by Charlotte Michael Versagi, L.M.T.
it ok for me to sell products, like candles and oils, to my clients?
What about things like herbs and vitamins?"
hot packs, candles, oils and other products can go a long way toward
keeping clients on track with self-care, and many massage therapists
offer products for sale. Whether it's OK to do so depends on two
main points: intent and legality.
As with many issues in our field, the
massage therapist's intent is central to this question, according
to Sari Spieler, L.M.P., who is co-founder of the Northwest Coalition
of Massage Educators, a massage consultant and an ethics instructor
in practice-management courses.
"Massage therapists who are considering
selling products need to ask themselves, 'What is my relationship
with the client? Is my focus to be a health-care provider or a resource
person, a product supplier or retail specialist? Why am I selling
products? Do I believe in them?'" Spieler says.
The basic question of "What am
I selling and why?" is easy to answer when compared to the
larger question of "In what state of impressionability is my
client when I attempt to make the sale," according to Spieler.
She says that when you make the decision to try to sell something,
you must make sure the client is not in a vulnerable state. She
also says you should ask yourself two additional questions: "Is
there a clear power differential between the client and myself right
now?" and "Am I setting the client up to take my advice
because of his/her present need, rather than the service I am supposed
to be providing?"
Spieler says the consideration of any
product's sale should always be based on the clients' interests,
needs and vulnerabilities. For example, if you find yourself trying
to sell an herbal eye pillow to someone trying to heal from a car
accident, you might want to question your motives, she says.
"If the client is clothed and
not in a vulnerable state and what you are selling is more educational
in nature ... then you are more likely to offer something about
which the client can make a decision that is in their best interest,"
Selling products - specifically, health-and-wellness
items - because your clients can't find them elsewhere would fall
on the positive side of this argument, according to Spieler. "Herbal
eye pillows or bottles of massage oils or aromatherapy products
fall into this 'hard to find' category," Spieler says. "In
my case, I make ice packs available to my clients who are going
through injury recovery because I've got more of a therapeutically
Spieler also says it's vital to research
laws regarding the sale of products in your state, and in regard
to your scope of practice. Therapists need to do their homework
regarding local business ordinances and their own states' massage-licensing
David Kent, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., has
run a successful practice in Deltona, Florida, for 11 years. His
Muscular Pain Relief Center employs nine therapists; most of his
referrals come from physicians and chiropractors; and he has a Web
site on which he counsels massage therapists about business practices.
Kent agrees with Spieler that there are ethical, legal, business
and monetary issues involved in a therapist's decision to sell products.
Kent believes there are many products
on the market that are beneficial to his clients, but he says that
before a massage therapist begins selling products, she or he should
ask three questions.
The first question is, "Am I properly
trained to sell this product?" If not, doing so could be illegal,
Kent says. He cites nutritional supplements as one example of a
product that he, as a massage therapist, cannot legally sell to
clients under Florida massage licensure.
"In Florida, I can't even tell
you to take an aspirin because that's not what my massage license
says," he explains.
The second question is, "Is it
worth having money and time tied up in inventory and bookwork?"
If you sell products, you have to investigate your state's sales-tax
rules and register with the state.
"Once you register you must constantly
send in reports to the state, whether or not you sell anything from
that point forward," Kent says. "There's a lot of hassle
in reporting, and it takes a lot of time."
The third question is, "If I sell
products, is it going to hinder my referral base?"
"The doctors I market to don't
want to hear that I'm selling stuff; they frown upon that, in my
experience," Kent says. "My practice looks more legitimate
if I'm only selling therapy."
Finally, Kent counsels that massage
therapists be cautious about what he calls "bending our scope
"The medical industry recognizes
that massage therapy can sometimes overstep our bounds," he
says. "I make sure I can go to the doctors who refer to me
and tell them, 'Don't worry; if you send me a patient, they aren't
going to come back to you with special pillows, vitamins or creams.
All you're going to hear from me is about their progress.'"
- Charlotte Michael Versagi, L.M.T.,
N.C.T.M.B., is a journalist and a massage therapist who specializes
in manual lymph drainage and work with clients with cancer.