Strategies for Career Longevity

By Cindy Williams
[Classroom to Client]

Learning the skills of excellent self-care is a key component in nearly every massage training program across the country.
As veterans in the field know, without a focus on self-care, career longevity is compromised on all levels.
In many cases, self-care training is focused primarily on activities such as personal fitness, eating well, eating consistently to maintain energy, staying hydrated, and receiving regular massage. What is perhaps less often discussed is the significant role of creating and maintaining boundaries within your practice. Here are just a few to incorporate into your practice.

1. Just Say No to a Heavy Workload
It can be tempting, especially directly out of school or after taking time off from your practice, to take on as many clients as can be fit into a day. After all, you want to earn a great income as quickly as possible. Or, if you are an employee, it might feel difficult to say no to your supervisor, who wants to accommodate the needs of the business and of the clients who support it. It’s a new job and you want to be a go-getter. These experiences can affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When you haven’t been practicing massage on 3–5 clients a day, five days a week, immediately doing so will cause injury. It’s like working out. If your workout consists of only walking and doing gentle yoga three times per week, it wouldn’t be wise to suddenly go to the gym and lift weights at high repetitions for multiple hours five days in a row. It’s highly likely you will become injured. Be kind to yourself, put a plan in place to progressively increase your workload (and your fitness regimen), and trust that with some calculated marketing strategies, you won’t have to compromise your body or your pocketbook by doing too much too soon.
Communicate to your employer that you value yourself and your career enough to create a healthy plan for increasing your workload. If you propose a well-thought-out plan, this shows commitment. Employers like to see commitment, even if it includes setting self-care boundaries. If not, then you might need to consider finding a more supportive work environment.

2. Be Aware of “The Field”
Emotions are a part of daily life. In any given moment, all people are feeling emotion—not just overt emotions like anger and sadness, but subtle emotions like contentment or indifference. We each have an electromagnetic field that surrounds us and is created by mental, emotional, and physiological processes in the body. So what happens when a client comes in feeling a strong emotion, such as rage or grief? Can it change how you are feeling? The answer is, absolutely.
According to myofascial expert Til Luchau’s webinar “Emotions: Are They Contagious?,” research suggests that a person’s emotional state can be affected by emotions expressed by someone who’s in close proximity, but isn’t even aware of the influence. In the case of massage therapy, an additional layer exists because we are actually touching them, which makes us more susceptible to identifying with that emotion.
Luchau suggests the following exercise to assist in shifting an emotional state you feel you’ve taken on:
1. Reset your cognitive state:
• Acknowledge emotion (and you’re always emotional).
• Reflect (What actually happened? How did I get activated? What do I need?).
• Get social support (this provides alternative assessments).

2. Reset your homeostasis:
• Shift your posture and position.
• Change your location.
• Alter your breathing and metabolism (move, exercise, breathe, relax, rest).    

3. Outline Your House-Call Criteria
House calls can be an easy way to drum up business. Therapists who have been in the field for years are often reluctant to offer house calls because they are more physically taxing and time-consuming than a session offered in a set office space. Therefore, offering this service can be appealing to potential clients who want to receive a massage and not have to liven up enough afterward to drive themselves home.
The challenge lies in ensuring you have the proper space in which to work without compromising your physical well-being. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of not setting clear boundaries and showing up to a space that provided only enough room around the table to stand, but not to move with complete, fluid, and appropriate body mechanics, for example.
There is an easy remedy to this challenge. Outline your house-call criteria in a document, and either send it ahead of the scheduled massage time via email, or make it part of your pre-session phone interview checklist. Things to include are:
• Be clear up front about how much space you need to have proper body mechanics during the massage. Offer the client specific measurements so they are clear when assessing their available space.
• Ask if there are stairs you will have to navigate to either reach their entrance, or the massage space within, and if they are steep and/or narrow. Again, offering clients a measurement as to how much clearance you need to safely navigate stairs is helpful for everyone.
• Clarify the amount of time you will need for setup and breakdown, in addition to the table time. If your client doesn’t realize the time frame they are booking, it could cause a stressful rush that is unnecessary with proper planning and communication.
If your prospective client can’t accommodate these needs, don’t schedule the appointment. It isn’t worth gaining a client if you injure yourself in the process of accommodating them.   

4. Have Your Own Back
In an independent profession like massage therapy, you have to have your own back.  While an employer or colleagues can offer support, you are the person who is truly in charge of your own happiness and well-being. Using these effective methods to support yourself will forge your path to a long and thriving career.

Since 2000, Cindy Williams, LMT, has been actively involved in the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor. She is the school education manager for ABMP and continues to maintain a private practice as a massage therapist and yoga instructor. Contact her at