Brush Up on the History of Your Profession

By Patricia J. Benjamin

How much do you know about the history of your profession? If you’re like most massage therapists, just some general references to ancient Greeks and a man from Sweden named Ling. Even less is understood about how the massage therapy profession evolved in America—many believe it started in the 1970s in California. The real story of how massage therapists arrived at where we are today is full of countless surprises and interesting characters, much like a family history going back generations. We can see ourselves in our predecessors and, through understanding our history, recognize the forces that shaped who we are at this moment as a profession.

Having an underlying sense of history is important for massage therapists emerging as modern health and wellness professionals. Knowing where you came from, the core of your professional identity, provides a strong foundation from which you can move into the future with integrity. Recounting former times also spurs “aha moments” as the world of the past opens up and we understand for the first time how things we see today came to be. Our profession begins to make more sense—the diversity, the independent streak, the holistic viewpoint, the affinity for natural healing, and the singularity of our vocation as massage therapists.

Tracing the professional lineage of massage therapists in America today takes us back to colonial times and continues from there through generations of practitioners advancing to the present day. Progress through the decades was impacted by national and world events, advances in science and medicine, and religious and social movements—the larger context in which massage therapists of the past lived and worked.

Follow along as I take you through ten of the most influential moments in the massage therapy profession’s history.

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Parts of this article were excerpted from mtj® (Massage Therapy Journal®) Fall 2015.

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