A Millennial MT's Perspective

By Karrie Osborn

While there might be some things we can point to that distinguish a millennial massage client from all others (see “Millennial Minds,” page 54), when it comes to the millennial massage therapist, there may not be as much to separate the generations as you might think.

Age vs. Experience
Whether talking about business building or client care, age is not a predictor of expertise or success, experience is, says Ashley Hurlburt, a Colorado-based massage therapist and member of the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000).
“We all build business the same way as our predecessors—by understanding what our customers need and want, and being bold and smart enough to do what we need to do to implement our strategies and deliver our best selves to them,” she says.
And the same is true with client care. When it comes to a new therapist, whether they be younger or older, the technique they deliver is still administered by a new therapist. “Therapists of every age are learning during every session how to be a better therapist,” Hurlburt says. “Their age doesn’t really change how a new therapist applies technique, experience does. And a person’s age doesn’t automatically denote experience in the massage world.”

What is Different?
What does separate the generations in the massage therapy world is technology. “I was born in 1983, and people my age had the experience of an analog early childhood and a digital early adulthood,” Hurlburt says. “We went from Teddy Ruxpin to Furby, Atari to PlayStation, and hair bands and acid-wash jeans to Britney Spears, all before our college years.”
The same analog/digital split was reflected in Hurlburt’s professional life, when it was word of mouth that first brought people to her massage therapy door, not Facebook or Instagram. It wasn’t until she had been in practice for four years that this 2003 graduate of New York’s Onondaga School of Therapeutic Massage began focusing on her online presence and online scheduling—something she can’t imagine being without today.
Hurlburt admits that being an older millennial has afforded her the opportunity to live a little in two worlds. “While I do wish I would’ve had the opportunity to utilize the brilliance of technology sooner as an entrepreneurial LMT, I think there’s a certain value to starting out with that face-to-face time, word of mouth, and building a business the old-fashioned way that I’m really grateful to have experienced as a millennial.”

The Wave of Acceptance
While technology is one advantage a millennial MT might have over their baby boomer or Gen X colleagues, Hurlburt says millennial MTs are benefiting from the acceptance of massage unlike ever before. “The sexual stigma that was tied to massage therapy seems to somewhat be fading,” she says. “When I tell people, who are my age or younger, that I’m a licensed massage therapist, their first reaction is usually expressing how ‘cool’ that is, or telling me about some pain they have that they wonder if it could be addressed by massage therapy. Millennials are doing a great job planting those seeds with buzz words like massage therapist versus masseuse and massage studio versus massage parlor. Of course, there are still people out in the world abusing the term massage therapist to practice inappropriate activities, and we are attempting to undo a deep-seated cultural connotation, so it certainly is still prevalent. But I can feel the sexual stereotype of the profession fading away a bit with the embracing of complementary health-care by my generation. I believe therapists venturing out before me had to deal with it a lot more, even from family and friends.”

The Challenges
As for all MTs today, a challenge resulting from this acceptance of massage is a saturation of the massage market, Hurlburt says. “It’s harder to step out on your own with the advent of things like Groupon and franchises, because they tend to drive prices down. It’s hard to keep up with those price differences when you are a sole proprietor.”
Hurlburt says a challenge more specific to the millennial generation might be one of client communication. “Less emphasis is being put on teaching effective communication in massage schools today,” she says, and therapists are coming away thinking it’s not necessary, especially if they are working in a massage environment with tight time constraints and brief client intakes.

The Opportunities
The road that lies ahead for the millennial MT might have more to do with embracing the client relationship than taking advantage of technology’s head-spinning advancements. Hurlburt sees opportunity arising from the millennial generation’s attitude of acceptance. “I do think being a millennial can help create a more positive experience for clients, as we’re aware more than ever before of body image issues and the impact of trauma, and more educated about other ethnicities, other religions, and the LGBTQ community. I think this can make a big impact when more marginalized clients come to our table.”

Karrie Osborn is senior editor at Massage & Bodywork.