A Massage Therapist’s Journey Through A Career Crisis

By Sharon Livingstone

I love being a massage therapist. Have since the first day I treated someone outside of the environs of massage school.

Job satisfaction comes when a client drops me a line to say how fantastic they felt after their treatment or from that vague post-massage smile on a client’s face while they pass over their library card to pay for their treatment.

For 15 years, massage therapy was a career I enjoyed.

I was happy with my metaphors and my explanations to clients of why their body felt the way it did. I provided education on posture and was confident in my techniques and palpation skills. My work diary was busy and I was content.

Then something happened

I read an article on 5 myths and truths of massage. So much of what I’d been telling my clients, and what was slathered all over my website, was not quite true. I’d learnt these myths at massage school and had them reinforced by my (then) professional association’s articles and speakers. How could they not be right? How could they have been taught to me without any supporting evidence?

Then I remembered what I’d learnt since massage school about treating pregnant clients and massaging people with cancer, and how I hadn’t been taught the right information there either.

And something else happened

I listened online as other massage therapists discussed using complex treatment protocols and techniques I’d never even heard of. And here was me constantly getting semimembranosus and semitendinosus muddled up.

If I hadn’t already been knocked for six by the massage myths, then this left me feeling like I had a batting collapse after being 1/300. I was all out for 301.

What happened next?
  • My diary went quiet. Really quiet.
  • I changed my narrative to remove the myths.
  • I changed my spiel to new clients.
  • I no longer focused on correcting people when they called me a masseuse. I was correcting my own long-held beliefs.

I felt like a fraud.

What on earth was I doing as a massage therapist? Everything I thought I knew had been ripped away and I realised I knew as much as Bradman’s final Test innings.

I had to quit massage.

Yes, that’s what I’d do.

I could get an office job and I could wear shoes that aren’t runners to work. I’d get used to peak-hour commuting: the endless queues, jamming onto public transport. It’d be great to earn a regular income and be paid for taking a holiday and wear skirts and makeup and perfumed deodorant and – why didn’t I think of this first – I could grow my fingernails!

In a corner somewhere, I rocked myself quietly.

Then something good happened

I don’t remember who it was: Lorimer Moseley or David Butler, most likely. There I was, standing on the edge of the abyss, clutching my trigger point manual* as the only thing that I wasn’t a fraud over, when I heard a voice. “Come here,” they said, whoever the mystery person was. “Let us tell you about pain science.”

I gently stepped back from the abyss.

I listened to Dr Tasha Stanton at the 2016 AMT conference. Hmm, this pain science thing is quite interesting, I thought. Then I received a text message from the middle of an Explain Pain course, saying that it would resonate with me and make me feel not so bad about my career crisis. Oh, and something about David Butler’s very loud shirt.

The thing is, the human body and human mind are complex. We learn more and more each day. New research is being published so regularly that it’s difficult to keep up. It was only natural that information that I’d learnt and relied on would be superseded.

When I became a member of AMT, research studies became easier to find, I learnt which publications I needed to pay attention to and the voices around AMT were talking about the changes in thinking around how and why massage therapy works.

Stuff started to make sense. I began listening to podcasts with David Butler, Bronnie Thompson, Greg Lehman, Peter O’Sullivan, Lorimer Moseley and Sandy Hilton. The message I got was clear. YOU’RE TREATING A PERSON, NOT A SKELETON WITH MUSCLES, TENDONS, LIGAMENTS AND FASCIA.

By putting my client back at the centre of my treatments, focusing on their symptoms, their needs, and their goals, my massage career began to make sense again. I’m good with people. I’m less good at remembering which is semimembranosus and which is semitendinosus.

Where to from here?

I describe myself as an “intuitive massage therapist”. That means I listen to my clients when they tell me where their pain or discomfort is, speak with them about what’s happening in their life, what their pain is preventing them from doing and suggest ways to return to what they enjoy, all while using massage techniques that had actually stood me in good stead for 15 years – I mean, I must have been doing something right because I was helping my clients during that time.

It’s a continuing education. David Butler says you need to have your metaphors, which can be tricky because they aren’t a one-size-fits-all deal. But, I am building up my collection and when a client reacts positively to my new metaphors, I use them again.

I’ve stopped worrying that I don’t have 50 billion tools in my toolbox. I understand the skills that I’ve always had were working, just not how I’d always believed them to work.

And my diary got busier.

* The Trigger Point debunking occurred afterwards. My manual is now used to raise up my computer monitor.

About the Author

Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but discovering job satisfaction came from helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller, who daydreams of walking across France again.

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  1. Karenlee Thompson
    07/02/2018 - 12:59 pm

    What a fabulously entertaining piece Sharon. And I love the term ‘intuitive massage therapist’. Listening, palpating, understanding: very important skills. Remembering which of the semis is which reminded me of something funny. The first two ‘alien’ words I learnt at college were the gastrocnemius and the sternocleidomastoid so when a lecturer pointed to the SCM and asked me what it was called, I very excitedly said – you guessed it – gastrocnemius. The class erupted!

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