Shiatsu Regulation in Europe

by Tom Litten of the General Shiatsu Council

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Zen School of Shiatsu

Healing Tao

Zen Shiatsu Society

Frequently Asked Questions

My specific interest in the rules and regulations governing the practice of shiatsu in the European Union began in themid-90's, when I was planning to move to France and practice Shiatsu.

I was advised by some masseurs that registration with a registered association was necessary for any profession in France, but that such a registration gave one certain protection from state interference. They recommended registration with a bodywork association AMEN.

However, it became apparent that we were talking about different things, the central point of the difference being the issue of whether one was claiming to practice a form of medicine with a capacity to make diagnoses and to focus treatment on those diagnoses or one was offering some general routine of treatment for general well-being. I was talking about the former and they were talking about the latter. Indeed, they were shocked that we, in UK, were allowed to be talking about the latter.

They explained that words like; medicine, treatment, diagnosis, even massage, were 'owned' by orthodox medicine and any trespass could start one on a journey to the local slammer.

They were of the opinion that the legal authorities would not initiate such a course but would have to proceed if the orthodox profession were to complain about ones work -and said the orthodox profession had a reputation for protecting their special position jealously. Claude Didier, as President of the now defunct French Shiatsu Association has made that journey a few times in defence of members who have been the subjects of complaints by doctors.

In the late-90's, after I had given up my intention to move to France, I became the UK representative to the European Shiatsu Federation and my first task was to interview every national representative and setdown the political and legal situation for Shiatsu in each country. In this exercise I discovered that my earlier information about France was accurate and was about the middle standard of restriction for the countries of mainland Europe - Austria was the worst and Sweden was the easiest.

Although there have been many developments in many countries, it was not clear to me that this central issue had changed to any great degree and, so, I attended the 2004 European Shiatsu Congress in Kiental, Switzerland.

As each national presentation was made I asked the key questions:

Can you use words like medicine, treatment, diagnosis?

Can you make diagnoses?

Can you offer treatments focussed by diagnoses?

Can you offer to treat specific pathological conditions?

Apart from Sweden and UK/Ireland the answer was 'no'. Some people seemed to be seeking a redefinition of Shiatsu to make such issues irrelevant.

If there is to be harmonisation of the legal position of complementary medicine across the EU, then concerns must be taken seriously.

The weight of the many mainland countries would outgun the obscure common law tradition of the UK and Ireland; add to this the knowledge of what happened to the Lannoye Report, which was changed about so much by the European Parliament that Paul Lannoye refused to let it go forward in his name, as a result of the fact that the largest single occupational group in the European Parliament is orthodox doctors.

It is for these reasons I think it relevant to cite the European perspective when seeking to justify the creation of a regulatory body for Shiatsu. If you have information that could update what I have said or, even better, change what I have said, please let us know about it. We all have members with interests in mainland Europe and want to give them the best advice.