Tina Allen, founder of Liddle Kidz
Foundation, is the premier source for pediatric massage. She has
taught in 15 countries and has instituted pediatric massage therapy
positions and programs in hospitals all over the world. Her best
selling book, "A Modern Day Guide to Massage For Children,"
is the go to guide for parents, therapists, and medical professionals
Recently, Tina gifted the students of Adrian School of Massage with her time that they might get to know her a little better and gain a deeper insight into the world of massage for children.
An Interview with Tina Allen...
(By Sara Yacks, ASM Class 03 Student, 2016)
Dear Ms. Allen,
Would you please tell us about yourself and history? (birthdate, where you grew up, what you were like when you were young, maybe how you saw the world and your expectations for your future and then what reality was like.) - SY
My birthday is Valentine's Day (February 14th), and I grew up in Los Angeles, California.
When I was younger, I had a lot of ideas, traveling the world married to a rockstar, and using my professional life to help children. Turns out, these things actually happened, but not exactly how I envisioned them.
I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare in some way, but wasn't sure how. At first I thought I would become a pediatrician, but changed my mind once I figured out that they sometimes give kids shots! Throughout High School I was lucky to be very advanced in my education, and during my last two years was able to opt out of half a school day, as I had exceeded my educational requirements. They offered a program at the school to become a CNA and HHA. I did the program, thinking this would give me a good start down the healthcare pathway. It did, we learned lots and were able to spend half our school days a few times a week working in senior residential facilities. During this time,I learned more about what I liked in healthcare and also some of what I didn't. I always knew that patients needed more nurturing care and there was a big lack in that area of medicine.
What drew you to massage therapy and what was the industry like when you entered it? - SY
Honestly, I came upon massage therapy by accident. I never had the intention of becoming a massage therapist. Originally, I studied pediatric occupational therapy knowing that I wanted to work with children in a health care capacity, but I had no interest in “poking and prodding” them. While in the OT program, I soon discovered the extent of the education I would receive in integrative therapies would consist of a three-hour intro to massage/tactile therapy, movement, music and art therapies. When I inquired as to when we would learn more, I was instructed if I wanted to learn more I should seek it elsewhere. I enjoyed receiving massage, so I decided a massage school would be a good place to start. So, I searched for a massage program to simply add as an adjunct to my practice in pediatric occupational therapy.
It was busy running both programs simultaneously. During my massage program I inquired about pediatric massage, and was told “just ask their parents and do it lighter.” Obviously, not enough information – so again I needed to seek information elsewhere.
Being from Los Angeles and very connected to the entertainment community, I found myself using my massage background to provide sessions for many high profile clients right out of massage therapy school. My clientele consisted of celebrities, soap opera actors and actresses, and musicians. It was fun, fast paced and high paid. However, I always knew I needed something more meaningful.
Very early on, I had a great opportunity to provide massage therapy for those who would benefit most from touch, people who were considered to be “untouchable”. Men, women and children diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. At the time, there was significant stigma associated with this diagnosis. Hands-on care providers took enormous precautions, as many believed you could contract the disease via touch. Patients were isolated and left alone, out of touch with others around them.
Slowly, I started referring my high paying celebrity clients to other practitioners, so, I would have more time to provide the care that I valued most.
Ok, so why pediatric massage? What flaws did you see in this area of the massage industry when you began and what improvements have you contributed for those coming behind you? - SY
Through a series of choices, I started to create my opportunity. Early on, I realized children were very much considered untouchable members of our society. So, I dug deep into research looking for anything that would relate to pediatric massage therapy. I read everything I could get my hands on, always striving to demonstrate the benefits of massage therapy for infants and children. Using occupational therapy, physical therapy, movement therapies, nursing and pediatric mental health studies, I began to develop and share pediatric massage information with other therapists and health care providers.
When I started with pediatric massage, it was rare if ever discussed. People had not heard of the modality and it not being taught to health care providers. I have focused on this area of practice my entire career, and have been able to make huge in-roads. Prior to my being in this field, there was no such position in a hospital as Certified Pediatric Massage Therapist. Now, many pediatric hospitals have such positions, and they are paid positions. Being paid as a therapist working in a hospital is also a major difference, as at the beginning of any acceptance in this work, therapists were always asked to volunteer. However, there has been an enormous shift in this area. When hospitals used to reject the idea of massage therapy, now hospitals are calling me to help them with program development. To date, I have personally and professionally been involved with the addition of pediatric massage at over 100 medical institutions around the world.
You have taught in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, England, France, Sweden, and Canada (as well as a long list of credentials in the United States!). What are differences in culture and their viewpoints of Massage Therapy? What obstacles have you faced teaching in these places? What have you gleaned from these cultures to incorporate into your own scope of practice? - SY
Teaching in other countries is an amazing opportunity to not only share pediatric massage, but learn from others in relation to their feelings around touch, cultural differences and the needs of the children in their countries.
For example, I typically teach in Japan for 2-3 months per year. One thing I have found very interesting is how much they love and respect babies and children, and yet much of a low touch culture they have in Japan. Obviously, every person in each culture is unique, but as a general statement, the Japanese are very low touch, they do not greet with handshakes or hugs, like we do in the US. When I was giving a keynote presentation in Japan, I was talking about the value of even the simplest touch, and I mentioned hugging, suggesting they go home that evening and hug their children and loved ones. I opened my arms on the stage, and said I would be happy to give anyone there a hug. A woman came onto the stage and asked for hug, and then another, so at that moment, I made the comment that I would be happy to give hugs after my presentation. Once my presentation was complete, a line had formed. This is typical in Japan, as often times there is a cue for pictures. As I approached and began to get ready for pictures, the first person in line asked for hug. As I hugged her, a friend took her picture and she said thank you for this picture of my first hug. The second person came up for a hug, and while she was having a hug she began crying and shaking, saying it was also her first hug. These were grown women, in the mid-20's to 50's and more than 60% of the women, in that 200 person line, said to me they had never received a hug before. When I returned to speak at the same conference the following year, I reminded them of our hugging experience the year prior. However this year, I had a new idea, rather than just my hugging everyone, I asked that they each hug someone in the audience. This was a very bold move in Japan, and unheard of – the audience complied and went on a hugging spree. It was amazing and overwhelming to see their emotions expressed through the act of a hug!
Would you tell us about your book, "A Modern Day Guide to Massage for Children"? Also, how did that come about; was it something you foresaw when you started down the path you've walked; have you found it to be well received; what sort of feed back have you gotten on it? - SY
In my book “A Modern Day Guide to Massage for Children”, professionals and families learn the who, why, when, where and how to provide healthy Massage for Children. The information contained within the book, has been presented to medical professionals, neonatologists, pediatricians, massage therapists and parents around the globe to rave reviews.
Massage therapists and healthcare providers use my book as a go-to guide on using pediatric massage professionally in their practice. Parents find the book an amazing, easy-to-follow tool to connect with their children and use safe techniques to address common childhood discomforts everyday as part of their family's health plan. Children love the whimsical and brightly colored illustrations, rhymes and massage stories which help children enjoy developmentally appropriate touch therapy.
It is now considered a best seller, and will soon be followed by two more books that follow massage therapy for children in other specialized areas.
Where would you say the field of massage therapy is today, especially in the United States, and what forecast do you have for it's future? - SY
There is still a consistent lack of basic knowledge of massage therapy within health care settings. In hospitals, I encounter physicians and nurses who have no understanding of massage therapy, and in essence minimize its benefit as a part of a comprehensive and integrative health care plan for pediatric patients. I find myself providing basic information to educate them in the differences between massage in the spa setting, versus one that is performed within the hospital. I've made it my life's goal to empower and educate on the benefits of pediatric massage. It's very exciting when other professionals finally see first hand the benefits of massage therapy.
As a profession, we are coming into a time when the health care system is more aware of the many benefits of massage therapy, and ready to embrace this noninvasive therapy as an integrative piece of a patient's treatment plan. Pediatric massage therapy is an integral intervention in providing children with the best options in healthcare and treatment.
What piece of advice, or impactful bit of encouragement, do you have for us as students as we enter into the field of massage therapy? - SY
For new Massage Therapists, I would remind them that they can have a practice that is devoted to pediatric massage therapy, or even simply includes pediatric clients in their practice. It is not unusual that I meet massage therapists who have been practicing for years, and have never thought about working with children. When I present in a massage therapy school, ask for questions, the first person raises their hand and asks, “Massage Therapists can work with children?” Not, how to work with children, or why, but simply, “we can do that?” It's always surprising to me, that massage therapists haven't been exposed to the idea of working with all age groups, and sought the background to do so appropriately.
I believe it is important that massage therapists know they shouldn't just apply the same techniques they use for adults to a child's developing body. They should know that children are very different in both physical and cognitive development, so the old idea that you can do the same Adult Protocol, using less pressure, or just by asking their parents first, is incorrect. It is important those misconceptions are corrected. And that is why I founded the Liddle Kidz Foundation!