The Evidence for Spa

The Global Spa Summit has just launched a new website,, which serves as a portal into databases of medical research on spa and wellness therapies.  From my years in the spa industry, I can tell you that the people behind this industry passionately believe in the services they offer and their potential impact on human wellbeing.  I can also tell you, that the spa industry has not been taken seriously by health care practitioners (in spite of a massive trend towards the “spaification” of health care.)

This is a huge step forward for the spa industry, as the website serves to validate much of what the spa industry has to offer and can help to educate health care practitioners, consumers, and spa professionals themselves, on the research behind what they do.  Nobody can say it better than Daniel Friedland of SuperSmartHealth, one of the advisors on the project (from his letter to Susie Ellis):

Conventional medicine, no doubt, has a lot to offer, particularly for patients who are struggling to manage and cure disease. The Spa and Wellness Industry has an immense amount to offer too, especially around maintaining wellness and preventing disease, as well as providing healing and benefit with various wellness modalities to health seekers who are navigating their disease.

The Portal provides more than scientific validation around the value of various Spa and Wellness modalities. It is also a gateway through which many who have been laboring for so long with love and deep conviction, experience an emotional catharsis in discovering their life’s work validated and their purpose emboldened with meaning and significance.

This new initiative does give me a sense that the spa industry has reached a turning point.

Previously, I’ve expressed concerns that I don’t want the spa industry to get too scientific.  After all, we already have tons of health care institutions that are offering scientifically validated treatments.  The value of the spa industry is that they go beyond science, offering services that are more holistic and encompassing the psychological and spiritual aspects of wellbeing (where the science is less clear.)  And the spa industry offers experiences that are novel, nurturing and pampering i.e., the delivery of the interventions is enjoyable, something we don’t get from our other more scientifically validated healing institutions.

But that being said, we shouldn’t ignore what science has to offer.  We should learn from research that has been done and push the boundaries to continue widening the circle of our scientific understanding of holistic wellbeing.  We just also need to recognize the limitations of science and not be afraid to go beyond the boundaries of that understanding.  Like Todd Kashdan said at the recent World Congress on Positive Psychology, “we should be guided by our science but not governed by it.”

My only complaint about the Spa Evidence Portal is that it does not include the PsycINFO database, which would include a broader collection of psychological research on spa modalities.  If the spa industry is to stay true to its holistic roots and not fall into the same trap in healthcare of looking only at the physical nature of our interventions, then we must consider research being done beyond the physical domain (see my article on why psychology is important to spas.) 

The PsycINFO database has tons of research on mind-body modalities such as mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, reiki, stress relief, as well as looking at psychological outcomes of massage, exercise, nutrition, yoga and more.  I’ve discussed this with some members of the board of Global Spa Summit and I think they are open to including this as a future enhancement.

An important note on the portal, is that its intention is not to only post research that supports the modalities that spas offer but also to house research that might refute or contradict the benefits of certain spa offerings (ear candling anyone?)  This gives me hope that the tool will not only be used as a marketing tool for the spa industry, but as a true portal to greater understanding about different pathways to wellbeing.

Whether you are a spa professional interested in learning more about the science of spas and wellbeing, a consumer curious about how spa modalities might be of benefit to you, or a health care practitioner wondering how spa services or partnerships might integrate with your practice to improve results, visit and browse through the databases.  It is easy to use, very educational, and could help bring spa and healthcare closer together.

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One Response to The Evidence for Spa

  1. Katie Curran August 22, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    This is an amazing step forward for the spa industry. Opening the eyes of individuals as well as practitioners to the possibility of focusing science on improving well-being, not just healing ailments and curing disease. Interested to start reading! Thanks, as always, for sharing your wisdom with us all Jeremy!!

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