If you have been practicing massage for a while, you know your service can come with a price: burnout.
Physical pain, sore thumbs, the inability to perform enough sessions to earn a living and having enough time to recuperate are a few realities massage therapists face.
In order to build a thriving practice, you have to dedicate yourself to personal and business self-care strategies that ensure you will perform at your best and thrive in your career.
Some of your massage colleagues are here to help you on this self-care journey.
Massage Student and Massage Mentor
Tori Koerner and Chuck Haehlen, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B.
Even when my daughter, Tori Koerner, 24, was a massage student at Lexington Healing Arts Academy in Lexington, Kentucky, she knew it was important to practice self-care techniques tp will ensure he health.
She found a massage mentor, Chuck Haehlen, 65, who has been instrumental in helping her as she begins her career in massage.
Having suffered from migraines since she was a teenager and finding that massage helped alleviate her symptoms, Tori made the decision to become a therapist so she could help others. For her, it is not just a career path, it’s a passion, and she knows it’s what she wants to do with her life.
Chuck received his massage license in 2008 after retiring from the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, he was our mailman and was influenced by the massage mail we received. He was fortunate the teachers and education he received early in his career placed a strong focus on career longevity, and he has not experienced any symptoms of burnout.
Tori admitted she has not heard much about burnout. She did say her teachers want her to use her arms and elbows so she can save her hands—but because of what she’s learned from Chuck, she knows she will burn out quickly if she doesn’t take care of herself and follow proper body mechanics.
Establishing a mentor early in a massage career can be vital in sustaining a practitioner through challenging times. Chuck works with University of Kentucky athletes, has his own practice and is a full-time caregiver for his young granddaughter. He still finds time to work with Tori to help her develop.
“I keep myself available for Tori and try to be responsive to her questions while not interfering with the educational process,” he explained. ” I reinforce for her the importance of body mechanics and help her fine-tune her techniques.”
Chuck said that education is key to success in the massage field.
“I take over 100 hours each year of continuing education, and while I know everyone cannot do this, I encourage therapists to keep learning and focus as much as you can on body mechanics,” he said.
Tori shared a personal story about their connection: “Chuck has been my surrogate dad for a long time and he has personally helped me in developing my skills in becoming a massage therapist.
He is someone I call with questions about the profession. He has shown me some great ‘tricks’ to help benefit a client if they are looking for specific help with things I personally am unsure about. He has been great in both roles and I am so thankful to have him in my life. He is my Yoda and I am his Luke Skywalker.”
Chuck said he hopes when Tori starts her career, she finds a good work environment that offers a support system for self-care and client concerns. (Download the free New Practitioner eBook, The Blueprint for a Successful Massage Career.)
Tori is not sure yet where she wants to work in the future, but she has made the following commitments:
I will be aware of my body mechanics and make sure to do the work correctly.
I will use as many non-harmful techniques as possible, utilizing my other tools instead of my thumbs, like my elbows and forearms.
I will take yoga classes to maintain flexibility and movement; the stronger my core is the better my flow is going to be as a therapist.
The Mid-Career Massage Therapist
Benjamin “Ben” Stone, L.M.T.
Five years into his massage career, Ben Stone was ready to quit. Not only did his thumbs hurt, he was having a hard time making ends meet. After attending a body mechanics and no-thumbs deep tissue workshop, he left inspired. Ben decided to try those practices to make his massage career work.
His commitment expanded beyond this specific focus on massage and into his overall health. A few years ago, he and his girlfriend realized they both needed to lose weight and become healthier. They started by drinking a gallon of water each day and tracking their food intake.
Seeing progress, they began to minimize processed foods and committed to a regular fitness routine. He said they focused on the quality of their actions and tried to make choices they could adhere to for the rest of their journey.
Today, having lost and kept off 65 pounds and thriving in his massage practice, Ben still sticks to regular exercise and receives massage regularly. Throughout the day, he practices mindfulness and meditation.
These efforts, and his renewed attention to career longevity, allow him to continue to do up to 25 deep tissue massages each week.
He hopes his story of well-being and weight loss can inspire others. “My thumbs do not hurt anymore and I only use them for palpation,” he said. “It is possible to do deeper work and not blow out your thumbs.”
Another aspect of Ben’s growth has been his willingness to learn more about the business of massage. He recently made the move to open his own center and now contracts other therapists.
“Part of the process of learning is being grateful for both failures and triumphs as they both teach valuable lessons,” Ben said. He recognizes he will have to continue to learn more about business and looks forward to this added responsibility.
Ben has some advice for massage therapists: “I would encourage practitioners to work smarter, not harder, and to focus on the type of massage they enjoy the most. Most importantly, get regular massage to stay healthy.”
The Seasoned Massage Therapist
Gayle “Mya” Breman, L.C.S.W., L.M.T., C.S.T.-D.
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
She decided to attend massage school to further her knowledge of noninvasive therapies and in 2003 she began practicing massage—first treating clients very traditionally and then, as she evolved, she began to hone her niche and started practicing primarily CranioSacral Therapy.
At 73, Mya is committed to staying healthy with a regular routine of exercise. Whether it’s working out in the pool or walking three miles several times a week, she keeps moving. For her, this creates more energy and clarity of mind.
“Movement is life, and if I have fallen off and I’m not practicing what I preach, I try to get back on track by eating healthy foods and drinking lots of water each day,” she said.
Mya’s practice is very unique in that she also holds a license as a clinical social worker and has created her own branded practice called BodyPsychology.
“I blend noninvasive therapies such as CranioSacral, lymphatic, visceral [manipulation] and Zero Balancing therapies along with everything I’ve learned as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I love working with clients in this way and helping them find some form of resolution in their body, mind, emotion or spirit,” she said.
“This gentle, hands-on blending of work keeps me from burning out as it’s always new and exciting to me.”
Focusing on her long-term health by performing less active work, she is able to continue treating about 20 clients each week. Mya looks forward to her future in the massage field wherever that might take her.
“I believe I can do this gentle, intelligent work for as long as I can sit in a chair and have my wits about me,” she said. “While I love and respect traditional manual massage therapy, it can take a toll on the body.”
Mya exemplifies the potential to thrive in a massage career for many years. “Explore less vigorous forms of massage and always be inspired and energized by your work,” she suggested. “Listen to your inner physician and trust your gut when it comes to how you practice massage.”
As a massage therapist, you chose a path that is dedicated to helping others. On this journey, ensure you place as much effort into taking care of yourself. The world needs your healthy touch now more than ever.
About the Author
Debra Koerner is the co-founder of imassage Inc., a massage education and consulting firm dedicated to helping therapists extend their careers. A wellness business consultant and writer, Koerner is also the author of Success from the Start, a text for massage schools. imassage’s video, “Intelligent Deep Tissue Massage,” includes signature no-thumbs deep tissue techniques, body mechanics and client experience training. She wrote “How to Be Your Best: Building Confidence in Your Professional and Personal Life” for massagemag.com.
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