A new textbook about touch and children

Book CoverI met Janet Courtney in 2015 through a small working group that was exploring the feasibility of creating an interdisciplinary, international conference on touch. On so many levels I find her amazing. She is an internationally recognized expert in developmental play and attachment therapies for children and gave a wonderful TedX talk on the importance of childhood touch.

Janet was in the process of writing and editing an academic textbook called Touch in Child Counseling and Play Therapy: An Ethical Guide. A lifelong touch advocate, she was surprised to discover that nobody had written a text for professionals about the crucial role of therapeutic touch for children. At her invitation I co-authored a chapter entitled Teaching Positive Touch: A Child-to-Child Massage Model for the Classroom with Jean Barlow, another hero of mine whose program was profiled in the chapter.

The book was published in March, 2017 and for the launch, check out the promotional discount Rutledge Press is running: 20% off the price of the hard or softcover versions of the book. The eBook version is also available at Amazon. If you are affiliated with a massage school, you may be able to preview the eBook version for free by filling out their Complimentary Copy form.

This textbook is a first in its field and my contributing an academic chapter is also a first. When it was done in May 2016 I felt like I had run a marathon with the same finish line exhilaration and craving for more. Thank you Janet and Jean for challenging me and including me in your lives and ground-breaking work.

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The “Death” of On-Site Massage

[This piece was originally published in Massage Therapy Journal Spring issue, 1995. Only a few people will remember that “seated massage” originally burst onto the scene as “on-site massage” when the first massage chair came on the market in 1986. Here is a bit more about the genesis of the early terminology.”

In 1986 I coined the term “On-Site Massage” and, in 1995, I thought perhaps I might kill it.

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true. While it is true is that I coined the term “on-site massage” it is not exactly true is that I want to kill it. Rather, I am going to suggest that we need to redefine how we use the term. Let me discuss the original rationale for the term “on- site massage” and the current confusion around its use.

Giving massages to people who are seated has been going on for centuries. There are old Japanese woodcuts of people being massaged on low stools, next to their bath. In current times chair massage started with a few creative practitioners in the early 1980’s who were looking for a way to bring massage services into the workplace.

In 1982 I began experimenting with seated massage as a way of creating jobs for graduates from The Amma Institute of Traditional Japanese Massage, a school in San Francisco that I ran from 1982 until 1989.

We had significant success at Apple Computer Corporation and, throughout 1985 and 1986, our work was widely reported in the national media. This was the first time the concept of chair massage entered the broad public consciousness.

The “birth” of On-Site Massage came in May 1986. I coined the term at the same time that we introduced the first custom-designed chair for seated massage, manufactured by Living Earth Crafts. I specifically stayed away from calling the work “chair massage” because, up to that point, it seemed like every time we talked about chair massage, people would immediately try to figure out where they could plug it in.

So I selected “on-site massage” to emphasize the portability and convenience of the work. The term had a corporate feel to it which fit in with what I felt, at that time, was going to be the primary market for chair massage service–the workplace.

At the 1986 American Massage Therapy Association convention, I demonstrated chair massage at a meeting of the Council of Schools and began offering continuing education workshops throughout the country. Nine years later we have taught over 5,000 table practitioners the techniques and marketing strategies of chair massage.

Interest in chair massage has continued to grow. Here’s a quick survey of the evidence that confirms how chair massage has become a significant component of the bodywork industry.

  • Virtually every massage school in the country now includes information about chair massage in their core curriculum.
  • At last count there were at least 15 different massage chairs being sold by manufacturers. My conservative estimate is that over 3,000 chairs a year are currently being sold and that more than 15,000 chairs have already been purchased.
  • The range of markets for chair massage is truly amazing. Massage chairs are being taken to offices, flea markets, airports, taxi stands, bookstores, health food stores, parks, beaches, shopping malls, salons, ski resorts, seminars, convention centers, health fairs, charity events, weddings, film sets, music studios, backstage at concerts, anywhere table massage has traditionally been done, and at dozens of other locations and events limited only by the imagination of the practitioner.
  • Chair massage serves as the front line in our efforts to legitimize bodywork services in the eyes of the general public, elected officials, and the media. Because of its non-threatening nature and high visibility this work is often the first­–but not the last–massage a new client receives.

With all the good news, why then is there a need for changing the terminology? Simply because serious inconsistencies have arisen with usage of the term “on-site massage.”

When chair massage began, most of it was, in fact, “on- site” massage. That is, most of the time practitioners took the chair to the location of the client to do the work. However, as chair massage began growing, clients began coming to the location of the practitioner, as primarily happens with table massage.

Another inconsistency in many people’s minds is that “on- site massage” doesn’t refer exclusively to chair massage anymore. I have seen many examples of bodyworkers referring to “on-site table massage.”

Finally, over the years, the term “on-site massage” is sometimes used synonymously with “workplace massage.” This came about because most of the stories in the mainstream media have described chair massage performed in the office setting.

I suggest it is time to end the confusion. My proposal is simple-let’s tell it like it is.

  • When massage is brought to the location of the client it is clearly “on-site” massage. However, note that a more precise reference would be either “on-site chair massage” or “on-site table massage.”
  • For a generic term to describe massage done on a seated client I propose the obviousÑ”chair massage.”  This juxtaposes it well to “table massage.” Optionally the work could be called “seated massage” but since we don’t use the term “prone massage” for table clients it is not quite as neat.

Fortunately most of the practitioners who have invested time and money in developing business cards, brochures, and other advertising for on-site massage really are doing massage “on-site.” They would only need to add the modifier “chair” to be absolutely clear about what they mean.

For my part, I will no longer generically refer to my work as on-site massage but rather call it “chair massage.” This year I have also renamed my seminar organization from On- Site Enterprises to the Skilled Touch Institute of Chair Massage.

The important thing to remember is that on-site massage–oops! I mean, chair massage, is flourishing. It couldn’t be killed even if someone really wanted to. No matter what we call it, I will continue to be a primary advocate.

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France recognizes seated massage as an occupational title

[Click to download a PDF of the press release version.]

France recently became the first country in the world to recognize seated massage as an occupational category with a professional certification. On June 7, 2016, the National Professional Certification Commission (Le Répertoire National des Certifications Professionnelles) approved Xavier Court Training as the sole provider of diplomas for Practitioners of Seated Massage.

Xavier and David

Xavier and David

Xavier Court, owner of the school, began the application process three years ago after joining forces with chair massage pioneer, David Palmer, and becoming an affiliate of Palmer’s organization, TouchPro International. Their application received a Level 2 certification under the French grading system (Level 1 is University diplomas) giving it a high degree of professional credibility. Throughout Europe the training is also rated as EuroPass Level 6 (the highest being Level 8) making the credential easily portable between all EU countries.

The approved curriculum is 170 hours and includes training in the TouchPro acupressure approach to chair massage developed by Palmer in 1986. While over 40,000 table massage practitioners around the globe have already been taught this system in continuing education seminars, this is the first time it has been the centerpiece of an entry-level massage program. Besides mastering the TouchPro technique, requires training in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, ethics, customer relations, and marketing to qualify graduates as world class chair massage specialists.

This also marks the first time that France has approved a specific credential for any massage services. Up to this point, the physiotherapists have prevented massage practitioners from being recognized as an independently titled profession. Palmer speculates that because seated massage was specifically defined in this instance as non-therapeutic, relaxation massage the French physiotherapists found it less objectionable than table massage therapy being provided as a health care service.

Another TouchPro affiliate in Trinidad & Tobago has an application in process for Caribbean-wide chair massage credentialing as a discrete occupation and Palmer looks forward to other countries adopting similar curriculum. The likelihood of North America following suit is slim as both Canada and the United States still require practitioners to complete 500- to 2200-hour table massage programs in most states and provinces before practitioners can legally offer chair massage services.

[For further information, please contact David Palmer at dp@touchpro.com.]

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What it is like to attend a TouchPro training

This is an email received after the April 2016 TouchPro Chair Massage Class at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy. It made my day.



Hey there, David ~

Thanks for the memories, as the song goes. Just wanted to express my appreciation again for holding such an awesome class! As is often the case when I’m on sensory overload, it takes me a while after the experience for me to process all that occurred, and all I gained in the process. That was probably the most uncomfortable weekend I’ve spent in a while … which is actually a compliment, as I remind myself over and over again, that my greatest growth has so often sprung from my greatest discomfort. My head was reeling when I left, and my body just wanted to crawl into bed! But, over the past couple of days, I’ve been so excited about the idea of integrating chair massage into my practice, rather than merely using it as a marketing tool. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workshop, figuring I’d learn some “nice” chair techniques that I could add to my toolbox, but what I came away with was so much more! If I hadn’t had such an acute case of massage head, I would have written a longer response to what I liked best about the course on the evaluation form.

Listening to your inspired talk about the evolution of chair massage to facilitate much-needed touch in our culture was inspiring, and motivating, and so much of what you said resonated with me. Without you knowing it, it’s as if you gave me permission to provide nurturing touch to my clients, without feeling the need to “fix” them … Wow, a breakthrough moment for me! Your teaching of a Kata really resonated with me, especially when I read what you wrote about the term in your manual: “If you trust the Kata and develop an honest relationship with it, you will be rewarded with unlimited insights about the nature of touch, massage, service, relationships, yourself, and your place in the grand scheme of the universe. Another advantage of practicing the Kata is that it becomes a discipline in the spiritual sense of the word. One of the hallmarks of every spiritual discipline is the practice of repetitive rituals that become automatic and allow for openings into higher states of consciousness… When you practice the TouchPro Kata it eventually becomes like a beautiful dance or a piece of classical music. Highly structured and choreographed, while it is the same each time, it is also different.” Beautiful!

For me, practicing massage has been like a sacred ceremony. Before I meet with a client for a table session, I say a prayer of intent, thanking God for allowing me to be a conduit, through which whatever my client needs most is delivered. I pray for focus, clarity of thought, and that I be filled with, and emanate, Divine love, light and healing energy. My intent is always to first connect with my clients, and then to create a nurturing haven in which they can relax, release, let go and drift off to that altered state of consciousness about which you spoke. Most of the time, I end a session feeling relaxed, happy and at peace, even more so than when I started. And, I know that, along the way, I am increasing their circulation, facilitating the release of oxytocin into their bloodstream, and activating their relaxation response, thereby also, hopefully, diminishing any pain or ills they were experiencing when they walked into my office. On occasion, I am asked to “work” areas of muscle tension, but more often than not, I believe what clients are seeking is relief period. As you pointed out in one of your articles, massage makes everything in life seem more manageable (pardon my paraphrasing if I’ve butchered it).

Initially, I used my chair for home sessions on family, and then, as a marketing tool to entice salon clients where I was working to give a table session a try. After taking your workshop, I’m now seeing chair massage as something simple, but grand at the same time—rich with possibilities! One of my concerns has been that I would only be able to offer massage to people who could afford it, when I could see that so many others, with little discretionary income, needed massage as much, if not more … Enter your Kata! I thought, “Here’s a way I can offer a session, performed with all the sacred intent I value, and with wonderful physical, psychological and emotional benefits for the client, and at a price that is so much more affordable than my standard 90-minute table sessions … Eureka!” And, yes, with chair massage also comes ease and an increased comfort level, as the client need not undress and feel as vulnerable. In essence, you’ve package chair massage in a way that spoke to my heart, and for that I am grateful!

I know you mentioned in your manual that your ultimate vision is to have all children in primary school learn basic shoulder rubs as a way of introducing more human touch at an early age. Have you given any thought to trying to find an inroad to high schools? During their second semester senior year, both my son and daughter were required to find an internship. Some chose work related to their interests or the area they were thinking of pursuing in college, while others, just logged hours. I could see how shadowing a chair massage practitioner could provide a wonderful introduction to young people to massage, and touch, in general. I totally agree with your view that chair massage should be the stepping stone to table massage, with its own, less stringent licensing requirements. Chair massage would also make an excellent vocational choice for some high school students who don’t plan to attend college.

I’ve also thought a lot about ways to bridge the gap between high school students and the elderly. When my son, Chris, was in high school,  I could see that if he found his niche, he’d shine. About that time, he was required to log volunteer hours to satisfy his confirmation class requirements (yes, I was brought up Catholic as well :-D). He chose to volunteer at our town’s senior center. During his time there, I discussed with Chris the possibility of starting an in-home computer tutoring service for seniors, since he was good with technology and most of the seniors had computers, but many were not as adept at using them. We printed a brochure at home, and then Chris pitched the idea to the director of the senior center, who embraced it, and helped market him. It was an interesting time. Chris came into his own, and shine he did. Chris took pride in his work, which made him feel good about himself; he felt good about helping the seniors; the seniors loved him, and the fact that they could get computer tutorials from someone patient and who spoke in plain language for far less than anyone else was charging. It was a win, win. This very long-winded story is my attempt at illustrating a way of connecting the two groups of people in a way that made everyone feel good. And, then I thought, “Would there be a way to do the same using chair massage instead of computer tutoring?” But, yeah … there’s that whole deal about licensing and liability. Anyway, just throwing it out there in case you have any ideas how it might work because I love the “idea” of it, but have no clue “how” it could work.

Wow! So Sorry! Intended to send a short thank you and realize I’ve just purged all over the page! Don’t know what happened, but I started typing and … it was like someone turned on the kitchen faucet and forgot to shut it off! Well, just shows you how much of an impact your two-day workshop had on me, so THANK YOU again!

With warmest wishes & a big hug,
Lori (Lorraine Steinmetz)

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The History Channel Features the Massage Chair

[Jim Everett and David Palmer tinkering with the massage chair]

Jim Everett and David tinkering with the original massage chair

When I was first approached by The History Channel last July (2015) about filming a segment on the massage chair for a series on contemporary inventions and inventors, I didn’t get my hopes up. After all, how many of these programs actually get made? But, after the production company spent three days last Fall filming in San Francisco and Zurich (where they met my co-designer, Serge Bouyssou) I felt like, “OK, this is really going to happen.”

Then, in February I found out they titled the 10-part series Million Dollar Genius and, since I was neither, I thought: “Drat, they must have cut me out!”

But, fortunately, my segment is still in the show and is scheduled to air Friday, April 1, 2016 at 11pmET/10CT/9MT/11PT. It is the sixth episode in the series and is titled Bigger is Better, whatever that means. You can find additional information on the History Channel website about the program and view episodes that have already aired. You will need credentials from a cable provider to view it online. Since I don’t have a television, I use my sister’s account. It will also play at other times next week so check the program schedule for your time zone.

[Update: The segment has aired and you can view it here.]

I haven’t seen what they put together for the massage chair segment, but the episodes so far have had very high production values and create a good story. They interviewed myself, Serge Bouyssou, and my friend, Carlin Holden. I am still a little nervous that it is being aired on April Fool’s Day, but keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t make me look like a jerk.

The timing, however, is great since this is the 30th anniversary of the appearance of first massage chair. We are enhancing our website and collecting stories and pictures about the original Living Earth Crafts (LEC) chair and the very earliest days of seated massage (pre-1986) when there were no chairs. This collection will be the permanent archive dedicated to the original massage chair and the pioneers of seated massage.

If you would like to contribute photos, videos or audio stories to this effort, you can email me at dp@touchpro.com. If you have memories you would like to share, please leave comments below. What was your reaction the first time you saw a massage chair? The first time you received a chair massage? What happened the first time you tried to assemble or disassemble an LEC chair? What was the reaction of your first customers? Right now you also can read some wonderful memories in the comments section at the end of this article: The Story of the First Massage Chair.

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