Acknowledging the Differences

By Tyrone Tautiepa

My name is Tyrone Tautiepa, I am of Sāmoan, New Zealand Māori and Pakeha (NZ European) decent. I grew up in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, NZ and have lived in Australia for almost a decade and identify as a gay male.

Why is any of this important?

Ultimately it isn’t and at the same time it is. Besides being able to tick many ‘Equal Opportunity’ boxes, each identifier has moulded the ways in which I interact with people. Which, as a Massage Therapist, is definitely one of, if not, the fundamental skills in our profession.

The question then changes to, do these cultural identities define me?

No, but they have made me acutely aware of the diverse clientele that I have the privilege or potential of treating.

Being of Polynesian and Māori decent, I have had the privilege of a lot of cultural influences in approaches to wellbeing. From an early age, we had people travel to visit my Sāmoan Great-Grandmother and Grandmother for different ‘healing’ practices, some from within our South Auckland community, intercity and even from the Islands.

Does this influence the way I practice? To a degree I think it does. Has it been in conflict with treatment of my own clients? Well, that answer is a resounding no.

Having all these influences, as well as being taught a scientific approach to wellbeing, has given me a well-rounded view of the importance of empowering an individual. I am able to recognise the need to provide a safe and acknowledging space, being sure to not let my own ego get in the way of my treatment.

Sometimes there are people who believe that I may possess the mystical powers of the Pacific. Maybe I do. However, the only things I claim to do well are practice within my scope and acknowledge that massage is part of a total wellbeing package for people that choose to use it.

Sure, there are some adjustments I make in my approach but those are across the board in every interaction. For example, I won’t look people directly in the eye all the time. I learnt to focus on the bridge of their nose, because direct eye contact is confrontational in my upbringing. I’m also clear to establish that my practice isn’t Mirimiri, Lomi or Fofo (styles of Indigenous massage) because those modalities incorporate different cultural aspects which I have not been taught, which aid the experience being more than just a physical therapy.

As I said, I have been influenced in my approach to wellbeing and the idea of total wellbeing or ‘Hauora’. I prescribe to a Maori Health model – Dr Mason Durie’s ‘Whare Tapa whā’. This isn’t because I believe all people should be treated like Māori but because I believe its application to be universal in a holistic approach to total wellbeing. For those who are interested, it incorporates ‘4 pillars’:

  • Taha Tinana (physical)
  • Taha Hinengaro (mental/emotional)
  • Taha Whānau (family/Social); and
  • Taha Wairua (spiritual).

Which in some way can be supported through massage therapy treatments.

I think one of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that, whilst this has influenced my approach to wellbeing, learning to empower another’s health through massage therapy and decide on a treatment does not mean indoctrinating someone else to believe what I do but to confidently articulate my rationale aligning with my values – both cultural and professional.

I find having so many cultural identities enables me to have the strong sense of self. This helps me to navigate a lot of client expectations. It has helped to prepare me for instances such as being a gay-identifying male massage therapist. The “hilarious” connotations associated with that don’t affect me, just the same as comments about my ‘strong Polynesian hands’ do not take away from my knowledge of human anatomy and function, which underpins my approach. All of this helps me to remain aware that you cannot control perceptions, nor do they dictate what type of practitioner you are. That choice is yours.

It helps to work through some of that imposter syndrome we may feel at times, when we are set free from study and begin to settle into the role and title of Remedial Massage Therapist. You begin to learn that you don’t need to be a voice of authority, through touting what is and isn’t the most effective way to stretch or not (which is all dependent on what research you ultimately decide to cite). Instead, opting to aim to be a reassuring practitioner – one who remains current with their practices, understands their values in health and how to translate that in a treatment that supports their clients goals.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that how I identify culturally has not affected the way my interactions go. I have been fortunate not to experience any prejudices against me, just as I make an active choice to not be prejudiced towards others. I am far from perfect. However, being mindful, having the ability to reflect, and choosing to be better or consistent in behaviours, affords me a great outlook.

I believe diversity, cultural differences and empathy should not be approached from a lens of ‘understanding’. It should be approached from a lens of ‘acknowledging and appreciating’. Acknowledge your differences and know that we can never fully understand another person’s experience, nor is it your responsibility to. However, just because you may not understand does not mean you can’t appreciate how that could impact someone else.

That is how my cultural influences allow me to choose to adjust my approach and treatments. It is how my cultural influence let me navigate all the nuances of engaging clients in our massage profession. 

No matter their cultural background, respect is not about seeing everyone as “the same” or “not seeing colour or culture”. Respect is about seeing all of those differences and still choosing to treat like they don’t define who we are. Nor do they define the rational, safe approach to treatments we should expect for us to deliver. 

About the Author

Tyrone Tautiepa is a massage therapist based on Queensland’s Gold Coast and is a member of AMT.

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  1. Lovely article. Thank you

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