How to Keep Your Joy for Bodywork

By Barry Hatfield

When you’ve been working in massage and bodywork for a while, there are times when the daily grind can wear you down. Necessary tasks such as paperwork and marketing may reduce the joy and excitement you used to feel. Maybe your enthusiasm has taken a temporary hit from empty spots in the appointment book, or you’ve spent a few days working with difficult clients. Fortunately, there are ways to get back the passion you once had.
Think of your passion as a campfire—long after the fire seems to have gone out, you can stir through the ashes and find hot coals. Give them some attention, and soon you will have a fire going again.
So, before you decide to hang up your holster and mosey off into the sunset, try these tips to get your fire burning brightly again.

Remember Your Inspiration
Why did you get into massage? What drew you to it? You probably had a great desire to help people—with their stress, injuries, illnesses, and routine maintenance. Those needs will never go away.
How do you feel when your clients get results? Remember some of your success stories and recall how excited and fulfilled you felt when you made a real difference in someone’s life. That client is happy you were there. Are you ready to make an impact for someone else? You never know the situation you may be facing next, even with a long-term client.
Remember these things:
• You are helping people who have pain. Some have chronic pain, and the relief you give helps them do more of what they want to do. Others have overworked their muscles, and you help them get back to where they want to be.
• You help people relax. This is so important in our stressful world. You allow them time to decompress from the pressures they are facing, give their minds a break from responsibilities, and allow them to find the calm stillness they lack.
• You help people learn about their bodies. You may have shown a client how a minor change in his posture or how he goes about his activities can have a big impact on how he feels. Clients can learn there is hope and that they are not stuck with the pain they have.
• You provide safe touch. Touch provides comfort and connection, and reminds people they are not alone.
• You provide safe space. Within your treatment room, clients can unfurl their physical and emotional secrets. Your willing ear may be the only outlet they have. And while you’re not their counselor, and know that you must stay within your scope of practice, your willingness to simply “be” with the client can make all the difference in the world. You may be the only person who offers them comfort and care.
• You help people overcome body issues by not judging them. Your acceptance allows clients to accept themselves.

Act With Enthusiasm
Your attitude toward your work can make a huge difference. Decide to focus on the positive. Yes, there will always be some negatives, but don’t dwell on them. When I grow weary of the endless piles of sheets to wash, I instead try to picture smiling faces and bank deposits when I look at my full laundry basket. Concentrate on thinking about solutions instead of problems and soon you will discover creative options to solve those problems.
When your energy and enthusiasm feel low, act like you have those qualities anyway. You will start to feel them, and your day will get better.
You can be enthused by thinking about your clients. They have been looking forward to seeing you for days or perhaps weeks. You might be the person they most look forward to seeing! They are coming to you to feel better, and you can help them.

Never Stop Learning
Learning is fun, if it is something you want to learn. Clients like new things, too. They will be impressed when you take the time to learn new ways to help them, and they want to know you are up-to-date.
Don’t just take a continuing education class to fulfill the requirements to maintain your license. Put some thought into it. What really interests you? What would be a useful addition to your work? What is a common complaint about pain from your clients?
Try teaming up with another therapist. Maybe you’re curious about how to do a technique from somebody who massages you. Ask if that person is willing to give you some tips and help you improve.
Look up a friend from school. Have a chat about your respective work and what each of you has added to your toolbox since graduating. Think about what your friend was good at in school and what she was interested in, and ask how she has progressed. What did you like about her work? People like to share their successes, so be a good listener.
For a technique you are interested in, connect with someone who has experience. She can let you know what the learning curve is like, how her clients like it, and the results she can produce. That information can help you make a decision about pursuing that technique or moving on to another idea of interest. If you do pursue it, can your friend help you practice and refine your new skills?
With all of the opportunities to connect via social media and other technology, the other therapists you can learn from don’t have to be local. Obviously, whether you network in person or online, be respectful of people’s time and understand that it may be limited.
There are plenty of ways to learn, besides formal classes. Videos can enhance your learning, as it can be easier to grasp an idea visually instead of reading about it. There are videos available for purchase, and many therapists and educators have video demonstrations on their websites or YouTube channels (Ryan Hoyme of Massage Nerd at is a good resource). Other informational sources include books, blogs, magazines, and webinars.
Family and friends are usually happy to let you practice your new skills on them. Then, introduce those skills to trusted clients and invite honest feedback before reaching out to a wider client base.
Let clients know you are always learning to make their massage the best you can. If they know their already-amazing massage therapist is making an effort to get even better, they are likely to keep coming back and not look around for somebody else, or be tempted by a temporary good deal somewhere else. Not all techniques can help every client, but at least inform everyone about your latest training by mentioning it on your website and social media, in email newsletters, and at clients’ appointments.

Educate the Public
You may find your own enthusiasm for massage will increase if you spend more time sharing that enthusiasm with others.
Many people get their knowledge of massage from the media, which often overlooks the details and paints an inaccurate picture of what we really do. When you tell people in the general public what you do, are you met with surprised looks or perhaps an inappropriate joke? How many people understand what you do?
Step up to combat this perception and get involved in actively educating the public. This is also an opportunity to meet people in your area and let them get to know you. Seek out local groups and events where you can be a speaker. Public speaking gets easier each time you do it, and you may even find you enjoy it.
You have probably found many people have the same questions about massage. Make sure potential clients can find the answers to those questions on your website, whether in writing or in a video. Include FAQs in email updates to your clients. Discuss those FAQs in your blog, if you have one, or use them as a starting point to create a blog. If you can, contribute to a community publication.
Be your town’s massage myth buster and see if public interest in massage increases—and your own interest along with it.

Most massage therapists and bodyworkers have a giving nature. Put that quality to use with some volunteer work. You can team up with other local massage therapists. If you normally work on your own, this can reduce isolation, give you an opportunity to get to know some of your colleagues, and make you feel more a part of a team without the pressure of competition. You might make new friends or create a valuable community connection.
Volunteering also lets you get away from your own problems for a while. Helping others makes you feel good, and when you consider your problems from a new perspective, you may discover they are not so bad after all.
There are plenty of options for volunteering. Some volunteer events and organizations are aimed at fundraising, some at providing services as a reward or thank-you, and some as a way to help people cope in a difficult situation. Pick a cause you believe in supporting, such as an illness or medical condition, a social problem, a thank-you to veterans, or a local community cause.
You are not limited to volunteering your massage skills. Use your other talents as well. Use your business or technical skills, help organize or plan, drive somebody somewhere, cook—the list goes on. Get involved with something you like to do and have some fun with it.
Do it for the sake of giving, and you may find you receive much more than you give. You may discover new opportunities for your business. Being at an event can increase your visibility in the community and demonstrate the benefits of massage to those who have never experienced it.

Help Another Therapist
Someone inspired you and encouraged you, right? Pass that along: inspire and encourage another. Be a mentor to somebody who’s new to the field or struggling to find a niche. As you observe your mentee’s growth, development, and passion, your own fire will grow.
Think of other massage therapists as colleagues instead of competitors. There are enough customers out there, and no therapist is good at everything or has time to do everything—you can both gain something by cooperating. Connect with local therapists and join some online groups. Ask and answer questions, bounce ideas around, and support each other.
Are you looking for something on a bigger scale? Think about the issues facing our industry and brainstorm some solutions. Or get involved in research to prove that what we do is effective. It is thrilling when you can watch your ideas make a difference.

Help Yourself
It’s difficult to feel positive when you don’t feel good. Do you follow the advice you give clients? In massage and bodywork, your body is your tool. Take care of your tools to prevent pain and extend your working career.
Get regular massages, regular exercise, and participate in activities you enjoy. Develop a sensible diet and get proper rest. Give your mind a break, also. Turn off the phone and computer for a while. Get out in nature. Play, sing, laugh, and have fun, and you will notice the load you have been struggling with is lighter.
You had a passion when you got into massage. Chances are, it’s still there. Clean out the ashes, stir up the hot coals, and use one of these ideas to get the fire burning again. There are people who need you. Let your fire burn bright!

Insider Tip!
We asked author/educator Whitney Lowe how the mentor/mentee relationship he had with the “father of sports massage” Benny Vaughn was instrumental to his career.

“I was in graduate school studying sports medicine when the opportunity came up to work directly with Benny. We were collaborating on a training program at the Atlanta School of Massage. I recognized that while a graduate degree would open certain doors for me, there was no way to pass up the unique opportunity to work directly with such an influential and outstanding educator and clinician who has paved the way for so many. I learned so much from Benny about clinical work because of his many years of working with top-level athletes within a sports medicine environment at the University of Florida. I also recognized when I first met him that he was an outstanding teacher and I watched and made an effort to model his excellent classroom presentation skills. There are clearly the obvious benefits in a mentor/mentee relationship like this, but there are also so many intangibles by simply watching and interacting with someone of his caliber. I learned a great deal about clinical massage and teaching, but I also learned a lot about life because we come from quite divergent backgrounds. The relationship I have had with him as my mentor and friend has had a huge impact on my professional career and personal life as well.”

Expand Your Skill Set
Being a successful massage therapist is not just about your hands-on techniques. Think about ways you can grow in the following areas:
• Business skills—If you own your business, or would like to, spend some time improving your business skills. Other small business owners in your community may be happy to talk, and the connection you build may be beneficial to both of you.
• Technology—Increase your comfort level with new ways of reaching clients and organizing your life.
• People skills—Learn how to provide excellent customer service, develop loyalty, and handle the occasional difficult person. These skills are valuable in any profession, but critical in ours.

Barry Hatfield is a licensed massage therapist with a practice in Hudson, Ohio. He writes a blog directed to massage clients at and he can be found on the major social media sites.