Since I began my massage therapist journey more than 17 years ago, I’ve had to come to terms with certain ins and outs of this business—both what people expect of me and what I expect of myself. There are a lot of modern myths associated with being in this healing field, some of which are best left to the history books. Any of these scenarios sound familiar?
I want it now
I’ve had clients get very upset because I wouldn’t see them after hours or drop what I was doing to squeeze them in. I cannot possibly be available for everyone at every time. It’s quite tempting in this profession to feel as if we must be there to help people. I agree that assisting people with their pain is very important, but we must set boundaries and reasonable business hours. And, I recommend sticking to them. There’s a temptation to fudge, “Just this one time,” or “Well, they really need me.” And the next thing you know, you are gone every evening and weekend. Stick to your guns; it will keep you happier and healthier.
I also suggest being very clear with clients about phone calls at home to chat about their condition or dropping by your office without an appointment. These things can really strain the relationship and take your valuable time away.
Show me the money
Money and healing has always been a rough combination. If you’re a sports celebrity or a lawyer, you can charge a lot of money. But some people think because we’re “healing,” we shouldn’t have a high wage. I’ve met therapists and lay people who have that opinion. We work hard, we pay rent, we have bills, we have lotion, sheets and training. We deserve to make a good living. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be generous with our talents, donating massage or giving discounts to those who can’t afford us, but we can’t feel guilty about expecting a fair income. I’d love to go back to the days where people in need show up at my hut with a chicken and some beads, but fowl doesn’t pay the bills. Charge what you are worth, you deserve it!
Unfortunately, sometimes the lines of demarcation are very close between healer and martyr. I have realized over the years that I can’t save everyone. Heck, I actually can’t save anyone that doesn’t want to save themselves; it’s not my responsibility. It is very frustrating when someone doesn’t take our advice or follow our simple instructions. We have to be able to separate ourselves from that and remember what our job is—to rub people. Sometimes it’s really hard to watch people we care about suffer, knowing there might be a simple solution, such as stretching or specific exercises. But remember, we can’t make them want to get better. If you feel bad about your clients or guilty or helpless, I suggest exploring that relationship to see which archetypal hat you are donning.
Don’t try to convince a client you are the only person that can help her. That action is ego-based and unethical. This doesn’t attest to your healing ability; it attests to your personality issues.
I hate to say it, but we are all expendable. If you think you are the only person that can help your clients and feel as if you are starting to dominate them, you need to examine your motives and rethink what your real intention is with them. Also, don’t expect that you will be able to help everyone. Sometimes referring a client to a different type of practitioner or another therapist is more beneficial for everyone.
Burn, baby burn
In all the professions I’ve come across, people in the health field tend to be more burned out than anyone else. This seems to be worn like a badge of honor. A tired therapist that tells everyone how drained and overworked she is gets a lot of attention from people. They think, “Wow, look how exhausted she is. She must be dedicated and really good.” We want to tell people we excel at what we do and are successful, but depleting all your energy isn’t the way to do it. I know we’re here to help, but we must protect ourselves at all costs and make ourselves our favorite client.
Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine
I read a lot about the wounded-healer archetype. Between Carolyn Myss, Jung and everything on the Internet, I got an earful. There are numerous practitioners in all healing fields that became interested in their field because of their own ailment—previous drug addicts who are now counselors, people who were injured and “saved” by their massage therapist. These stories are very common in our line of work.
We’ve all had negative things happen to us. And when they happen, I hope we can grow, evolve, learn from them and move on. If in the process we can help others, I think that is fabulous. But it concerns me when practitioners lead with their wounds and seem to make that experience what their whole existence is about. It’s tempting to share our lives with our clients, and I’ve had some therapists get way too personal with me way too fast! I can’t hear about your divorce, your ex-husband and your abusive boyfriend in the first 15 minutes of being on your table. There is a strong relationship that forms between client and therapist and information is shared. It’s almost unavoidable. And I know we bond through our wounds, but I would keep them to yourself and not burden your client with them. I encourage everyone to process their wounds and move past them and to help others move past theirs. We’ll all be happier and healthier for it.
I hope the world continues to view massage as a beneficial modality, growing in its respect for us as practitioners. Let’s help them by letting these myths fade into the massage sunset, with a gentle fountain and soft music in the background.
Kathy Gruver has been involved in natural health since 1990 and has a doctorate of Traditional Naturopathy. Gruver is a Medical Massage Therapist, Natural Health Consultant, Reiki Master and Birth Assistant. She is currently pursuing a masters and doctorate in Natural Health. Gruver owns Healing Circle Massage in Santa Barbara, California, which specializes in medical and therapeutic massage and was chosen as a “Best Practice” by MASSAGE Magazine. For more information, visit www.healingcirclemassage.com.