Donna Smith
Publish Date: Monday, 4 May 2020
Donna Smith

Stepping towards legitimation for the massage therapy industry

Donna is Programme Manager for the Bachelor of Therapeutic and Sports Massage. She has recently completed her PhD through the University of Otago. Her research investigated a range of perceptions and attitudes toward degree-based education across the stakeholder groups within the massage therapy industry, namely: massage educators; practicing massage therapists, and massage therapy students. The perceived necessity of degree-based education for the practice and growth of massage therapy, and the benefits and barriers to degree-based education, were also explored.

The findings from this study suggest that the perceptions of degree-based education for massage therapists within New Zealand are mixed. ‘Many participants were receptive to the notion of degree-based education,’ says Donna. ‘They demonstrated a desire to move the massage industry into a new phase of growth, capability and credibility.’ She argues that participants wished to see a unified, professional collective, and that they viewed degree-based education as one means of helping achieve this status. ‘Given the slow uptake of degree-based education over the last 13 years this receptivity towards degree-based education needs to be harnessed by massage educators and promoted for a positive outcome for the massage industry as a whole.’

The lack of a professional image and the unregulated nature of the massage therapy industry were noted as the current issues facing the industry, and many participants wished to see massage therapy become a credible health care choice. A number of strategies for advancing the industry towards professional recognition were noted, including: creating a professional image; involvement in regulation; improving the cohesion of education standards, and profiling and making degreebased education more accessible. There was a role for degree-based education in all of the strategies reported. Donna developed a conceptual model entitled ‘Stepping towards legitimation for massage therapists’ based on the findings of this study. ‘The model suggests that stakeholders in the massage therapy industry need to engage with degree-based education and develop a strong professional association if they wish to attain credibility, best practice and a professional identity,’ she says.

Prior to undertaking this research Donna had anecdotal evidence that there was resistance to degree-based education for massage therapists, and thought that the resistance was due to the lack of knowledge of degree-based education and the benefits associated with it. Donna also believed degree-based education was the answer to most of the issues facing the massage therapy industry. As she explains: ‘my overarching belief was that the massage therapy industry was in no way going to grow and progress without degree-based education as its central focal point.’ Participants’ views have highlighted the disunity, discordance and disorganisation of the current massage therapy industry in New Zealand and the importance of relationships among stakeholders. ‘I am still convinced that degree-based education for massage therapists is an important vehicle for change within the New Zealand massage therapy industry,’ Donna explains. ‘However, degree-based education is only one component of this process and not the only solution.’