Maintaining the Joy of Massage

Nobody needs reminding how challenging 2020 has been. Massage therapists across the globe have realised that their occupation has gone from minimal risk to high risk. Those of us able to practice are on constant alert for risks and risk mitigation. We’ve become pseudo-virologists, epidemiologists and infection controlologists. We’re adept at mask wearing and instructing clients how to put on a mask. We have taken our already immense skill at laundry and upped our game.

But we’ve also lost some darn fine massage therapists from the industry. Those who realised that their massaging days were over; who have moved on to an early retirement, a new career or new studies.

Being a massage therapist in a pandemic is tough.

I had been reflecting on how to keep myself motivated and maintain my job satisfaction when a regular client came into the treatment room. She was pregnant, in the final week before her due date and as I was working, I saw bubs squirming around.

“I’ll never get sick of that sight while I’m massaging a pregnant client,” I thought, smiling under my mask. It truly is an honour to help clients at the different stages of their lives.

I wondered if other massage therapists had moments like this, so I asked around.

Youjung Suh, Brisbane QLD

It will be when my client brings me a challenge. Some people are really good at what their body is going through and when they give all the resources to work on, that’s when my brain and hands are having a party to find the source of the problem. When both client and I can see the result, that’s definitely the moment of ‘aw’, I did good and tap on the shoulder. But mostly, when I become part of their life journey doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. At the moment, I have a client who is going through cancer treatment. It breaks my heart to see her but at the same time I am so happy and honoured to be able to be there for her.

Jodee Shead, Echuca, NSW

It was after my first holiday. In my previous employment as a nurse, I used to have anxiety attacks a few days before going back to work after a holiday. But now when I take holidays or a break, I am very happy to start work again. That told me for the first time that having a job was more than just having a job. I love my profession and it always surprises me when I tell someone how long I have been a massage therapist. 19yrs and I still love it.

Ian Harvey, Alabama, USA

My favorite thing is watching a therapeutic relationship expand outward into all sorts of positive secondary outcomes. For instance, I had a client with fairly severe hip pain who not only saw improvement from the massage sessions, but who also (over the course of 6 months) started seeing a physical therapist and doing daily yoga, all based on our conversations. I don’t even do daily yoga! I enjoy playing the role of wellness cheerleader and helping people be a more active participant in their injury recovery.

Hayley Boyce, Mount Barker, SA

It was 2014. I had volunteered to provide seated massage for carer’s of disabled family members.  There was a lady who took a lot of convincing to have a massage.  She was very nervous and highly sensitive to the sound of hair crunching she told me, so anything on her head was not something she thought she would like. Twelve months passed and we crossed paths again at another pamper day. She came over to apologise for not contacting me, took my card and said I will call you and organise a time to see you. She was true to her word and 4 weeks later, she came to my home clinic and had a seated massage. She rebooked, and after a couple more massages, I convinced her to try some oil-based massage on her neck and shoulders. After a couple of those, she was ready to try a massage on the table and booked in for a 30-minute back massage and that was her moment of realising how great massage can be. 5 years on, she has progressed from a 30-minute massage to a 60-minute appointment every 6-8 weeks. I’ve been able to provide her with care, a gentle touch and remedial work to help her remain mobile as her body becomes weary from all the wonderful volunteer work she does.

Ian Lim, Melbourne, Vic

It was during the late stages of my Remedial Massage course when a friend called to see if I could help her with her sore back. She was quite desperate as the pain was also preventing her from sleeping. I had doubts about whether I could help manage her pain particularly after she had been to her GP and an AHP. I treated her anyway for over an hour and the transformation was incredible. The look on her face when she was able to move with very little pain was priceless. She slept very well that night. It was wonderful to get a sense that the work we do can make a difference.

What About Me?

Be gentle with yourself, just like you’d be with a client who’s going through hard times.

Finding joy in nature (image: Sharon Livingstone)

Tim Clark’s article last week on panic attacks was a good one, right? I have experience of a panic attack in my clinic room, except it wasn’t my client, it was me having the panic attack. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. I started to see a counsellor not long after when I realised that I needed to be better at managing my own mental health. I find going for long walks in the bush, surrounded by trees and lizards and birds and all that wonderful nature really helps me to think and plan and rest my brain.

What do other massage therapists do to take care of their mental health?

Youjung Suh

I walk, stretch and Netflix (haha aren’t we all XD). But mostly I do open eye meditation while gardening, cleaning and cooking. Reflect and be honest with my feelings. Is it what I’m feeling? Or did I pick it up from the client? If I’m sad, I will cry; if I’m happy, I will laugh out loud. I believe addressing my own emotions and expressing them to let it out is what keeps me going. Sounds ridiculously simple but not always easy to confront how vulnerable I am after all. Plus, I have a beautiful dog, Cleo. Her greeting is just pure joy and my end of the day retreat.

I am still staying in touch with my mentor Maria. We catch up a lot less than before but I find having someone who goes through a similar situation and same industry definitely makes the world of the difference to know that I am not the only one feeling a certain way!

Read more about Youjung and Maria’s mentoring partnership in “It Was Like Magic”.

Jodee Shead

I like to paint and dance. I have just started to learn tap dancing this year. I keep myself busy with life, without burning out. I used to play lots of sports, but as age is creeping up that has slowed down. The rule of thumb is to always take time for yourself doing what you want to do at least once a week. As much as I love to work, I also love to take holidays. My rule has always been to have at least one holiday planned for the following year. Unfortunately this year’s was cancelled.

Ian Harvey

I see a psychiatrist and stay active, but the most important tool for maintaining my mental wellness as a massage therapist was to let go of trying to have the “right mindset”. I hear people talk about bringing positive energy to the treatment room or having a “success mindset” etc., and it was helpful for me to stop putting that pressure on myself. Some months I’m just depressed, and during those times, I trust my hands to know what to do. Be gentle with yourself, just like you’d be with a client who’s going through hard times.

Check out Ian’s tips, tricks and tutorials on his YouTube channel – Massage Sloth.

Hayley Boyce

Mental wellness, as I like to call it, doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s the conscious decision-making to block out areas in my appointment diary to make me not take client appointments which has helped me get some balance. I use my diary not just for work but personal time too. I write in times so I can fit walks in my week, attend the gym or meet up with a friend for a coffee. Once a month I organise a walk/coffee catch up morning with a physiotherapist friend of mine and we try to get a few other friends to join us too. It’s a great opportunity for her and I to chat about work worries or bounce ideas off of each other. Just having someone else to chat with in a similar field who understands the energy drain you can feel is great.

My daily moments to support my mental wellness are spending time in my garden and taking a moment to pause. I take a cuppa and wander outside for a few minutes most mornings. Just soaking in the quietness of the beginning of the day with the birds is nice. On top of these outdoor moments, regular stretching/yoga at home 3-4 times a week.

My final thing is giving myself permission to take a break from clients for a few days once every 12/16 weeks, in addition to a couple of weeks holidays a year.

Ian Lim

It helps when you are married to a Clinical Psychologist! I have made a conscious effort to enjoy my hobbies, prepare lavish meals for my family, go for walks and call friends to check they are doing okay. Basically focusing on things within my control and not worrying about things that are not.

What about you? What brings you joy as a massage therapist? What do you do to take care of your mental health and wellbeing?

Thank you Youjung, Jodee, Ian H, Hayley and Ian L for giving your time and sharing your thoughts.

This article was compiled by Sharon Livingstone as part of National Mental Health Month. Find out more about events and forums here.

If you have an article you’d like to write for AMT’s blog, please send us an email.

Cover image: Flannel flowers ©Sharon Livingstone 2020

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