AMTA Announces the 2020 President’s Award Recipient

Doug Nelson

The President’s Award honors someone who has contributed to the massage therapy profession in an outstanding and altruistic manner, and is selected by AMTA’s National President.

Doug Nelson is the 2020 recipient of AMTA’s President’s Award.

Doug Nelson is a passionate ambassador promoting the art, practice and science of massage therapy. He continues to be a practicing massage therapist, while teaching across the country. He is a mentor, an accomplished researcher, a published author and he has led The Massage Therapy Foundation with passion and dignity. Doug also recently represented the massage therapy profession with skill and clarity, on behalf of AMTA, at the recent national online Innovation in Pain Management Symposium.

In honor of his award, we interviewed Doug about the massage therapy profession and his career.

What drew you to the massage therapy profession?

Through my early interest in the arts, I was inspired by the burgeoning human potential movement. While doing an extended yoga training program, I discovered massage therapy and found my passion. I was fascinated by the power of massage to facilitate self-discovery.  Very soon, I saw in the field the power of skilled touch to address musculoskeletal pain in a way that was not addressed by more traditional means. Massage has the power to directly and immediately help people lessen their pain and discomfort, which often then inspires the recipient to explore self-care strategies and practices. It often gives people hope that change is possible.

Writing this, I find it fascinating to see that, in a way, I have come full circle. These days, I am increasingly interested in the interoceptive experience created by massage therapy. The self-discovery (interoceptive) aspect of massage is an important component of why massage is so beneficial. 

What do you enjoy most about being a massage therapist? What are the challenges?

The best parts of the work are two-fold. First, knowing that I make a meaningful and positive difference in my client’s lives is a wonderful feeling. Second, I am growing and learning, both personally and professionally, every day I am in the clinic. That is a fulfilling combination.

Perhaps most importantly, it is the relationships I have developed with both clients and colleagues over the years that have been most rewarding to me. I have had the good fortune to serve some remarkable people and they have enriched my life greatly. It is an honor to serve them.

In many ways, the blessings and challenges of the work are intermixed. Each new client who presents with difficult musculoskeletal issues is both a challenge and a learning opportunity. In my phone, I keep a list of clients with whom I am struggling to help. I think of them often; they motivate me to learn more and find innovative solutions to their musculoskeletal pain. When I have a new clinical insight, I call them to explore it. It is these difficult cases that have taught me the most. Making significant progress for them is incredibly satisfying.

What has changed the most about the massage therapy profession since you first started your career?

One of the biggest changes is the level of acceptance from both the public and allied health professions. On a local level, numerous physicians refer their patients to my clinic. On a national level, I have spoken to many multidisciplinary conferences and the openness to massage therapy has been at a level that I could have only dreamed of forty years ago. With musculoskeletal pain and stress levels higher than ever, this is our moment. This is the time for the profession to step forward and make a significant contribution to public health.

Why did you become a member of AMTA?

In those early years, I was a solo practitioner and practicing by yourself can be isolating. I wanted to be part of a larger community of therapists who shared my love of the work. Attending my first AMTA conference opened the door to meeting others who shared my passion. I must admit that I was young and a bit intimidated by therapists with many more years of experience than I, but their kindness put me at ease. It was comforting to know that the AMTA was working on behalf of individual therapists like myself.

How has your volunteer work and giving back to the profession impacted you?

As in so many aspects of giving, what you receive in return far exceeds the effort expended. Working as an advocate for the profession, I have traveled extensively across the country. In doing so, I have met so many individuals and groups of therapists doing amazing work that reflects brilliantly on the profession. A wonderful example of this was the first time I read through the Community Service Grant applications to the Massage Therapy Foundation. Seeing the creative ways that therapists wanted to give back to their community confirmed to me that we are a caring and generous profession. These experiences have helped me to develop a wider vision of the field of massage therapy.

Each volunteer opportunity is also a chance to grow on a personal level, developing organizational and leadership skills that translate to other areas of life. Working collaboratively with other therapists who share your passion for the field is a rich and fulfilling experience.

Do you have advice about how to have a long career in massage therapy? Or advice for a therapist just starting their career?

The journey is long and there will be good days and bad. When times are difficult, it is crucial to remember why you started the journey in the first place. Mission and vision will carry you when goals and tangible rewards are not enough. Practice with purpose.

For those new to the field, this career can take you to a place that is rewarding and fulfilling beyond your imagination. The price of admission, however, is passion and commitment.