I like bold statements. When Dr. Richard McIlmoyle of Achieve Health began printing these t-shirts, I had to have one. And while you may be thinking it’s counter-intuitive for an entry-to-practice therapist to essentially wear a placard on their chest that says, “I am a placebo”, take a minute to hear me out:
A typical massage therapy session is one hour out of your day. During this session, I try to address the client’s musculoskeletal issues as they present that day. I’d like to think that my client’s leave my treatment room feeling better than they did when they arrived. But once they leave Acacia, what are they doing with the other 23hrs of the day that helps them maintain that feeling? If we expand that out to a weekly recurring treatment, I’m seeing you for one hour out of 168 possible hours. It’s not a lot, yet many clients are adamant when expressing their belief that without weekly massage therapy, they would not be able to function for the rest of the week.
This is great for me – I want to help you function better throughout the week, I want to be part of your recovery strategy. At the root of it, I went through the rigors of WCCMT’s RMT program for those very reasons. For those who find themselves in situations where pain is persistent or, like me, were first introduced to Massage Therapy during the recovery process of a work-related injury, pain can be a very personal relationship. When pain starts to become a long-term situation, this relationship can quickly become dysfunctional and debilitating. Chronic pain in particular, is its own monster; left unchecked, it leads to self-doubt, lowered self-esteem, fear of losing employment and potentially, a larger injury down the road that takes even longer to recover from. For those of us like myself who have worked blue collar jobs, we know all too well the stigma that comes with calling in sick, let alone admitting that pain may be hindering our performance or jeopardizing workplace safety. Stop me if this doesn’t seem familiar to you: we tough it out, we say nothing and push through pain (aka we ignore it, mask it or hide it) until suddenly, our bodies scream, “Enough!” and we are forced to take time off to recover. This cycle can become a revolving door and worse, becomes a measuring stick of sorts as to who is a good worker and who is not – who can or had endured more, had worse injuries and still came to work, etc. I’m happy to see this culture of machismo is fading, but it can still be found on every job site across the country in one form or another. We all know “That Guy” and let’s face it – sometimes, WE are “That Guy”. (If you find yourself there, stop it!)
So again, it may sound odd, given the dysfunctional nature of the pain-body relationship, but I feel very grateful and humbled when my clients invite me in to share their experience with it. Not everyone in their life gets to see it or hear about their experience for what it really is. To me, it is an honor to have my client’s trust, to hold space and listen with intent as someone describes, sometimes in tears, how their pain is unmanageable, or how powerless they feel standing at that cross-roads between needing to manage their pain more effectively and earning a living. In a clinical setting, we call this a Therapeutic Alliance relationship and establishing it is paramount to me as a practitioner. Its foundation is set in concrete by open dialogue and communication. Pain can take away our freedom to enjoy life and make us feel that we are out of control. By allowing my client to control the path of their treatment, it in turn allows them to take control of the direction and pace of their recovery. An empowered client is invested in their recovery; it’s theirs, they have ownership of it and the outcomes of treatment will be more meaningful for them. The treatment modalities we agree to use together on the treatment table for that one hour to 90 minutes can (hopefully) assist in this empowerment, but again, it’s one very small piece of a very large, complex puzzle, and may play only fractional part in their physical recovery. When we believe in the mind that recovery is possible, that change truly begins and ends with us, it may very well be that, yes, what I do through manual therapy is, ultimately, a placebo.