I met Dr. Glenn M. Hymel in 2000 during an AMTA convention. Since our first conversation, he has expressed great interest in the scientific aspects of massage therapy. Dr. Hymel’s initial interest later transformed itself into something far bigger. His scientific background allowed him to initiate important projects which have greatly contributed to the massage therapy profession.
In 2006, he published an important book, Research Methods for Massage and Holistic Therapies. I greatly enjoyed this publication and the way Dr. Hymel was able, in simple language, to explain very complicated topics associated with planning and conducting experimental and clinical studies, and evaluating their results.
We are at a time when more and more massage therapists and other health practitioners including physicians, as well as the general public, demand a more integrative approach to medical care. This concept includes the preventive and medical potential of massage therapy. For those scientists, Dr. Hymel’s book is an irreplaceable source of valuable information.
More recently, Dr. Hymel assumed a major leadership role on behalf of the Massage Therapy Foundation in establishing the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. This new project is an open access, peer-reviewed, academic-quality publication which offers the massage therapy profession a unique opportunity to build communication bridges with the medical community and to share information with physicians for the benefit of their patients.
Here is our interview with
Glenn M. Hymel, EdD, LMT
JMS: Please tell our readers about your background.
Dr. Hymel: My professional background began as a high school mathematics teacher in 1969, and then progressed via graduate studies at the master’s and doctorate levels to what is now my 35th year as a faculty member at the university level. The principal areas of emphasis throughout my career have involved a combination of education and psychology, with a focus on school counseling, educational administration, educational psychology, research methodology, and statistics. I am very much a newcomer to the massage therapy profession in that it wasn’t until 1999 that I completed the licensing program at the Blue Cliff School of Therapeutic Massage in Metairie, LA (a suburb of New Orleans).
JMS: How did you get into the field of massage therapy?
Dr. Hymel: One of my regular teaching assignments at Loyola University each academic year is our psychology of personal adjustment course. As you might expect, part of the course coverage addresses issues related to coping strategies for managing stress, fatigue, and pain. In reviewing the literature for developing that sector of the course around 1997 or so, I came across the massage therapy research that was being done by Dr. Tiffany Field — a developmental psychologist — and her colleagues at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute and beyond. I was intrigued by what was being reported in terms of the impact of massage interventions on a vast array of physiological and psychological variables, investigated across the lifespan, and in such diverse contexts as hospital, clinic, workplace, and academic settings. This obviously piqued my curiosity and eventually led to my enrolling in Blue Cliff’s program.
JMS: What massage methods and techniques did you find the most helpful when working with clients who suffer from somatic abnormalities.
Dr. Hymel: My limited practice in the New Orleans area since 1999 has focused on preventive massage therapy techniques for enhancing relaxation and reducing stress and fatigue. The preventive emphasis may also be augmented at times by the full range of options within Swedish therapeutic massage as well as the use of deep tissue massage on a limited basis in cases involving chronic muscular pain as a consequence of accumulated tension and/or overexertion.
JMS: Unfortunately, the field of massage therapy is littered with a lot of clutter and unscientific claims which frequently send the practitioner in the wrong direction. On the contrary, you as a massage scientist maintain a completely different standard. Currently, where does science stand, and where should it stand, in relation to modern massage therapy?
Dr. Hymel: The current emphasis on evidence-informed practice across the health sciences bodes quite well for the massage profession when one considers the extent to which we are being increasingly included in the complementary and integrative healthcare movement. This “evidence-informed” feature implies a respect for and inclusion of three critical considerations in the clinical reasoning and practice of massage therapists:
(a) current scientific research findings,
(b) client-patient factors, and
(c) clinical expertise.
Add to this the increasing attention devoted to translational research — i.e., two-way communication between researchers and practitioners — and we have the foundations for an almost unprecedented advancement of our profession on solid scientific grounds. It is in these two contexts that we find ourselves as a profession now examining not only the “what” issue of an intervention-outcome relationship, but also the critical “why” issue of those underlying mechanisms responsible for the relationship.
JMS: How would you define medical massage and its place in the field of massage therapy?
Dr. Hymel: In all candor, I’d be hard-pressed to think of an issue in the massage profession today that lends itself to as many different interpretations and perspectives as does the topic of “medical massage.” Perhaps the best I can offer here in response to your question is to simply provide a description — with inclusive and exclusive criteria as a basis — of my admittedly tentative interpretation of this area. For starters, medical massage (MM) is inclusive of — yet builds upon and extrapolates beyond — therapeutic massage that finds its undergirding principles rooted in Swedish massage. MM has as its sine qua nonscientific verification via experimental and clinical studies. It is eclectic in nature in that it implies an array of diversified methods that may be placed in varying combinations so as to address presenting conditions of medically-diagnosed disease, injury, and affiliated pain. (I believe I’ll stop here for fear of perhaps digging myself a hole deeper than is advisable. I trust you understand.)
JMS: How do you think medical massage can be returned into the clinical practice of traditional medicine?
Dr. Hymel: Operating from the assumption that my earlier characterization of medical massage has at least a modicum of validity, it seems that a prerequisite to what you’re asking here relates most directly and immediately to the current and future education of healthcare providers. In the context of the complementary and integrative medicine/healthcare movement, clinicians/practitioners — both internal and external to conventional medicine — must be educated/trained in those supportive sciences and methodologies foundational to medical massage. My earlier comments regarding evidence-informed practice and translational research are fundamental to this process of re-introducing MM into conventional medicine.
JMS: We know that you are the Founding Executive Editor of the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (IJTMB). What goals and standards did you set for your publication?
Dr. Hymel: Perhaps the most pervasive goal of the IJTMB is to provide the massage, bodywork, and related health science professions with a quarterly, peer-reviewed, open-access venue for disseminating internationally the scientifically-based contributions of researchers, educators, and practitioners. Needless to say, a vigilant adherence to scientific rigor and the assurance of an equally critical blind peer-review process are prerequisite to all other aspirations of the journal. The open-access feature of the IJTMB simply ensures as widespread an electronic dissemination of the journal as possible made feasible by the absence of any reader subscription fees and contributing author publication costs. The journal’s three major sections of Research, Education, and Practice attempt to accommodate as broad-based a readership as possible. A publication of the Massage Therapy Foundation, this journal contributes to the Foundation’s threefold mission of research, education, and service.
JMS: What advice would you like to give our readers?
Dr. Hymel: As a final observation, I’d like to simply note that just within the past few months, the massage profession has been advanced by the inception of not only the IJTMB, but also this Journal of Massage Science and its affiliated Science of Massage website. Congratulations, Dr. Turchaninov, to you and your colleagues for this significant achievement. We are indeed privileged to be part of this unprecedented moment in the evolutionary development of our profession, and must see to it that we make the most of the opportunities afforded us. And thank you for this chance to share some of my views with our colleagues by way of this interview.
Dr. Hymel is Professor and former Chair of the Department of Psychology at Loyola University, New Orleans. His areas of specialization include educational psychology, research design and statistics, personal adjustment/stress management, and positive psychology.
Dr. Hymel is a graduate of the Blue Cliff School of Therapeutic Massage in Metairie, Louisiana, and maintains a practice in the Greater New Orleans Area.
Dr. Hymel is the author of the textbook Research Methods for Massage & Holistic Therapies (Elsevier, 2006) and the tertiary author (along with Sandy Fritz & Leon Chaitow) of Clinical Massage in the Healthcare Setting (Elsevier, 2008). He is currently serving as the Founding Executive Editor of the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork as well as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
Category: Person of the Month