About a year ago, I read a blog by Laura Allen, titled The Snake Oil Medicine Show discussing how many products and programs are created and marketed to health care practitioners and how easily, it seems, massage therapists can be seduced by these products. Coming from a western medicine, science based background, I have always taken the claims of most products with a grain of salt and researched the claims myself without swallowing the marketing line whole. And, I was always a little bemused by those who don’t. As I read Laura Allen’s article, I was again reminded of how many health care practitioners, especially bodyworkers, have embraced a product, diet, supplement or alternative healing practice based on the marketing and it started me wondering why.
Then, recently, as I was setting up for a business class and listening to the students as they were discussing so many new ideas and concepts they are exposed to, and embracing, during their training, I was struck by the innocence and vulnerability of these students and how easily they can be seduced by The Snake Oil Medicine Show.
Most people think of the term Snake Oil Medicine in a derogatory way, meaning something that makes fraudulent, unproven and questionable claims of benefit or even proven to have no benefit at all, and that is what I also mean by the term. And, a snake oil salesman is someone who promotes or sells these products.
Too often, massage therapists succumb to the lure of snake oil products, programs and plans. Maybe the therapist is looking for another source of revenue and it would be an easy-to-sell item. But more often, I think, it comes down to education—does the student learn to research and think critically before embracing the marketing hype? Or, were they “reeled in” by an instructor, mentor, or other role model (with power differential) early on in their training or career?
As a business and ethics instructor, I am taken aback when I hear students espousing and embracing unproven theories and practices they have been introduced to during this vulnerable time, and I am especially concerned when instructors, rather than teaching the students to question, research and analyze claims and marketing, actually encourage the students to embrace a product, concept, plan, program or idea that falls under the umbrella of Snake Oil Medicine. As instructors, regardless of the subject, we have enormous power differential and an ethical responsibility to keep the student’s best interest foremost in our focus. To use that power to promote Snake Oil Medicine ultimately damages the student and the profession.