As a massage therapist I frequently get called a “masseuse”; whenever that happens I usually correct people by using the words “massage therapist” in my reply or repeating what they said and replacing the word with the term “massage therapist”. This is my gentle way of changing vocabulary and letting people know my correct title. However some people don’t respond to this subtle nudge while others may question why I do this when they catch it. It is important because I am a Licensed Massage Therapist and calling me a masseuse implies something else.
The term masseuse is not inherently wrong as it was one of the terms people used years ago to refer to massage therapists before the title included the word therapist. But a lot has changed over time. The term masseuse has been appropriated as an innuendo in the United States to mean illicit sex worker.
You might ask, how did this word change, and when did this change happen? The answer is over time this word has been appropriated and used as a code to imply illicit activity. As we began seeing more regulation, we started to notice that illicit businesses were hiding behind legitimate hard working professionals like massage therapists and cosmetologists. People were claiming to be masseuses while using that term to imply it was more than just massage, because no one looked twice at two people being alone in a room for that kind of work until the profession became regulated. This is still an ongoing fight today, as our society cracks down on illicit business. We still find them using the term masseuse as a way to imply illicit services under the guise of massage to stay hidden in plain sight.
When boards of massage therapy began to form in each state, the title we used began to evolve along with the regulations being written and enforced. Some states use wording like Licensed or Certified, and Practitioner or Therapist as the appropriate terms. In North Carolina we are Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapists (LMBT) which is the similar to Washington State Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) as of 2016, where before, WA used Licensed Massage Practitioner (LMP). Now I know I threw some alphabet soup at you but stick with me! The reason these terms change is because words have meaning and changing “masseuse”: a woman who provides massage, to “therapist”: a person skilled in a particular kind of therapy, can mean the difference between being taken seriously as an educated health care professional or mistaken for an illicit business.
I work very hard to be a professional Licensed Massage Therapist. The work I put into being the best therapist I can be has meaning to me. I offer more than the standard Swedish relaxation massage that is offered at most franchises. My extended education included medical massage therapy training. I studied how to handle medical complications and conditions like chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, pregnancy, cancer, diabetes, post-surgery recovery, and more. As a massage therapist I have undergone professional schooling, testing, and licensing in the states in which I’ve practiced. This profession requires hundreds of hours of rigorous education and additional continuing education every year to maintain licensure. The word Therapist is a professional licensed title designed to support techniques and practices that lead to health and recovery and ongoing wellness. So next time you see your therapist or boast about their skills to a friend keep in mind that they worked very hard for their title, and it means the world to them when you use it correctly!
January is human trafficking awareness month and if you would like to learn more, support anti-human trafficking efforts in the health industries, or help victims, visit LookBeforeYouBookAMassage.com to find local resources in your area.