I recently participated in a panel discussion with an osteopath and a physiotherapist, in which complementary therapy students quizzed us about our respective professions and how we treat certain medical conditions. What interested me were the differences in perceived professional status and also
the similarities in knowledge, training and treatment of clients by massage therapists, osteopaths,
Regulation of osteopaths and physiotherapists
Osteopathy and physiotherapy are both protected occupations in the UK. This means they are regulated by a professional body which sets standards for training and behaviour, and the law says no one can call themselves an osteopath or a physiotherapist unless they are registered with those professional bodies. Osteopaths are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council GOsC. Physios are regulated by the General Health Council, along with art therapists and speech and language therapists.
Regulation of massage therapists
Massage therapy, however, remains an unregulated profession. This means that in theory anyone, whether they are trained or not, can call themselves a massage therapist. Hence the professional differences between so-called ‘massage parlours’, massage by beauty therapists (known in the business as ‘fluff and buff’), and sports massage and other advanced clinical massage therapies.
In practice, although they are not regulated by law, massage therapists can choose to register voluntarily with a number of different professional bodies, which will check their standard of education and training before allowing a massage therapist to join. Membership will then enable the massage therapist to obtain professional indemnity insurance. For these reasons in 2011 the government confirmed it was abandoning plans for statutory regulation of massage therapists, as the costs of administering a scheme would outweigh the benefits to the public. In effect they were saying that voluntary regulation works well enough, partly because massage therapy has less potential to do harm than more invasive medical treatments.
However, the government’s decision is unfortunate for clinical massage therapists because it implies that clinical massage therapy is a less serious profession than other healthcare professions, and it undermines NHS recognition of massage therapy.
The reality is that the training of osteopaths, physiotherapists, and clinical massage therapists is similar, as is the way they approach treatment and therapy for medical conditions. These differences and similarities in education and treatment are the subject of my next blog: Massage therapy, osteopathy & physiotherapy 2.