"Did you have to go to school for that?"
Ever had someone ask you that question? For most of us in the massage therapy field, we heard it more than a few times over the years. Quite simply, massage therapy is much deeper than what is revealed at first glance. Yes, you can teach anyone to rub someone's back using traditional strokes in a relatively short period of time. That is not massage therapy. Sensing, responding, and deriving meaning from what is sensed is a whole different matter. If you hand me a golf club and tell me to get the golf ball in the little hole, you have now explained the entire goal of the game of golf. Executing this task is another matter. While I can stand over a golf ball, I have no idea what I am doing other that to get the ball in the hole. A professional golfer is reacting and responding to stimuli I don't even know exist. Worse yet, I cannot perceive a golfer's internal processes just by watching them. I just see someone standing over a ball. They have a world of experiences that I cannot see and therefore cannot know without some training and insight.
I often tell my clients after a session that I hope they had as much fun as I did. I am sincere in that statement. The internal pictures in my head, the reactions to their tissue, the mysteries of figuring out the correlation of their presenting symptoms with their initial narrative, the way referral patterns are individual and unique- all of these factors make the work endlessly fascinating and challenging. Yet, none of these processes are visible to the client. In the end, it is my hands touching their body. In reality, the whole experience is far deeper and richer.
Reacting and responding also implies a process that is dynamic, rather than static. This is at the heart of Precision Neuromuscular Therapy. The core of PNMT is reasoning, not recipes. Recipes have their place, but they have severe limitations. In the field of soft-tissue therapy, imposing a protocol on a client is like saying- "I have a fabulous answer and I hope it matches your question."
Jakob Bernoulli, in his publication in 1713, used the phrase "Ars Conjectandi sive Stochastice" Translated, this phrase is perhaps the first reference to the stochastic arts. Stochastic arts implies a certain level of randomness in the process, that there are unforeseen twists and turns in the process. A sculptor may have an idea of what they wish to create, but an imperfection in the medium (perhaps the marble), might take the art in a new direction. An improv actor may be surprised in the way another actor responds to their prompting, but that new idea takes the skit in a new and much better direction. It is the process of unpredictability that makes the art so deeply compelling for the creator. We, as the viewer of the end product, do not see the richness and depth of the process that created it.
One of my clients, a mechanical engineer, is great friends with an orthopedic surgeon and they often watch surgery training videos together in the doctor's basement. Viewing yet another instructional video, the engineer boldly stated to the surgeon, "I think that with my engineering background, 98% of what you do, I could do." Several seconds passed. Smiling thoughtfully, surgeon answered. "That might be true," he said. "But it's the other 2% that matters." Point. Set. Match.
For me, the other 2% is the ability to adapt and redirect a session when things do not go as planned. If you see enough clients with soft tissue pain, you have extensive experience in things not going according to plan. These difficult cases are the ones that challenge you the most and what challenges you, changes you. Real learning happens in the struggle and constant adaptation. That is why I so value being in the clinic every day, seeing people in pain. The twists and turns of problem solving are where the richness lives. It's the other 2% that matters.