The Top 10 of Being a Massage Therapist
It’s easy to get caught up in the glamour of being a massage therapist. It’s equally easy to feel as though you’ve forgotten how to be a massage therapist. Perhaps you’ve hit a career crisis or maybe you’re fresh out of massage school and want to know how other MTs get the most out of their massage therapy career.
We asked a bunch of wise massage therapists what the foundations of being a massage therapist were to them. The resultant avalanche of wisdom is a soothing balm for all therapists.
1. MASSAGE THERAPY HAS ITS LIMITATIONS
Liz Sharkey: Massage therapists can’t “fix” everything, sometimes you need to encourage a client to work with what they can do. Don’t throw every technique and every “tool in your tool box” at a client. Try one thing, reassess, if it works – great, if it doesn’t, try something else next time. Not every technique or tool will work for every person or every presentation.
(Read Liz’s article What is Success?)
Hayley Boyce: Do not be afraid to refer on. We do ourselves and our industry an injustice if we don’t recognise when our experience and skills are not enough.
2. VALUE YOUR$ELF
Michelle McKerron: One way to value yourself as a therapist is to factor in ALL the costs associated with your therapy into your rates. For example, accountancy fees, continued education, uniform requirements, petrol, equipment.
(Dave Moore’s How to Set a Price for Massage is essential reading for all massage therapists.)
Tara Goulding: Don’t be afraid of making money. Almost all of us work in order to earn money to pay bills and (hopefully) play a little, and Massage Therapists are no exception. For some reason, there seems to be a trend in various “healing” industries that dictates if you really want to help people, you should charge them very little or nothing at all for your services. The argument that we should give away our skills and knowledge, which cost us a pretty penny to acquire and keep, is ridiculous – Massage Therapists have as much right as anyone else in our society to earn a living without feeling like we’re somehow being unethical for charging market rates. The client clearly values our services, we certainly value their money – sounds like a win-win to me!
3. CLIENT FOCUS
Tim Clark: Your relationships with clients are at least as important as anything you do with your hands. Sometimes it might be preferable to do something less ‘clinically justifiable’ if it means maintaining a positive relationship with a client. Well-intentioned but overzealous ‘expertise’ may be more alienating than endearing.
Jenny Hanlan: Set your intention to provide the best treatment you are able to give for each client. Particularly if your client is a regular, you tend not to listen to what is going on that day and assume whatever treatment you provide will do. We need to be mindful of what questions we ask and then really listen to the answers.
Sam McCracken: “First do no harm” is the underlying ethical rule of modern medicine. I would question the utility of a massage treatment that has the patient all tensed up in pain or left with bruises and tissue damage. There are many ways we can hurt people: our words are potentially hurtful and self-awareness is needed to keep our patients safe from harm.
(Read Sam’s article Does That Feel Tight?)
Hayley Boyce: Even if you have heard it all before or you’re running late, the client standing before you has chosen you, so you need to listen. It could be their first appointment or their 10th. Make them feel listened to, assess and explain your treatment to them so they know why you decided to do that left shoulder when they said their right hip was sore.
4. SELF CARE
Takako Jawor: Self care. Self care. Self care. Looking after physical and mental health is the most important point for me as a therapist. Being mindful of what’s coming inside of the body – diet, clean air, what to hear, what to see, exercise, meditation. Awareness of posture/movements during massage and daily life. Having a mentor or a therapist friend who can talk any issues that sticks to me regarding work/life in general. Entertain myself when signs of burnout starts to appear.
Hayley Boyce: Enjoy your work. The work is hard on the body, look after yourself, get a regular massage, eat well and rest. We spend a lot of time hovering around a massage table so get yourself moving outside of the work space often.
Yanca Neut: Pay attention to your own mental wellbeing as we become ‘sound boards’ creating a trusting environment for our clients to relax and unwind. Pay attention to your body position, weight transfer, balance, don’t place overly stress on all joints and tissues as we provide our therapies and modules.
Michelle McKerron: Reflect often. Pick a time that suits you, maybe annually (New Year’s break, your business anniversary, a long weekend when you can make time for this specific task) and really reflect on your progress, your needs and your future. Call it your annual review!
Jenny Hanlan: Learn/research/practice/learn/research/practice – No this is not a cracked recorded but a mantra. There is a mind blowing amount of information out there – we cannot know it all. Learn a new skill, do some research on its effects, record client notes on changes then practice.
Takako Jawor: Keep being interested in something more than I already know – keep studying the area that I am interested in. Learn from other therapists, in any modality.
6. INTEGRITY AND RESPECT
Tara Goulding: Integrity is everything. The personal nature of our work as Massage Therapists means this is super important. Given the power dynamic of a client-therapist relationship, it’s up to us to always act ethically and honestly, no matter what. This includes integrity in our advertising and marketing – for example, don’t say or imply that massage will cure a disease when you know darn well it can’t, be honest with your qualifications, etc. In a society where there seems to be a massage business on every corner, make your professionalism stand out.
7. BE HUMBLE
Tim Clark: Be humble and curious. Often the best thing I can do for a client is ask questions. The moment I feel like I have “the answer” to a client’s problem, I have to remind myself of the myriad other possible explanations that exist, and go back to asking questions. My clients’ minds and bodies are far more complex than I can possibly comprehend in a pre-treatment assessment.
Tara Goulding: Don’t be afraid of not knowing it all. We know a lot of stuff – anatomy and physiology, pathology, biomechanics, even a bit of psychology thrown in, and that’s not even touching the business side of things. However, we cannot possibly know the answer to every clients every question or issue. If a client asks you a curly question that you’re not sure about, don’t be afraid to tell them that you can’t answer with certainty right now and you’ll research it and let them know what you found (but please don’t just Google – use legitimate sources).
8. PACK AWAY THE EGO
Tim Clark: Don’t try to be all things to all clients.
(Read Tim’s Are Massage Therapists a Bunch of Losers.)
Liz Sharkey: Do not take it personally if a client doesn’t come back or rebook. It’s not all about you. You may have done the best massage of your life but it maybe that the client just does not want to rebook for any number of reasons that has nothing to do with you or your skills.
Daniel Wonnocott: If you find yourself blaming a client, you have an opportunity to improve. Client not doing their home care – What skills do you have to help get to the bottom of why and find alternatives that they might be more open to? Client complains that pressure wasn’t great – BUT I ASKED THEM!! How did you frame the question? Is there another way you could ask for that information? How can you address this with them?
Hayley Boyce: Don’t get sucked into the competition of how many clients you see in a week. Your circumstances, your treatments, your clients are not the same as the next therapist’s. Do your thing and make it work for you and that will make you the best therapist you can be.
9. BE OPEN TO ENDLESS LEARNING
Liz Sharkey: Massage is not a religion. New techniques or old techniques with new names come out all the time. When you do undertake training, remember “it is not the messiah”. It may be good, it may be able to be incorporated into your routine but don’t throw away all your years of experience because of the shiny new toy.
Sharon Livingstone: Not everything we learn has to be a hands-on treatment tool. There’s more to being a massage therapist than what we do with our hands. Pick a topic of interest (be that a condition, a theory or newly released research) and find out more, do a business course, speak to other therapists, go to a massage (or similar) conference, listen to podcasts. Stay curious and ask questions.
Jenny Richardson: Your brain is one of your greatest assets as a massage therapist. People love massage therapists for what our hands do. However, I believe it is so important that we use our brains in so many different ways. For example – to keep learning, keep reading, keep questioning. Don’t accept ANYTHING you read or even hear without thinking about it. If a client says something that might help us help them – think about what they have said and ask more questions. If someone on social media says “x” is true, whether it fits with your beliefs or not, don’t just accept it – at the very least think about it and see if it is useful in working with your clients. Sometimes I think people come into massage because they think they won’t have to think (perhaps they weren’t great at school, or they want a change from a high pressure job) – and then they get disillusioned with how much thinking / learning / brain work is actually involved in massage therapy. That’s a pity – because it’s the thinking part that makes this work fun and fulfilling. We are not factory workers on a process line – we are highly trained professionals, with education and critical thinking to be the base of our physical work. I feel like I have done a good day’s work if I am mentally tired at the end of a day – from problem solving, thinking, communicating, connecting, interacting, talking, questioning …
10. REMEMBER THE BASICS
Hayley Boyce: Put some planning into your appointments. Get your notes out the day before, read the last few treatment notes before the client arrives so you know what is happening for your client.
Yanca Neut: Being a good Massage Therapist provides great job satisfaction.
Sam McCracken: Learn the art of conversation – Our Code of Conduct as healthcare professionals prevents us from engaging in chit chat. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue a therapeutic relationship and conversation can be steered in the direction of uncovering a more complete understanding of our patients and potential barriers to recovery.
Daniel Wonnocott: Client satisfaction is important but it isn’t always a sound rationale or replacement for a well thought out treatment plan.
BEST OF THE REST
Michelle McKerron: It’s a small world – Be careful in your words and actions, in and out of your clinic, e.g. use extreme restraint in situations of gossip or road rage, as it could be the next client that walks in the door.
Sam McCracken: Consider the role of the nervous system – The nervous system gets very little coverage in our initial training. The study of pain and movement requires the study of the nervous system.
Daniel Wonnocott: Do you want to be an experience provider or a professional therapist who also provides a great experience? As professional therapists, it is important that our treatment approaches are supported with sound and valid reasoning rather than just providing a treatment that merely feels good or a client enjoys.
Yanca Neut: Self preservation is paramount (I don’t mean from a narcissistic point of view), but just look after yourself.
Sharon Livingstone: We treat humans, not anatomy. No two clients are the same: what got great results with one client may produce bad results for another. Take the time to get to know the individual and their requirements/goals and tailor the treatment for that individual, not solely for their anatomy.
Do you have a suggestion for a foundation of being a massage therapist that we’ve left out?