After 27 years as a massage therapist, I have come to a conclusion: I am done helping my clients.
I have great clients, ranging from professional, performance and Olympic athletes to regular, local clients. I have worked extensively with professional dancers and actors in musical theater in New York City. But if the spa industry has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not going to help my clients anymore.
No more helping—it is time to start serving.
I think people who come to us as clients need equality within the service. Service is the keyword.
Helping vs. serving your clients
Recently, while teaching a massage therapy class, I read something from Susan Salvo’s textbook Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice. Salvo quotes from a speech given by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., called “In the Service of Life.” Remen said, “Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength.”
In a sense, this quote alludes to the idea that a helping business may, by its nature, be unequal. In other words, health services practitioners in these businesses may see themselves as whole and their clients as incomplete or weak. For example, a person with one leg is a whole person with one leg. She is not weaker, but whole in a different, interesting way.
Another example might be a client who is morbidly obese. In my 27 years as a massage therapist, I have heard other therapists offer unsolicited advice in an effort to help clients lose weight, or at least move them in the direction of a healthier lifestyle by suggesting exercise, for example. This illustrates an abuse of the power differential between client and therapist. In addition to offering advice that is outside her scope of practice, the therapist may be trying to act as a healer to a weaker person, rather than a facilitator to a whole person.
The client on the table is already whole. The therapist who provides advice about weight is trying to fix something she subjectively believes needs fixing, trying to help someone who is already whole; while a massage therapist should serve by facilitating, with the cooperation of the client, a positive result from the massage session, based on what the client wants as a whole person.
Serve the whole person
Remen continued by stating, “… we can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without fixing or helping. I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service is the work of the soul.”
In her book Opening a Spa, Melinda Minton said, “Without the customer you don’t have a business. Remember that the customer is the whole reason your spa exists.” She implies that the spa environment is highly integrative, providing products and services that elevate a client’s emotional state as well as his physical needs, working one-with-the-other.
Successful practices and spas are integrative. Their owners view each client as a whole person by providing many choices that facilitate wellness. No matter how much heart spa owners and employees have invested in their businesses, successful business owners know they are in business not to help, but to serve.
About the Author
Charles Wiltsie, L.M.T., is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved continuing education provider and creator of Lypossage® (lypossage.net). A graduate of JSG School of Massage Therapy and Brigham Young University – Idaho, he also has esthetics training from Aveda and Phytoceane, and is former director of education for Branford Hall Career Institute.