authored by Kathy Rinn

With the time I have had this year to reflect, I’ve been musing about the changes I’ve seen in my profession in the last 36 years. In the 1980s there were virtually no stand-alone massage establishments in Tucson. Therapists were working at home, resorts, or doctors’ offices.

There was no state licensing then. Tucson, though, had a required massage test, massage ordinances, and a city business license. The terms masseuse and masseur were used, and the business establishment license was under the title “massage parlor”. The ordinances required a 40-watt light bulb in the treatment rooms, a locking locker for the client, and a shower facility. Try finding that in a commercial business space!

The educational requirements for a Tucson City Massage license were 1000 hours (remarkably high even by today’s standards) from an accredited school. The Desert Institute of the Healing Arts (DIHA), started in September 1982 at Canyon Ranch, was the only massage school in Tucson at the time. I was living in Phoenix then which had a massage school but was impressed with the DIHA owners’ vision, curriculum, and liked the idea of going to school at a resort! So, I moved down here in August of 1983 to attend. For those of you that remember, that was the summer of the 100-year flood!

As the public became more educated about alternative health care, massage therapy became more mainstream. The term massage therapist replaced masseuse and masseur. Several of us confronted the phone book company to create separate headings for therapeutic massage vs. escort services, which at the time was listed under “massage”.  Massage schools started popping up around the country. National Massage Conventions met the demand for higher education and scientific research was being done on the efficacy of massage therapy.

The benefits of massage therapy were known in other countries long before the United States embraced it. But once it caught on advancements in the field were taking off in different directions. Therapists were choosing to specialize in modalities that served specific populations such as athletes, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Some therapists were choosing to be mobile, others opened offices.

States created governing bodies with specific laws and professional guidelines to protect the public. A national professional organization was created for those that wanted a higher level of professionalism. It also afforded those that were nationally board-certified to relocate and work in other states that accepted national certification. Massage and alternative modalities were slowly being recognized by the medical profession as a valuable part of patients’ health and healing. For me, it was an exciting time to be involved in the education and politics of this profession.

Massage franchises were started. Day Spa’s were created which offered cosmetic services as well as massage therapy. Resorts were expanding their amenities to include massage and airports began offering massage as well. The Center for Integrative Medicine was developed in Tucson to work with patients using both conventional and alternative methods like massage to facilitate healing. Massage therapy became available in a variety of environments and the public was becoming educated as to the benefits of massage.

Now, as we start a new year in the midst of a pandemic, with people isolating, human contact seems needed more than ever. It has been reported this disconnect has caused an increase in anxiety, depression, and even violence. Fear has caused some massage therapists to stop working and many clients to stop receiving. Our local government has suspended licensing fees and requirements for our profession. While giving temporary financial relief to us it does not uphold the educational standards we have been held to. These standards give a certain level of expertise the public can count on to keep them safe. They also keep therapists current with new research results in our field. This is the situation we find ourselves in now. I have to wonder where do we go from here. I don’t have an answer. Do you?


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