The Lonely Massage Therapist
By Liz Sharkey
Hi, my name is Liz. I’m a massage therapist, wife, mum and business owner. And I am lonely.
When I studied massage, no one warned me it can be such a lonely experience. All my treatment sessions were conducted in a student clinic with lots of other therapists there. We bounced ideas around, discussed client presentations, debated the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of our favourite techniques. We could have a laugh and, most importantly, by being with like-minded people, my confidence built.
Then came solo practice.
First year out, I realised how little I really knew. A client would say, “I’ve got a sore X, Y or Z” and I would start to second-guess the right test to use to assess them and what the recommended treatment protocol was. I used the good old “fake it until you make it” principal in those early years. I missed having other therapists around to bounce ideas off.
And I missed the chance to chat in the workplace.
I left a retail career when I had kids and by the time they reached school age, I had almost lost the ability to conduct an adult conversation. That’s when I started my massage career. I’m not one to chat during a treatment session, short of seeking feedback, and I’ve found this leaves an awful lot of quiet time in my day where I just miss the chance to use my words.
So, I decided to actively seek some solutions to being lonely.
Embrace the Internet
I am a member of a lot of Facebook groups. Everything from the AMT private group through to local community noticeboards and buy/swap/sell sites.
If you’re on Facebook, type “(town/suburb) community noticeboard” in the search bar and join a few local ones.
On LinkedIn? Search for “massage” under groups and join a few. It’s also a good way to connect with other massage therapists locally and globally.
Groups are not just for marketing your business. Treat the online groups as your local hang out. I’ve been known to have a “coffee date” with a therapist in Far North Queensland from my lounge room while we discuss complex client presentations and get marketing ideas from someone 1000km away.
Don’t be afraid to start your own little group either. On Facebook it’s super easy. I manage two groups at the moment: one that focuses on compliance for Australian Massage Therapists and one for mums who massage. You can make them private and invite others around you to join, making it easy to build a community and share information.
Some of the best advice I have heard is “don’t treat other therapists in your area as competition, treat them as colleagues”.
Watch for local therapists to pop up on your feed and don’t be too shy to say hello. When they do pop up, I sometimes send them a PM (private message). I just say hi and let them know I’m in the business too. I might even “like” their post or send them a message to say their ad looks good or their clinic photos turned out great. We all like to be noticed.
If they answer, we may chat online for a while. We talk about what we do, industry news, business support etc. If we seem to click and they are nearby, we sometimes catch up for a coffee. At the very least, we know each other’s face when we pass at the shops and can do that little nod of acknowledgement. At best, we click and become an awesome resource for each other to support and build both of our businesses.
If the whole internet thing scares you a little, connect with local therapists the old way. Knock on their door or call or send a text and introduce yourself.
If you can, organise a massage swap. This is a great way to build trust with other therapists, share knowledge and if you are on holidays or can’t fit a client into your schedule, it is always great to have someone to refer to (which works both ways).
Don’t limit yourself to massage therapists. My local physio runs some awesome free information sessions at her clinic. Not only am I building some great networks with her and her team but I also get useful continuing education when I attend her info sessions.
Local councils also often have small business groups where you can meet other business owners in your area, and some places also have a local branch of the chamber of commerce. Google “small business network” in your area and all sorts of places to make friends pop up.
AMT host networking meetings for local therapists – members and non-members. Find a local group here and if you can’t find one there, email AMT Head Office to find out if a group is happening in your area.
The possibilities are endless.
Connect on a national level through those massage specific and small business groups.
If you are in these groups, there’s a fair chance you’ve seen my name pop up. If someone asks a question and I know the answer, I respond and encourage everyone else to do the same. We all have something to contribute.
If someone has a specific issue that I know I can help with, I might suggest they message me. It’s all about that initial connection.
I now have friends all around the country. I chat to therapists from outback sheep stations to the mountains of Tasmania. I recently met a new massage friend when I was on my family holiday.
I find Facebook and LinkedIn to be the most useful platforms for making these initial connections.
You Are an Asset
Don’t underestimate what you have to give.
Been around the industry for a while? You’ve encountered all sorts of presentations and no doubt made many mistakes along the way. Reach out to a new graduate and help build their confidence and help them be aware of some of the pitfalls of the industry.
New graduate? You’re up to date on rules, regulations and emerging trends, and have excitement and enthusiasm for the industry. Reach out to an “old timer” and bring them up to speed on what is currently being taught at the colleges.
I often have therapists contact me out of the blue to say, “what do you think about this?”, “did I do this right?”, “what else can I try” or “how do I find out this information?”
Trust me. Few things put a smile on my face quicker than having a rural therapist ring for a quick consult while their client is getting ready in the treatment room.
I may not always have the answer but I’ve always got your back.
AMT runs a mentoring programme that connects experienced therapists with those keen to learn more. Details on getting involved in the next round of the programme will be announced in next week’s blog.
Not Connecting is OK too
Understand that not everyone will want to be your friend/colleague. I’m not offended if I get the “thanks but no thanks” response or no response at all. It’s not personal and if they don’t want to connect, that’s fine.
My goal is to connect with therapists in towns all over the country. When I’m out on a road trip, or travelling interstate, I can bunny hop from town to town, and travel the country one cup of tea/glass of wine at a time.
Still feeling lonely?
That’s OK, but don’t wait for others to notice. I’ve been hiding for years.
Don’t wait for your association to schedule a local network meeting. Guess what! You can do that on your own and it doesn’t just have to be with other association members (and it doesn’t have to be for continuing education points).
If all else fails and you aren’t feeling fulfilled, don’t be afraid to look outside massage to meet your needs. I’ve recently started a new job – just 1 day a week – that makes me get out and meet new people face-to-face and actually have real conversations. Another therapist I know works 1 day a week as a barista, just so she has the chance to chat with people. It can also be helpful to have a non-hands-on-massage source of income.
Massage does not have to be your life. It’s all about balance and the more people you have helping you do that and the more diverse your connections, the more rewarding this profession can be.
What has worked for you in avoiding the loneliness of being a massage therapist?
About the Author
Liz Sharkey has been a Remedial Therapist for 12+ years. She gets excited by rules, regulations and checklists. With a finger in many pies, Liz currently does corporate massage on the side while running her compliance training through www.massagetrainingaustralia as well as visiting RTOs around Victoria and developing online resources as part of her new job with Firm-n-Fold Massage Equipment.