Accepted Paper:

Thai massage as a therapy: suffering and healing among the Thai urban middle class  


Junko Iida (Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Thai clients interpret their symptoms and why they choose Thai massage. It reveals that they view Thai massage as a ‘natural’ therapy efficacious in treating root causes, and that they acquire a sense of trust and ease through tactile interaction and communication with practitioners.

Paper long abstract:

Today, Thai massage is popular not only as a means of relaxation for foreign tourists but also as a therapy for the Thai urban middle class. In fact, the Thai government, which has been standardising Thai traditional medicine since the 1990s, has been promoting Thai massage as one of its traditional therapies. Based on fieldwork at a traditional therapies clinic in Chiang Mai, this paper explores how Thai clients interpret their symptoms and why they choose Thai massage to solve their health problems. The majority of Thai clients have 'pain' or 'stiffness' in the body and find their symptoms are caused by a disorder of the 'sen', lines which run through the body in folk anatomy. They feel massage is more efficacious in treating the root cause, the 'sen', than biomedical treatment. Notably there are many clients who say that they choose Thai massage because they prefer 'natural therapy' to taking painkillers which have side-effects. At the same time, they say that they prefer Thai massage which has been standardised and thus controlled by biomedicine to massage done by 'unqualified' healers. Massage practitioners at the clinic, however, acquire massage skills not only through the standardised curriculum but also through intersubjective experience in the process of tactile interaction and communication with colleagues and clients. A practitioner's experiential knowledge, which includes knowledge of an individual client's body and symptoms, creates a sense of trust and ease for the client, and is therefore also important in keeping regular clients.

Panel W014
From medical pluralism to therapeutic plurality: medical anthropology and the politics of diversity, knowledge, and experience from multiple perspectives