The idea of research is generally a little bit scary. Many of us do not fully understand what is involved in doing research and assume that it is beyond us and beyond our abilities. Only PhD level doctors, engineers and scientists engage in research, right? Well . . . no, that is not correct.
Many professionals engage in research across almost every field! Research is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it establishes provable knowledge and best practices, something every discipline wants and needs. We don’t want our physicians guessing at what defines, causes or cures an illness just as we don’t want our engineers to make their best “guesstimate” when designing and building our skyscrapers, bridges and tunnels.
Research is about knowledge production, it is about building a body of knowledge in a field which can then be referred to – and built on – by all those working in or around that field. Research is painstaking and time consuming. No one research project can answer all questions. In fact, a good research project tries to answer only one or two questions. The narrow focus allows researchers to design their studies in such a way that confusion is minimal, and the question(s) and answers generated are as clear as possible. This is what gives us proof, or evidence, of the facts produced in research.
Research does several things for our profession, including:
- Increases and improves the quality of our own professional education through evidence based, provable knowledge.
- Improves our decisions in client care by providing solid treatment information, backed by evidence.
- Improves our client education practices through better, more accurate information to share with them about their conditions and treatments.
- Creates standardization in treatment protocols, ensuring that all therapists in the field are providing a minimum of care that is sufficient to ensure the safe and proper treatment of the client.
- Validates our hands-on work, putting to rest the concept of massage therapy as a “hippy-dippy,” new-age fad.
- Increases respect massage therapists receive from other medical and healthcare professionals.
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research
The word quantitative originates from the word quantity, meaning something that can be counted or measured. Quantitative research, therefore, produces information as hard numbers and statistics – a national census is a good example of this. We see references to this type of research in advertising quite often: “1 in 10 dentists” or “3 out of 5 doctors” are both examples of results that quantitative research produces. Quantitative research isolates cause and effects, allowing for specific measurement or the count of a phenomenon.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, is more interested in how and why a phenomenon occurs, using observation, surveys and interviews in an attempt to isolate the root cause. Qualitative research is used more in the social sciences as it allows researchers to learn how individuals and groups interact with each other.
Data collection from quantitative research can include tracking or counting the changes resulting after an event, monitoring of physiological responses or collection of biochemical samples, while data collection in qualitative research can involve interviews, questionnaires and behavioral observations.
One of the most critical aspects of research is that of peer review. Research must be presented at conferences or published in journals so that other professionals in the field can review and critique it. This is an important aspect of knowledge production as it allows for critical review, wherein other professionals can evaluate a piece of research and identify problems in the design or implementation of the research methodologies. Future research can then be improved by review of past research.
Research is vital to the growth and development of a field of practice, in our case massage therapy. In order to establish evidence-based treatment protocols and best practices for the field, we need to be engaging in research. Massage therapists have always striven for professionalism, adopting the concept of “First, do no harm!” with regard to treating clients. We must now move further down the path and define the best treatment options available for those same clients.
Massage therapy research is in its infancy, presenting therapists with a wide open opportunity to learn, grow and present their findings to younger generations of therapists. It is time for massage therapists to move into the research arena and work to produce our own field specific body of evidence-backed treatment protocols and body of evidence-based knowledge.