This is an article I wrote for the NBCAAM quarterly newletter. I thought I would share because I really believe that animal bodywork is a beautiful, incredible and emerging career with nowhere else to go but up! Supporting each other is the best way to advance the profession and spread wonderful work into the world!

BONDING AS A COLLECTIVE: Animal Massage, Bodywork and Acupressure Practitioners

After listening to a very inspirational Keynote address entitled “YOUR MISSION IS BIGGER THAN YOUR FEELINGS” from the incredible Joan Ranquet (Animal Communicator, Author, TEDx Speaker and Founder of Communication with All Life University) at the NBCAAM / IAAMB Animal Bodyworkers Continuing Education Conference, I came away really excited about all of us as an incredibly significant, caring and professional collaboration of Animal Bodyworkers! Joan talked about our work as some of the most important work on the planet right now. Wow, how does that make you feel? If there was ever a time for us to come together, support each other and provide our professional services to the planet, this is it!

When I graduated from human massage and natural healing school in early 1992, massage therapy was in the early stages of becoming a respected modality of therapy in the United States. Our profession was finally beginning to move away from being referred to as masseurs and masseuses to massage therapists. I remember one of my fellow students, when returning to school from winter break, telling a story about looking for potential jobs in our industry when she graduated. We all got a big chuckle when she recalled that after a long conversation with a woman who was advertising for help, she finally realized that the type of therapy this establishment was looking for had nothing to do with what we were studying but rather ventured into an entirely different industry of massage – if you know what I mean. That was what massage was still thought of and even advertising for at that time. The NCBTMB (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork) was created in 1992 helping to create standards for human bodywork practices and monitor continuing education. We have had two professional organizations to choose from since the 1980s that provide national certification in human bodywork, liability insurance and continuing education resources, ABMP and AMTA.The ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Practitioners) now provides the same benefits to animal bodyworkers who can provide proof of professional training.

I am really proud when I think about the changes in the massage therapy profession over the past 30 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Massage therapy as a profession is projected to grow 26% between 2016 and 2026, much faster that the average to all occupations. The ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals) reported 328,799 massage practitioners in 2016 and the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) relates that between July 2017 and July 2018 roughly 47.5-63.6 million American adults (19-28 percent) had a massage at least once. Many insurance companies are now covering massage therapy and doctors prescribe it for pain and stress relief.

What does that mean for our industry as Animal Bodyworkers? 30 years ago, I searched for a school to teach me animal bodywork. I could not find one. Human schools were not yet terribly common and hard enough to decipher at that time. I did some of my externship in my human school on horses with some guidance from a man doing bodywork on horses at the racetrack. It sure wasn’t enough for me to feel comfortable charging for these services after I graduated. Animal therapy simply wasn’t much of a thing at that time. Yet, today we need only to attend a dog or horse show/event to find any number of therapeutic resources and services available to help our animals. Some of these services come and go as fads and others can be seen as consistently offered. Although we don’t have the issue of sexual connotation to deal with that human massage industry had in the past, animal bodywork hasn’t been publicly defined and promoted in a way that everyone knows the scope of what it is we actually do.

I am often contacted to provide “animal chiropractic” because this has become a keyword in animal therapy circles. Animal owners and trainers just want help for their animals and they have to pick and choose what and to whom they go based on limited information. Obviously, chiropractic is a modality all in its own and just as in human bodywork practice, animal bodyworkers do not perform chiropractic. Unfortunately, without universal standards of practice, we have no way of regulating or even proclaiming this to the public. Unfortunately, I have witnessed animals very damaged and sometimes permanently from “animal bodyworkers” who are limited in training or self-trained so I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of industry standards and ethics. These regrettable incidents are talked about far and wide and they harm the reputation for all of us who want to provide good and quality animal bodywork. Without a clear scope of practice in our profession, we often find ourselves in conflict with veterinary boards or other professionals as legitimate and safe practitioners.

As a practitioner, I have so much gratitude for the founders and members of theNBCAAM (National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage) and also for the IAAMB (International Association for Animal Massage and Bodywork) for their work toward legitimizing and setting standards for our profession. These organized groups have built resources to work with state veterinary boards and other professional organizations which help allow us to legally work in our states. (Click here to view your state)

The really fun part begins once we have met and maintained professional standards and ethics and we can find our personal niche, developing our practices tuned into our preferences and strengths from the vast pathways that this amazing profession can take us. Just having returned from the Animal Bodyworker Continuing Education Conference, I am re-energized with new information and exciting directions I didn’t even know were available. It is so refreshing for me to continue learning, growing and sharing this remarkable work. There are so many different directions to take our careers as professional animal bodyworkers. Sharing our work contributes enormously to the value we collectively provide to the planet.

People often ask me if there is enough work for everyone wanting to go down this path as an animal bodyworker and I recall when I first graduated from human school. I traveled to a somewhat small town where I thought I’d like to relocate. I stopped and asked a chiropractor who advertised an in-house massage therapist if he thought there was room for another massage therapist in his town. His answer has always stuck in my mind. He replied almost harshly that there is room for as many willing and good practitioners as want to be anywhere. He said it had nothing to do with per capita and everything to do with providing consistently good work so each person that leaves your office wants to tell someone about their experience. He said, “do good work with good intention and you will have all the business you want”. Over the years I have found this advise to be exactly right on.

If we continue to collaborate and support one another as a professional and caring group, put in the effort to do our best work, believe in the personal gifts we each provide to animals, and know that there is more than enough work for all of us, our industry can only grow and flourish. Congratulations to everyone taking the step to be a leader on the forefront of a very promising career for yourself and animal bodyworkers of the future and thank you for contributing to the wellbeing of our animals and our planet.