I had the privilege of meeting Ruth Werner at the Massage Therapy Convention this May in Seattle. However, I followed her educational articles in professional journals for a number of years. Her articles have always exhibited a deep understanding of visceral and somatic pathologies and they were always based on the latest scientific data. As a logical outcome of her expertise and dedication to the massage therapy profession, this year, Ruth Werner was elected as President of Massage Therapy Foundation. I think it was great decision because it places a scientifically oriented educator at the helm of the Massage Therapy Foundation which injects science into the massage therapy profession.

Dr. Ross Turchaninov

Here is our interview with

President of Massage Therapy Foundation


JMS: First of all we would like to congratulate you on being elected as President of the Massage Therapy Foundation.

Ruth Werner: Thank you very much! It is my honor to serve here.

JMS: Our readers would love to know how you got involved in the field of massage therapy!

Ruth Werner: I got involved with massage therapy more by luck than by planning. I have a BA in theater, and when I moved to Seattle to get started on that career path, I quickly discovered that I didn’t have the wherewithal to make a living in that field. I stumbled into massage school because I found an advertisement in a local paper, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I discovered that I have a gift for translating complex concepts in a way that people can follow and understand – this was the beginning of my teaching career. For many years I ran a practice in a chiropractic office and taught at my massage school. Then a job change took us away from Seattle and I used my first couple of years as an at-home mom to begin writing a text about massage in the context of pathology – this was the root of the text book that is now sold as A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology: I’m at work on the 5th edition now.

JMS: You are a very prolific author and many of the topics of your publications involve various pathological conditions of the human body and include massage therapy as one of the treatment options. As we see from your articles, you are trying to take the practitioner’s education beyond that of somatic pathologies. You have raised numerous important subjects on various visceral abnormalities; this is definitely a great contribution to the profession. Do you think that medical conditions, especially visceral abnormalities, require specially designed medical or clinical massage protocols?

Ruth Werner: I’d like to clarify that I seldom suggest massage as a treatment for visceral or other abnormalities, but I do try to elucidate possible risks and benefits for massage and bodywork for our clients who struggle with their health. I don’t think most credible massage therapists would claim that their work “treats” Crohn’s disease or enlarged prostate or hepatitis C, but carefully and knowledgeably applied massage can improve the quality of life for our clients who live with these conditions. 

In answer to the question, I definitely think that any massage therapist who works with clients who have these kinds of visceral abnormalities needs to be prepared to make appropriate adjustments in designing a session strategy. These adjustments need to take into account the nature of the disorder or condition; the state or stage of the condition; whatever medications, surgeries, or other treatment options the client may be using; client preferences; practitioner judgment; and whatever research is available on massage in that context: this is the essence of best practices in massage. Whether a “specially designed medical or clinical massage protocol” is needed may depend on the situation. Certainly some protocols are likely to work better than others in some circumstances. I know some people who do visceral manipulation to help address several disorders that we wouldn’t ordinarily think about treating with massage, and they often get good results.

There is an interesting open question, though: some research indicates that the quality of the therapeutic relationship between the patient and the caregiver is as important or more important than the specific modality that is applied. This suggests that practitioners need to focus as much on the quality of their presence as on the quantity of the modalities they practice.

It’s a complicated juggling act, but massage therapists who promote themselves as health care professionals need to be able to step up to that challenge.

JMS: You are now in a commanding position within the Massage Therapy Foundation. We feel that this is the only professional massage organization in the USA which approaches massage education as well as practice, from a scientific perspective. As president, where would you like to take the Massage Therapy Foundation?

Ruth Werner: I’m glad you feel that the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) approaches massage education and practice from a scientific perspective, although I’m not sure I agree that we are unique in that respect.

I joined the Board of Trustees at the MTF as the Chair of the education committee. I have always felt that massage therapy educators have been under-served in our profession, and I hope to see more services made available to them – and the MTF’s commitment to both scientific research and education creates a great synergy for outreach to schools and teachers.

I see the next few years for the MTF focused on strengthening our existing programs so that they can reach their fullest possible potential. Our open-sourced peer reviewed academic journal, The International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is in the midst of increasing the number of medical databases that list it, and we would love to see more and more readers access it, use it, and submit articles to it.

Our case report contests for students and practitioners have created the beginning of a collection of high-quality case reports, and we would love to see more people participate in them: this is grass-roots science, and it drives larger-scale studies.

We have a program for working with massage school faculty to increase their research literacy and to help them incorporate research literacy concepts into core curriculum; we’re planning to make that available as a distance learning event next year. And of course our community service grants and our research grants are a defining part of who we are – the Foundation was envisioned around these programs, and we feel they are vital to the profession.

JMS: The recent Massage Therapy Foundation conference in Seattle was a great success. Do you know where and when the next conference will be? We know that each conference is a professional event of great importance for massage practitioners.

Ruth Werner: We were delighted with the success of the Highlighting Massage Therapy in CIM Research meeting. This was a monumental project, headed by our immediate past president, Diana Thompson. It brought together clinicians, researchers, and educators from all over the world to discuss findings about massage and bodywork. 

We haven’t made a final decision about the timing or location of the next meeting, but it seems clear there will be one. As soon as we have any details we’ll be sure to let you know!

JMS: What is your favorite type of bodywork?

Ruth Werner: It depends on what I need, doesn’t it? I love learning more about my own body, so I enjoy working with practitioners who share what they find as they work with me. My personal health struggles center around getting good-quality sleep, so any type of bodywork that promotes great sleep is on my A- list. On some days that’s a deep and releasing myofascial session; on others it’s a feather-light craniosacral treatment. I’m not picky – I love educated touch of any kind!

JMS: May you give our readers your best professional advice?

Ruth Werner: I have a few simple rules to live by. They may not work for everyone, but they surely work for me.

1. Be curious.
2. You learn more with your mouth closed than with your mouth open.
3. Treat yourself with the same tenderness, care and respect that you give to the loved ones in your life.
4. Make only promises that you can keep – then keep them.
5. Make the same choices whether you think someone is watching or not.
6. Know what you want so you can recognize it when it falls in your lap.
7. Be willing to take risks and make mistakes: if you never get anything wrong, you’re not trying hard enough.

On a final note:

This year marks our 20th anniversary, and we are inviting everyone who is positively impacted by massage to RISE (Research, Inspiration, Service, Education) to the occasion with “$20 for 20”: a $20 (or more) gift from new donors, and for our existing donors, a $20 gift above what they already give. All lovers of massage – therapists, clients, schools, and industries who support massage therapists – benefit from the work of the MTF, and we all need to support the Foundation. One of my most important jobs is to invite all stakeholders to become partners in funding the MTF’s work. All of our programs, and a link to our donor page, can be accessed through our website atwww.massagetherapyfoundation.org.

Thank you for this opportunity to share with your readers. I hope everyone will drop in to our website to see what programs we have that might be of interest.

Ms. Werner is the current president of the Massage Therapy Foundation, a 501 (c)-3 nonprofit organization that advances the massage therapy profession through scientific research, education, and community service. She is also a massage therapist, writer, and educator with a passionate interest in massage research and the role of bodywork for people who struggle with health. Her groundbreaking textbook, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology was first published in 1998; keeping it current is now her main occupation. In addition, she writes a column for Massage and Bodywork magazine and teaches continuing education workshops all over the country. She has served on committees for the Utah Department of Public Licensing, the AMTA, the National Certifying Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. Ruth was extremely honored to be selected as the AMTA Council of Schools Teacher of the Year for 2005.

Category: Person of the Month