From The Archives – Or Is It?

One of the joys of getting lost in the AMT archives is finding old articles that have stood the test of time, remaining both current and apt. The Secretary’s Report in the June 2009 edition of AMT’s In Good Hands magazine, written by now CEO Rebecca Barnett, meets this criteria. Let’s go through the mists of time and have a read:

Secretary’s Report (In Good Hands, June 2009)

by Rebecca Barnett

On the occasion of AMT’s first conference in 1990, we received a letter of congratulations from the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, acknowledging the significance of the event to both the massage therapy profession and the wider Australian community.

Bob Hawke’s sentiments are as relevant to us today as they were when he wrote them. Indeed, his comments seem almost prescient, especially in light of twenty years of advocacy, developments and progress in the industry we know and love.

Here is the text of his letter in full:

‘I am pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate the Association of Massage Therapists for its initiative in organising its Inaugural Conference.

‘We all, quite understandably, focus a lot of our attention on our economic wellbeing, but it should also be the case that we pay close attention to what we could call our “health stocks”.

Good health is an individual and national asset of considerable value about which every Australian deserves to be better informed. In particular, I believe that more knowledge on preventative health care would allow us to have a more direct and positive impact on our own health status.

‘A positive approach to preventative health will ensure that we don’t become over-reliant on drugs and invasive therapies. With the benefit of a more personal responsibility for our own wellbeing, we can help to strike a correct balance between curative and preventative treatments.

‘It is also important, however, that the efficacy of alternative health therapies, which can assist individuals to maintain good health and avoid health-damaging behaviour, should be well established. One way of doing this is for people who are directly involved in this area, both consumers and practitioners, to be able to evaluate and openly discuss the options and procedures being proposed to advance our health.

‘It is in forums such as this Inaugural Conference that this process can proceed and I wish all participants a fruitful weekend.’

R J L Hawke

Striking a correct balance between ‘curative and preventative treatments’ is a key issue for our profession. It is at the core of the crucial ongoing dialogue about who we are, what we do and where we fit in a rapidly changing health marketplace. The issue of identity must also necessarily be at the core of any strategic advocacy that AMT undertakes on behalf of its membership and the industry at large.

In the quest for mainstream acceptance as a health intervention, it has been enormously tempting for our profession to merely mimic the health establishment. Slavishly adopting a biomedical model as the template for our treatment protocols and procedures may hasten us towards a kind of narrow advocacy goal but it comes at the cost of half the ‘health stocks’ which Bob Hawke referred to in his letter.

Massage therapy still has an enormous role to play in the domain of wellbeing and preventative health.

If we wedge ourselves too tightly into the ‘fix it’ paradigm that tends to characterise the biomedical approach, we are effectively cutting off half our body of work and flagrantly ignoring (or worse, disregarding) the lion’s share of our clinical evidence base.

A willingness to embrace the paradigm of wellbeing and prevention as a valued part of our scope of professional practice doesn’t necessarily mean a diminution of our education standards or an abandonment of science or even an inexorable slide into the arcane world of the ‘hyper-alternative’. In fact, I remain passionate about massage therapy gaining recognition as a mainstream approach and I’d personally like to see us shirk our alternative title completely.

Rather, staying present and effective in the domain of wellbeing and prevention is actually an enlightened and progressive acknowledgement that scientific method is evolving. We have a responsibility to evolve with it. If we don’t, we are at risk of trying to board a train that left the station a very long time ago. Meanwhile, the biomedical model of healthcare looks increasingly tired, outmoded and expensive.

You can read the full article/report here.

These words seem especially poignant now: a few days before the May 2019 federal election, Robert J Hawke died. His death reminded us of that letter he wrote back in 1990 and the forward-thinking, visionary and ‘everyperson’ nature of his leadership. We picture him dictating it to someone while lounging by the pool at The Lodge, sipping a bitter, with the form guide off to the side.

Hawke was arguably Australia’s greatest Prime Minister (1983-1991). He was a man with great foresight, humanity and compassion. He introduced universal healthcare for Australians (Medicare), took action against gender discrimination in the workplace by introducing the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 (now known as the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012) and promised to allow Chinese students to stay after the Tiananmen Square massacre (42000 were subsequently granted visas). He was a man who hated racism and bigotry.

Hawke was also famous for his concept of “dawdling to consensus” and his capacity to unite people in support of progress. As Rebecca’s article on The Famous Medicare Winter of 2013 demonstrates, AMT cannot achieve change on its own. Most importantly, massage therapists must step up instead of expecting AMT to do everything. We can throw our support behind AMT by:

  • Being advocates for massage therapy
  • Broadening our horizons by attending non-massage conferences and courses
  • Conversing with other health professionals
  • Engaging with current thinking and evidence, and reflecting on how we practice
  • Writing articles for non-massage organisations and businesses
  • Corresponding with our local members of parliament (state and federal)
  • Helping in whatever way AMT asks us to.

But let’s remind ourselves of what Hawke said was the path forward, nearly 30 years ago:

One way of doing this is for people who are directly involved in this area, both consumers and practitioners, to be able to evaluate and openly discuss the options and procedures being proposed to advance our health.

Help inspire another massage therapist by telling us in the comments what you’ve done, or plan on doing, to help push the massage industry onward and upward. What conversations are you initiating?

The more things change, the more massage therapists are drivers of change.

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