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Review of Excuse Me, Exactly How Does That Work? by Laura Allen

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on PainScience.com are updated regularly over the years.

Laura Allen’s book is unique. As far as I know, she is the first massage therapist to ever write one like it: a scathing and sassy denunciation of her profession’s love affair with crystals, chakras, and fringe science. Addressing her colleagues throughout, she tells them, “Our profession has turned into the snake oil medicine show.”

My review copy. Click to buy on Amazon.

The book takes the reader on a tour of most of the weird practices that seem to cling to massage therapy like parasites, and asks again and again, “Excuse me, exactly how does that work?” In most cases, of course, the point is that they don’t.

And she describes her own “reformation” from believer to skeptic. She once believed everything she’s rolling her eyes at today. All her snark has a self-depractory poignancy to it, and I hope it makes her sharp criticisms palatable and funny to many people who wouldn’t be able to hear it from anyone else. Allen used to believe it all! “I could not possibly even name all the things I went through,” she writes, but her effort is impressive, and it puts my own substantial New Age dabblings in the 90s to shame. Here’s a sample of how far down the rabbit hole Laura Allen went:

I had a lot of psychic readings. I tried Aura Soma, which is described as “color healing.” I got tuned up with tuning forks, and crystal bowls. I participated in one workshop called Matterspeak, which consisted of sitting around chanting random words, letters, and numbers for 8 hours, as in   “1263supercalifragilisti789.” I don’t remember what the purpose of that was and frankly doubt that it had any purpose, other than to enrich the teacher’s pocketbook. If memory serves, she had “channeled” that information from the Atlanteans. I also used the chi machines, the detox foot baths and pads, biofeedback and all kinds of computer programs designed to balance your body, mind and spirit, and most New Agey-sounding things in existence at the time. If it was out there, I tried it.

While we were on a road trip out west, I collected some buffalo dung—I actually witnessed the buffalo relieving himself, waited until he ambled off, and I jumped out of the car with a zip-lock bag to harvest it for future ceremonial purposes. Since it had come from a buffalo on the reservation I figured it was more powerful than your average cow dung.

Allen’s book is all about a different sort of powerful bullshit:

People like to have something to believe in, don’t they? Whether it’s religion, the tooth fairy, or the efficacy of something they have bought—and bought into—people get attached to their BS. I like to say that BS can stand for “belief system” or “bullshit”—your call.

Massage therapists, and others in the holistic arts, are no exception. We seem to be a particularly gullible bunch. And there are a lot of people who have seized upon that, and marketed their products, their classes, their modalities, and their wild claims to us...and many of us have fallen for it, hook, line and sinker...and unfortunately, gone on to convince our clients to buy into it, as well.

Fortunately, not all beliefs are firmly held. Many massage therapists come into them rather carelessly (as I did) — they just seem to go with the territory. Laura Allen’s book is a friendly kick in the rump for any massage therapist teetering on the brink of coming to her senses.

So quotable!

I’ve harvested several quotes from Laura’s book, and they will appear here and there around PainScience.com from now on. It is invaluable to cite her irreverent voice and vast experience with the massage profession — of which she is still a vital member. You’ll find her quoted in the following articles for now:

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