Chapter 08: Patient Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy

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Chapter 08: Patient Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy

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In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about why patients in general may resist getting massage, and how cancer patients deal with special issues of vulnerability in massage. She also talks about the positive impact of massage on patients, recounting anecdotes to underscore the role of massage in reconnecting patients positively with their bodies. She also discusses how positive personal experiences with massage can lead patients to consider other complementary services, and vice versa.

Identifier

Sumler,PSS_02_20180910

Publication Date

9-20-2018

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Overview; Overview; Definitions, Explanations, Translations; Professional Path; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Building/Transforming the Institution; Obstacles, Challenges; Patients; Patients, Treatment, Survivors; Cancer and Disease; Human Stories; Offering Care, Compassion, Help; MD Anderson Culture; Working Environment

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

It is ten after 11:00 on the 10th of September, 2018. I’m Tacey Ann Rosolowski, and we are in the Reading Room of the Historical Resources Center. I’m sitting with Sat Siri Sumler. This is our second session together. You—I’m glad you can—made it back to chat about a few extra topics that we have. So thank you for making the time.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

It’s my pleasure. Thank you.  

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Really, really a pleasure to have your perspective. So one of the things as I was reading over our conversation last time, you talked a lot about kind of the practical aspects, kind of what you do with patients when you’re doing massage. And what I wanted to do was maybe kind of back up to more of a 10,000-, 15,000-foot perspective and think about really that whole process of getting these sorts of somatic and integrative practices accepted at the institution. Because I’ve interviewed folks like Lorenzo Cohen [oral history interview] and Eduardo Bruera [oral history interview], and it’s maybe not the easiest thing. So I kind of wanted to get your read. What is it—what is acceptance like for patients, and what is acceptance like for clinicians? And which would you like to start with first, patients or kind of the clinical staff?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I’ll start with patients.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay. So what do you find, in terms of people being resistant, people being accepting? What’s that—what’s the landscape like?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, I think it’s pretty wide. There are some people that are already doing these things. They’re already—this is what they want. And I’ve had—and over the years I’ve had a number of patients tell me, like, “I chose MD Anderson because I could get massage there.” So I don’t know if that’s totally true, (laughs) but it was important enough to them to say—oh, and that they looked to see what services were available for them. And then, on the other hand, there are people who just do not—are not interested. “I’ve never done this before.” I’m just talking about massage, in particular. And so usually, in those cases, it’s usually a spouse that twists their arm for them to try it, and then they’re usually onboard, (laughs) that there’s—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Now, do you have a sense of what the resistance is? Like, what’s going on in their heads that’s making them think, “Uh, no, not comfortable with this”?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I... Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, some patients will just tell me, “I’m just not a massage person.” It’s—I think massage, in particular, is very intimate. You’re going to—on the one hand, you’re going to let someone touch you. On the second hand, there’s chair massage where you’re fully clothed, and then there’s—then you could be completely naked. So you will be—have some level of not having your clothes on, with a complete stranger touching you, and then also you’re relaxing, so, like, you’re letting your guard down. So you really have to be able to have that trust. And I think some people aren’t comfortable with that in the first place, and then they’re in an environment where everything is new, and maybe their level of trust is in jeopardy in a way where they don’t know what’s going on with their life, or what their treatment is, or it’s all new things that they’re facing.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And what—how might the cancer experience add to that? Because it’s—I think anybody who has questions about massage might talk about all the things that you’ve just mentioned, but how might cancer, the cancer experience add to that?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, I mean, in particular, for someone who has decided they want to get massage, is people are very uncomfortable that, number one, they don’t want to take their wig off. Like, what is their body image? What’s going on with their body? Maybe they have a wig. Maybe they have a colostomy, or they’ve had nephrostomy. I’ve had a young woman [with a nephrostomy bag] undress and just burst into tears because she’s, “No one’s ever seen my urine before.” [ ] And I think I might’ve said before I’ve had a number of women tell me, “No one’s ever seen me without my wig before. Even my husband hasn’t seen me.” And so... Or just shaving. I will say that I usually like to tell people when they are—there’s, like, “Oh, I’m not—I haven’t shaved,” and I’ll tell people, “Well, no one who comes to get massage here shaves. Either their doctors told them not to, or they’re too tired, or they are from out of town and forgot their razor, so...” But that’s a big—that’s really important to people. Or, “I haven’t had my pedicure. I can’t get pedicures or manicures anymore, and I’m embarrassed.” So people are just feeling bad about themselves. But I will say that usually a massage helps people to feel better about themselves. And so in a way people can feel like their body has betrayed them often. They’ll talk about, “I’ve done everything right,” or whatever, “I don’t know why this is happening to me,” and then they realize that they can feel good again: oh, my body can make me feel good. And so getting the massage helps them to, I think, to digest their experience. I feel like sometimes people don’t want massage because [it makes them aware of the way they really feel.] Within the first five or ten minutes of the massage they’ll say, “I had no idea how bad I felt.” And so our patients complete a pre- and post-symptom assessment, and so they might have put all their symptoms really low, or even all zeroes, and then we’ll start the massage and they’ll say, “Oh, wow, I had no idea I felt this bad.” And then at the end they’re like, “I feel so much better.” And so I think, as human beings, we, to cope, kind of put things back, and just—we’re focusing on what we need to, to get to that next appointment, to do that next treatment, if it’s every day or whatever it might be. And then when we stop, and massage puts us in touch with how we feel, I think some people maybe subconsciously don’t want to go there. But that’s just my theory. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Yeah. No, no, that’s valuable. I just... (coughs) Excuse me. I think I’m having some problems with pollution and... Oh, you, too? (laughter) Yeah. It’s been a real challenge, particularly when the weather’s this damp and cloudy. No, I mean, I—what you’re saying makes perfect sense, and I’ve been curious because, I mean, the vulnerability and trust issues, I think they do put people in a very complicated emotional, psychic space, and so figuring out how to take on one more new thing that may be quite that alien and challenging, it’s like, that’s courageous in a lot of senses.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah. I think it really is. And patients will talk to me also about other services that they—that we offer that they’ve never done, in particular acupuncture, and they’ll say, “I’ve never done acupuncture before.” They’ll try to ask me about it, and they’ll just say—but they’re really—it’s been recommended to them, and so they’re starting to digest what that might be, that this is something that actually could help, and how to get over that barrier they have to wanting to go there.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

So are you finding that the massage can be kind of a gateway to other complementary practices? Or do people go to acupuncture and then say, “Oh, this works; maybe massage can work,” that sort of thing?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

That will happen also. Often, patients will be with the acupuncturist, and they may talk about some symptom that they’re having, and acupuncture may say, “Maybe that’s something you might want to think about, massage.” Or massage has also been recommended to them, and they’ll start talking to the acupuncturist, because they’re developing a rapport and trust with them. So I think it can go either way. And also, with our other services, even our classes, or yoga, or... I think once people get into our center, they meet our physicians, get to talk with them, find out more about it, and they start kind of putting their foot in the pool, some of them want to try everything, and they might’ve been resistant to even come to us, or even come to us and, like, “I don’t know why I’m here. My doctor sent me here.” (laughs) But they needed our services, so...

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And instantly it opens up a whole world. That must be exciting to see.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, it’s very exciting, especially because we have people who come from all over, and a lot of people come from small places that don’t have the things that we offer. And so then they’re just really excited to learn new things and try new things, and see how they would be able to incorporate similar things at home. So...

Chapter 08: Patient Acceptance (or Non-Acceptance) of Massage Therapy

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