Are you a massage mentor, supervisor or coach?T Let's look at a few examples from individuals who provide this valuable guidance.

Are you a mentor, supervisor or coach?

These terms have overlapping definitions, but let’s define each one and look at a few examples from individuals who provide this valuable guidance.


Homer’s ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey, chronicles the 20 years of Ulysses’ fights and journeys away from his home and family. During those decades, his son was under the watchful and guiding eye of – wait for it- Mentor. From this classical character, we now call anyone who is a positive, guiding influence in another (usually younger) person’s life a mentor.

Oncology massage therapy educator and mentor Tracy Walton, LMT, recently described her mentoring offerings as follows:

“I provide a structured mentoring program for guiding oncology massage therapists forward on many aspects of their careers, most specifically focusing on clinical thinking skills,” Walton said. “Outreach/marketing, and cultivating inner resilience for the work. Oncology massage therapy requires massage therapists to be present with people during and after a painful health crisis.”

“I ask the kinds of questions that cultivate the ability to do so with compassion, deep reflection, and even joy,” she said. “Students often join the program hoping to begin a massage therapy practice from scratch or hoping to increase their oncology work in an already existing practice.”

“My Oncology Massage Therapy Advanced Mentoring Program is live and online, currently twice per year,” she said. “It includes small group class meetings for eight weeks spaced over about three months.”

“At the end I provide a one-on-one coaching session for each participant,” she said. “There is weekly homework and rotating partner work, and I provide written feedback on each assignment.”

George Russell, DC, and bodyworker, offers a more therapist-driven mentoring format somewhat like a supervision group.

“Those whom I mentor don’t work for me,” he explains. “I work for them. I help them define their own goals: what they want to accomplish, with whom, and by what means. Based on their goals, I help them to develop strategies to evolve, and ways of knowing whether and when they are achieving their goals.

“Through my observation, the responses of their peers, and their reports on their work with clients,” he said, “I help them to identify their weaknesses and to use their strengths to counter pitfalls.”

“Group work with peer ‘clients’ offers them support from colleagues who observe and magnify what they do well,” he said. “Ultimately, they decide what does and doesn’t work for them, and they do a final evaluation of themselves.”

This is similar to the mentoring that I offer online and in-person both to intimate groups of massage therapists/bodyworkers and also one-on-one.

I tackle members’ most pressing professional questions and concerns asking the tough questions and having focused discussion, brainstorming, problem solving, action plan development, precise demonstrations, and/or supervised practice, as needed.

It is dynamic, in-the-moment learning, and a particularly energizing synergy often occurs as one therapist’s questions and issues overlap another’s. Because it is more therapist than content driven, my mentoring could also be called practice supervision.


It is expected that psychotherapists and others in the “helping professions” engage the services of another counselor or psychotherapist to review their client work, professional development, and their personal responses to the emotional intensity inherent in their work.

These types of supervisors are not in a managerial role; the supervisor acts not as a “boss,” but as a consultant and guide. Some use group or peer supervision, in which several therapists confer on each other’s work.

Because of the prevalence in counseling professions, there is a wealth of information and resources on the various models of supervision as well as some research on its outcomes.

While our scope of practice is different from counselors’ there are aspects of supervision that translate well to therapeutic massage and bodywork. Diana Panara, MSW, and New Orleans-based somatic educator and bodyworker, has this to say about supervision:

“I loved this deep tradition in my social work training so much that I have been a great advocate of it in massage and bodywork, though it is rarely desired in our field, except by the very best, except by the seekers,” Panara said.

“In my groups we are taking the time to debrief, to mentally process the many things that happen in a massage therapist’s workday, and to put into words what was elicited in the therapist,” she said.

“They are sharing and being received by others in the field, gaining insights from colleagues and from my 40-year career,” she said. “We are talking out confusions that may arise in practice and listening to tales from the treatment room.”

“Sometimes we are practicing new techniques, brushing up on old ones, and even creating combined approaches to bodymind,” she said. “With such consideration comes a deeper intention and focus and a support network for a lasting career.”

Colleagues, including others providing integrative healthcare, can also be potent resources for supervision. A former massage therapist and now doula and educator, Nekole Shapiro of Seattle, originally developed a method she calls Holistic Peer Counseling for birthworkers.

“I was upset by the number of birth workers who were burning out from what I saw as secondary trauma,” she explains. “The Holistic Peer Counseling structure provides trained/structured peer support and tools that increase emotional intelligence and resilience.

“It also generates a community of people with whom to practice,” she said. “This, of course, means that participants can have more career longevity and be better prepared to show up for any emotional material that may occur with their clients.”

Kathryn Julia, her mother and long-time massage therapist and educator in Honolulu, has adapted Holistic Peer Counseling for her massage therapy students with great success.


The earliest usage of “coach” as a person rather than as a vehicle of transportation is in Oxford University slang of the 1830s referring to a tutor who carried a student through to completion of a course exam.

Athletic coaches now are pervasive in all levels of sports, and you can hire a coach for just about any endeavor from business, financial, career development to spiritual and personal evolution.

While mentors and supervisors are more relationship oriented, coaches tend to be more task-focused, though certainly not impersonal.

Because specific skills or outcomes are often desired, a coach is likely to set or suggest goals for the learner; measuring performance periodically as the learner develops new skills.

“Coaching provides support for you in resolving problems and provides suggestions to implement change for a more efficient, vital and flourishing business,” said Cherie Sohnen-Moe, author of Business Mastery and a sought-after business coach.

“Creating a dynamic business on your own is a challenging process. Mastering the skills needed to bring your business to the public can take a long time if you are working alone,” she said. “To become as consummate in business as you are in technique requires learning an entirely different set of skills that personal coaching can accelerate and support.”

So, who are you going to call? Here’s a comparison chart summarizing some of the distinctions between mentoring, supervision and coaching.

Carole Osborne, CMT, 2008 AMTA National Teacher of the Year, has a practice focused on facilitating individuals’ somato-emotional integration, particularly related to childbearing, trauma and nurturing. She is author of Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy, Second Edition, and Deep Tissue Sculpting, Second Edition, a contributing author to Teaching Massage Therapy, and a widely sought after continuing education provider, practice supervisor and mentor. She wrote “Successful Massage Therapists Don’t Go It Alone: Learn How a Mentor Can Contribute to Career Longevity” for MASSAGE Magazine’s August 2018 issue.