It pleases me greatly to publish this book review from Dr. Christopher A. Moyer. Dr. Moyer is a friend and has become my first call when I need guidance of the massage research variety. We’re lucky to have him as an advocate and a teacher in our profession.
Laura Allen undoubtedly has energy – but what does that actually mean? In massage therapy circles, that word is used loosely so often it can be difficult to know what it means. In this instance I mean she is active, productive, and industrious. Allen has been a successful restauranteur, musician, blogger, businesswoman, massage therapist, educator, and author. Most recently her prodigious energy went into writing her seventh book, Excuse Me, Exactly How Does That Work? Hocus Pocus in Holistic Healthcare (Amazon Digital Services, 113 pages; ). Those who use the word “energy” loosely should take note.
Anyone who knows Allen will recognize that the title perfectly captures her friendly-but-still-challenging style that is tempered with a dash of Southern sass. And while there are an increasing number of books that advocate critical thinking for the massage therapy profession, this book could only have been written by Allen. In addition to her distinctive style, the book draws on her considerable experience in massage therapy along with her quest to learn about a range of alternative medicine practices.
The first third of the book is essentially a memoir. Allen describes, in an engaging way, how curiosity and varied experiences led her to study massage therapy but also reiki, crystal healing, magnet therapy, homeopathy, and other alt-med practices. She describes herself as willing to try just about any of them in order to learn from the experience. This approach is laudable, but incomplete when it is unaccompanied by any critical reflection. Looking back, Allen admits “I was looking so hard, I got lost.”
The turning point comes abruptly. Allen, now a reiki master and teacher, is preparing to teach a class on the practice and finds herself wondering “how is my drawing a few symbols in the air and blowing a puff of air onto someone going to turn them into a healer?” Realizing there is no sensible answer to that question, she makes the decision, on the spot, to abandon the practice and to adopt a more thoughtful approach to evaluating alt-med claims and practices. Most importantly, she recognizes that it is an ethical imperative for learners to be able to ask how health practices work, and that it is also an ethical imperative for practitioners and educators to be able to provide sensible answers that are consistent with well-established knowledge in physics, chemistry, medicine, and psychology.
From this perspective, the latter part of the book examines a range of alt-med concepts and practices commonly encountered in or attached to the massage therapy profession, including special water and juice formulations, devices that claim to interact with one’s human energy field, detoxification, and ear candling. Readers who have not already encountered these, as well as those who have adopted them without question, stand to learn a lot from this portion of the book.
The importance of professional ethics, and the need for them to be rooted in critical thinking and evidence, is the common thread that ties all the sections together. Important ethical concepts, such as avoiding harm, and providing effective treatments for appropriate fees, are addressed. However, I would have liked to see Allen pay more attention to an ethical problem that I think is especially important – the fact that massage therapy schools, continuing education providers, and the governing bodies that accredit and sanction them are heavily invested in perpetuating nonsensical information that supplants opportunities for students and practitioners to learn modern, well-validated information that would help them be better therapists and which would serve to elevate the profession. Allen’s take on that specific issue would be an illuminating and welcome addition to the book.
Allen’s best achievement in writing this book is that she provides a model of how to approach health claims. Such a model is badly needed in massage therapy, where students, practitioners, and educators are often more likely to invest time and energy on New Age claptrap than on the art and science of their effective, evidence-supported treatment. The profession needs more people who are willing to ask “excuse me, exactly how does that work?” Perhaps this book will inspire some to do just that.
Christopher A. Moyer, PhD, is a psychologist and massage therapy researcher currently residing in Milwaukee. He is the coeditor of Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice.