These are unprecedented times, with business, health, the economy and lives upended by the coronavirus (COVID-19) — but there is hope for massage therapists.
We asked our group of MASSAGE Magazine All Stars—educators and experts dedicated to supporting and informing massage therapists—to offer their perspectives on how to stay uplifted, inspired and poised for the future and the new opportunities it will bring.
This group of people who are so dedicated to massage, self-care and bodywork—Erik Dalton, PhD, Anita Shannon, Joe Yoon, Til Luchau, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, Irene Diamond, James Waslaski, Gael Wood and Thomas Myers—helps us see how to accept this unprecedented time as an opportunity to retool business practice; reconnect with oneself, loved ones and clients; learn new skills; and deepen our understanding of the profound benefits of healing touch and therapeutic relationships. (Read interviews with, and more articles by the All-Stars here.)
Use this Time to Deepen Relationships with Clients
There’s no question that the current global situation is going to leave a mark. Regardless of how you feel about the pandemic—and the regulations being implemented to address it—the past few months have changed us. To what end? It’s not yet clear, but the one thing I do know is that we have a choice in how we approach this new phase—as individuals, as practice owners and as a professional community.
Sure, I have my thoughts on how we can set ourselves up in the months and years to come. For example, upgrading our skillset and business practices through continuing education are two areas that come to mind, but I also have more than a few unanswered questions about the shape our industry will take on the other side.
Although some states are open again for hands-on work, many clients—especially those who may be higher-risk—may not want to come back in for a while longer. So, here’s a tip that has helped me the most and I hope will help you: In an effort to keep clients connected and to ensure they return for their next visit, I have a taken a deep dive these past few months into psychosocial bonding. By that, I mean focusing on creating meaningful relationships that keep clients connected even when they are not physically in the building.
I do this through regular emails, text messaging—and with some clients who suffer chronic pain conditions, I perform regular short Zoom meetings. Once allowed to open my office to business, I’ve found these clients eager to continue with therapy, and many expressed how grateful they were that I took the time to support them through this ordeal. I’m telling you, folks: This is how to build clients for life.
We all know that manual therapy provides endless possibilities for stress reduction, but I think we also need to look further into the ways the human body processes pain. The integration and understanding of pain science, and the way manual therapy works beyond mechanical effects, seems to be the biggest change coming in our future. If we learn how to integrate this bio-psycho-social approach, it will definitely maximize the benefit of the work we already do.
My suggestion is that massage therapy providers focus on ways they can deepen relationships with clients while revamping marketing strategies to help get new clients in the door faster—and keep them there. My hope is that by starting a dialogue on what is to come, we can move forward together and actively shape a version of tomorrow that is supportive of our profession, our teams and our clients.
Erik Dalton, PhD, developed Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques, a hands-on bodywork system designed to restore function, relieve pain, rebalance and re-educate the body. He has more than 30 years’ experience in educating massage therapists.
Read “Myoskeletal Techniques for Hip and Back Pain,” by Erik Dalton.
The Gift of Time for Reflection
I’ve had the good fortune during the last few months to participate in a group doing a mental cleanse process, and the term “disruptive innovation” was brought up as we were discussing the impact of the global pandemic and other 2020 events. I am not sure who coined the term, but it is a powerful combination of those two words that helped me see yet another perspective on current issues.
The term disruption often has a negative feeling to it, but in the ancient Celtic Runes disruption is described as “Events leading to change, freedom, liberation and invention … a pressing need to break free of identification with material reality to experience a deeper awakening.”
Recent world and national events seem to be totally out of our control, yet we have the ultimate power over how we respond. The interesting thing is that we now have the time to really examine our feelings and belief systems before we respond or make choices.
This is where the term innovation adds an extra dimension to disruption. The thesaurus lists novelty, invention, revolution, origination and modernization as synonyms for innovation, which are eerily similar to the words used to describe disruption in the Runic tradition. Stagnation is listed as an antonym for innovation—and many people were forced out of complacency by the changes of this year.
We have had time in 2020 to expand our education and explore new technologies, sparking creative juices that may have dried up during the ongoing grind of a full schedule of work and activities. We were given the opportunity to contemplate our work environment, our toolbox of therapeutic techniques, how well we take care of ourselves, and our work schedule and structure.
This gift of time for reflection is what leads to innovation in all aspects of our lives —and many of us would not or could not voluntarily stop our momentum prior to March 2020 to simply think things through. Some of us are innovating by formulating new goals on our current path while others have thoughts of exploring new interests and adventures.
While this year has presented amazing new challenges, it has also given us the chance to clean out our mental closets, shine a light on any neglected aspects of our lives, and basically tend to our physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. We have had to simplify and prioritize, and all of this requires the opportunity for introspection.
It has been interesting to read about pandemics and global disruption in world history, and how humanity has often responded with thoughtful innovation and renewed community spirit. May the gift of 2020 be that the changes it brings wake us up to more consciously choosing how we live with ourselves and each other.
Anita Shannon, LMT, has been licensed in massage therapy and cosmetology since 1983. An educator since 1990, she appears at national chiropractic, massage, and spa conventions and currently presents workshops on ACE Massage Cupping and MediCupping in 2002.
Read “Massage Cupping Techniques to Address Solid Bloat,” by Anita Shannon.
Navigate Today’s Reality—And Thrive
First, I hope everyone and your loved ones are safe during these unprecedented times.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and shutdown were unexpected. None of us could have predicted the pandemic and the significant drop in business as we massage therapists, and our clients, started to learn about the situation that was ahead of us. As we shut our doors and went into lock-down, it became evident that social distancing would have a massive impact on how we serve and interact with our clients.
As of writing this, we are slowly starting to reopen the country with caution. This is a great sign, and I hope I can give you ideas on how to navigate the reality we live in today and not only survive, but begin the process to thrive.
“We are facing strong headwinds” said Matt Higgins, an executive fellow at Harvard Business School, in a commencement address. “And we have two choices. We can either surrender to the elements and let the wind carry us in whatever direction, or we can fight to steer the ship where we want it to go.”
I always come back to this quote when things get tough. It reminds us, at times, it can feel like everything is trying to pull us down. Still, we need to think about what we can do to solve the issue, be creative and learn from this experience to make our careers and business even stronger when coming out on the other side of this pandemic. If we can survive this, any future issues should feel like a walk in the park.
First, nothing will ever replace our hands as a massage therapist. When you return to working on clients, please follow proper protocol and use appropriate personal protective equipment to ensure your safety for you and your clientele.
Second, as you may know, I love using technology and social media to benefit my business, and you should, too, especially since it’s free and relatively easy to learn. Staying connected and supporting your clients even when you are not seeing them as often in-person will continue the rapport you have with them.
Many of my massage therapist friends and I used platforms like Zoom, Instagram Live and Facebook to perform self-care sessions during the peak of the pandemic and continue to do so even after seeing clients for in-person sessions. Doing live sessions online was new even to me, but now I can add to my services as a member benefit and help create income when not seeing clients in-person. Technology continues to evolve rapidly, and starting to implement those strategies will help future-proof your business.
No one plans for moments like these, but remember that even if life bumps you around, keep your focus and continue to fight for your goals.
Joe Yoon is a massage therapist, personal trainer and founder of Joe Therapy, a company that provides massage therapy at his clinic in Orlando, Florida, and through which he teaches stretching and self-massage techniques online.
Be Patient, Determined and Adaptable
As I write this, COVID-19 has people in the U.S. beginning a process of social distancing of unknown duration, with estimates currently ranging from three weeks up to a year. Many massage therapists and bodyworkers have stopped seeing clients for now, and while some see it as a welcome break, many are concerned, anxious or fearful about the future of their practices.
By the time you read this, you’ll know more than we do now about how this is playing out. How long will this go on? Will clients want (or be able) to come back for hands-on work? How will I cover my expenses in the meantime? How will this affect the longer-term demand for what we do?
Although the current challenges facing massage and hands-on practices are unique, past crises and difficulties, such as the 2008 financial crisis, have shown us a few things that might apply. After the 2008 financial crisis (arguably, “the worst in global history, surpassing even the Great Depression,” according to Ben Bernanke, the former head of the US Federal Reserve), we saw that:
• Many practitioners will need to find alternate sources of income, at least in the interim. There’s evidence that they’ll be happier with their practices as a result.
You’d think that massage therapists who took second jobs would be less happy with the size of their massage practices, but it’s actually the other way around, according to a large-scale survey of massage therapists in 2014 that showed that practitioners who had a second source of income were significantly more satisfied with both the size and quality of their practices overall when compared to those who practices were their only source of income.
• Some practitioners will not return to hands-on work—but those with adaptability, determination and a focus on excellence will.
A repeated lesson from crises and shock is that the practices and employers that survive, and the field as a whole, will be stronger, more resilient and more focused as a result of this painful but fruitful pruning.
• Some clients will stop coming, simply because they can’t afford to. Most will be back, and new clients will come.
Even the clients who need to stop will eventually return—they know the value of what you do, and will work it in to their lives as soon as they can. One of my clients, a successful real estate agent before the 2008 mortgage crisis, waited tables for a year after losing her savings and 100% of her clients within two months. She bartered administrative help for occasional sessions with me for a year or two, but was back as a regular client as soon as her finances turned. Be flexible with your clients, and they’ll reward you with their loyalty.
It’s easy to forget that the most recent “epidemic” people were complaining about was the disease of over-busyness, with no time to catch up, rest, reflect, connect or plan. Now that the busyness pendulum is in motion, keep caring for your body, your skills, your relationships and your spirit. Be patient, determined and adaptable. We’ll all be much stronger and better at as a result.
Til Luchau is the author of the “Advanced Myofascial Techniques” textbook, DVD and online training series. He is a Certified Advanced Rolfer and a member of the Advanced-Trainings.com faculty, which offers online learning and in-person seminars throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Read “Myofascial Techniques to Address Headache & Migraine,” by Til Luchau.
Stay Grounded in the Value of Your Work
There are going to be times when you face challenges or have to do certain tasks associated with your practice that you don’t particularly enjoy. The key to being able to weather through those times is to remind yourself of the benefits your clients receive from working with you.
Remind yourself of why you got into this field in the first place. Then reflect upon your clients who have made significant progress or had a momentous shift. I recommend starting every workday this way. You might even want to have a picture of that person(s) as a quick visual reminder.
Even though I have been long retired from active practice, I still am an ambassador for massage. I am always recommending people get massage because I know the value of the work my clients received and from being a regular recipient of massage myself.
Cherie Sohnen-Moe is a recognized expert in the area of massage, business and marketing. She has worked in the massage field since 1978 and is the author of the textbook “Business Mastery” and co-author of “The Ethics of Touch” and “Retail Mastery,” among other titles.
Read “Massage Therapists: Not Making Enough Money? 4 Strategies for Setting Your Fees,” by Cherie Sohnen-Moe.
Being Location-Free Opens an Entirely New Aspect of Business for Therapists
As a practitioner, your goal is to create a therapeutic experience that provides solid clinical results. When we all shut down due to COVID-19’s shelter in place, clients continued to experience stress, pain and mobility issues even if they couldn’t be seen in our offices. There are many practices that remain closed yet continue to support their clients. But how the heck can they provide massage if they cannot put their hands on clients?
We know we can’t reach through the computer screen to physically touch people, but we can deliver very impressive results when we touch over video.
The surprising fact many therapists are not aware of, is that much (dare I say most) of the value a massage client receives from the session comes not from your manual skills but rather from the totality of support they receive from you. It is rare a client has anyone focus time listening to their concerns and helping them strategize about options to relieve or improve their condition. When you are warm and caring, knowledgeable and skilled, and know how to develop a strong therapeutic alliance, everything falls into place.
We know the most effective sessions include the bio, psycho and social aspects of focus. Can you see the immense value you can provide to your clients even without physically being in the same room? Over video visits, my coaching clients and I take a detailed intake and assessment when needed. Instead of teaching only, we guide the client through the therapy plan. We use any modality that is appropriate and within our scope of practice. Sessions may include conversation and strengthening, stretching, balance, creating awareness, meditation, breathwork, ergonomics and self-massage.
Around 2004, when Skype was just becoming a viable video service, I provided Active Myofascial Therapy for friends of my clients. Even though they lived outside San Francisco they got the pain relief and movement guidance they needed.
Tina, one of my academy members, was surprised at how thrilled her clients were about participating in the $3,600 online program we helped her create. She lives on a remote island in the Caribbean and can now reach clients as far as her laws and liability insurance will cover!
Being location-free opens an entirely new aspect of business for therapists. The ability to travel or work from home while generating revenue with virtual services appeals to many. Video visits are widely used in therapy. People enjoy not having to leave their home, pay for gas or parking, nor risk viral exposure. I encourage you to explore how you can incorporate online programs so you can touch clients beyond your office door. Best wishes for prosperity and joy.
Irene Diamond, RT, is a top-level strategist and educator to attract and serve appreciative and affluent clients. Successful massage and physical thera-preneurs, publications and associations rely on her. Diamond’s book, “A Profitable Precise Private Practice,” will launch soon.
Read “3 Steps to Developing a Precise Private Practice,” by Irene Diamond.
This is a Spiritual Reset
COVID-19, or what I call a spiritual reset in this world, has opened so many doors of opportunity for the massage profession. Now, more than ever, people need healing from the power of loving and caring touch. Anthropologist Ashley Montagu said our brains cannot be healthy without human touch. It is sad that therapists are considering leaving the profession at a time when massage is needed the most to help people heal from this Pandemic.
Therapists can only facilitate healing at a level that they feel healed in this difficult time. So some advice that I would like to share is that therapist should start doing things in their lives that will build up their immune system and their positive thinking.
A book I once read many years ago called The Genie in Your Genes said that “every thought we give energy to will communicate to every cell in your body, to the level of changing your DNA.” That is based on research. So try to wake up every morning and think about what you are grateful for. It could be that you are healthy and can walk without crutches or a wheelchair. It could be that you have a roof over your head and running water.
So many people are homeless and cannot afford food for their family right now. When you focus on the positives in your life, you brain produces dopamine and chemicals that create happiness and hope.
Another thing you can do is realize that the time you had been forced to take off in 2020 allowed you to do the things you never had time for when your life was full with clients and business overload. Spend more quality time walking in nature. A book called Blue Mind shares research from Harvard and Yale on how being near water or nature can make you happier, healthier, more connected and better at what you do in life.
Take time to exercise. You don’t need a gym membership. Just buy a resistance band and work out in your back yard to add the component of nature. Put on your favorite music and dance with your family or your pet. The research from Stanford, Harvard, and the Journal of the American Medical Association says dancing can prevent dementia and Parkinson’s by producing positive chemicals in your brain. Don’t worry if you are not a great dancer; just move in an intuitive way.
Work on the projects that you wished you had time for when your practice was too busy. Writing new goals, sending out emails to clients to check on them, and calling friends and colleagues for business advice is free. Take online classes. Many of them are free right now. They will grow your skills as a therapist and keep you thinking positive thoughts.
Massage therapy is the future of manual medicine, and we are needed more now than ever before in this world. Let 2020 be the year that launched your career to a whole new level.
James Waslaski, LMT, CPT, is a published author, an international lecturer and a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He presents at state, national and international chiropractic, osteopathic, athletic training and massage conventions.
Read “Orthopedic Massage Isn’t the Same as Medical Massage — Is It?” by James Waslaski.
Opportunities are Everywhere
The year 2020 has certainly been different; I don’t think any of us will ever forget many of the experiences we’ve been through and lessons we’ve learned. Despite the trials of this unusual year, though, I honestly believe that there have still been opportunities, and lessons to learn, as there are from any situation.
It hasn’t always been easy for me, and I haven’t always been an entrepreneur. I sold my day spa in 2009, shortly after my son was born, and due to some less-than-smart financial decisions, I was soon looking for a job. Only a few months after selling my profitable business, I was cleaning condos for one of my former clients. The job made me feel miserable. It was super hard work, dragging giant bags of laundry up and down icy, snowy stairs. I was so angry and annoyed with myself because I felt that I was to blame for the situation I’d found myself in, but at the same time I was grateful that I was still able to work and contribute to keeping my family afloat.
That spring I was at the grocery store just doing my thing when just by chance I noticed a sign saying that a resort near my house was hiring. Of course, I got myself straight in there for an interview and I was lucky enough to be hired right away. There was only one problem: The job was seasonal, so by November I was laid off and they would have no more work for me until May.
With no other options available to me at the time, I took my husband up on the offer to work for him. This was not my best move either. I realized very quickly that working at a construction business was the last thing I wanted to do. At the same time, I didn’t want to tell my husband I was unhappy.
I got strep throat four times that winter. (Who says that the mind-body connection isn’t a thing?) My body was definitely trying to tell me something , but my doctor wouldn’t give me any more antibiotics, so it was taking me two weeks every time to recover. I finally confessed to my husband that I didn’t want to be an office worker at his business. This was hard for both of us, but ultimately once I’d been honest, I felt so much better.
It was around this time that I started noticing eBooks. They seemed to be everywhere, and I began to get excited about the idea. I wondered whether I could put my knowledge to good use by writing about all the things I had learned in my 18 years of massage and spa experience. I decided I had absolutely nothing to lose, and that I would just give it a try. I also put the word out that I was available to fill in as an on-call therapist at every spa that would put me on their list, and I bought the domain name “LMT resources.”
Deciding to just give it a go was the best thing I ever did. My online business (now called Massage and Spa Success) has been an amazing achievement and has grown to more than I ever imagined it could. I’m so grateful every day for the nudges, mistakes and wrong moves that I made along the way to finding my direction. I know that if my life had been going along smoothly, I would never have pushed myself out of my comfort zone or explored the opportunity to branch out.
Your opportunities may look very different than mine, but I absolutely encourage you to keep an open mind—and when you get a nudge of inspiration, go for it!
Gael Wood has over 25 years of experience in the massage and spa industry, including day spas, resorts and office settings, owning a therapeutic massage office, full day-spa and currently outcall practice. She now concentrates on educating and training massage and spa therapists in the areas of marketing, business startup, customer service and spa services.
A New Normal We Cannot Yet See
Greetings and heartfelt sympathy to all. Although I have been blessed with a long career—45 years—in manual therapy, 2020 has been like no year before, not in any country nor any of the various clinical set-ups I have ever worked within. This is unique.
We look out over 2021 and the coming decade still uncertain about the effect of the three waves of COVID-19: the arc of the virus itself; then the various waves of emotion that sweep over us around the news of the pandemic; and the slower-moving but profound wave through our economy—its current dip and subsequent adjustment to some new normal we cannot yet see.
Although the requirements of this time have been different for each of us—ageing parents, childcare, practice restrictions—most of us have been called to make significant adjustments amidst a depressing lack of social contact. Especially the kind of contact that nourishes us even as we use it to nourish others: Healing touch.
Knowing for myself how isolating this crisis is, I can only offer three points of encouragement:
1. This too shall pass. We are not at the end of the world. Look for new opportunities—they will arise. Prepare by learning something new online—whatever it was you always wanted to know more about.
2. Meantime, use your skills in any way possible. Avoid depression—work on your family and bonded friends, put your skills to practical use. Volunteer to work with front line workers—touch is so necessary now, and you can reduce risk by using your intuitive sense amidst recommended procedures. The world needs your touch now more than ever. Keep your hands in gear.
3. Finally, ground yourself in nature, the only enduring value. Whatever access you have to earth, water, air or fire, use it. Find roots. If you are stuck in an urban shell, use exercise, stillness and your breath. Sink a taproot into your own elemental nature.
What has worked before, the social construct we thought we lived in, is changing. We were all a bit asleep and 2020 was a pretty loud alarm to wake us up. We must dig deeper to establish new foundations for our human values of equality and compassion and harmony. This year has shown clearly on many fronts how our old foundations were not laid deep enough in reality.
The transparently honest two-way street of communication opened in sensitive human skin-to-skin touch is a wordlessly primal cornerstone of any viable new social order. Parent to child, firm to the infirm, lover to lover, healer to supplicant, friend to friend—let us use this opportunity to liberate and establish simple touch as a vitally supportive nutrient for us all.
We will get through this together. Stay connected.
Thomas Myers is the author of Anatomy Trains and directs trainings in fascial anatomy and Structural Integration worldwide.
Read “Core Massage: Tom Myers Offers an Elongated Definition,” by Thomas Myers