classes I took, he said, I decided to branch out from just acupressure and ended up incorporating several different styles of bodywork into my sessions.”

While Vaccaro is not familiar with the Bowen Method, he urged Wulz to learn other forms to enhance his abilities and to ensure his credibility. “I had a lot of clients tell me they’d never had a massage quite like mine and it was always a source of pride to realize I was offering something more than what a lot of other practitioners offered. I would encourage Wulz to keep studying Bowen, said Vaccaro. Yet, take as many classes in other modalities so that you can and develop your own style.” “And, he said, it is important that a practitioner believe in the method or techniques, to understand its basic philosophy, that way the practitioner can impart the health benefits of it to the clients.”

As with any new business or career venture, Vaccaro saw his path. “I grew very tired of my job at Kelly Moore and over a three year period took I more classes, did bodywork evenings and on days off to start to build a client base.”

Vaccaro noted that building a solid client base was key in making the transition. “Eventually, I became a part time employee at the Kelly Moore paint store, and after my client base had grown to the point where I was making more money doing bodywork than working in a paint store I quit my job entirely and did body work full time.”

Vaccaro reiterated the importance of perseverance in obtaining training and certification and most of all to understand that a CMT’s best work is to help the body to restore itself, while helping to relieve aches and pains naturally. Appreciative of the advice, Wulz responded to Vacarro saying, “I have to get moving (again) on that career path.”

For more information about becoming a Certified Massage Therapist in California, the requirements, schools and other details, visit The California Massage Therapy Council web site.

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