The World is Watching

By Susan Coffey
[Rise Above]

I was 38 years old when I began massage school.
I timidly told my father about my decision to pursue a new career as we ate dinner. He paused and placed his fork on his plate. I knew he would be disappointed in my choice, as he believed wholeheartedly that being a lawyer, a doctor, or even a teacher were the paths his daughters should choose. As he lowered his glasses down his nose, I braced for the impending condemnation that was sure to follow. “I didn’t know they had a school for prostitution,” he said matter-of-factly. My heart sank, as I said nothing in response. My voice was swallowed up by his disdain for my plans, and arguing with my father about anything was pointless—something I had learned long before that dinner conversation.
It was then I knew I would encounter many people who misunderstood massage therapy. Some, like my father, had never received a massage and were born in a generation that only knew of illicit backrubs. Even those in my age group would refer to me as a masseuse and would jokingly comment, “Do you give happy endings?” Again, I would say nothing, believing my explanations would likely be received by ignorance. And there was that part of me, the part that has driven me to become the person I am today, the part that quietly believed one day those who were uninformed or misguided would know the worth of my work. One day, I would “show them.”
Early in my career, I was eager to both please and prove my value and the importance of massage in health and wellness. It was challenging to encounter clients who demeaned my two-year education and the sacrifice and study it entailed with irreverent touch and comments and innuendo. With the voices of ethics teachers resounding in my head, I deflected their attempts to undermine my career and built up a repertoire of snarky, smart responses that quickly dismissed their efforts and, as a result, empowered me as a therapist and person.
The reality is, even now in 2018, we will still be confronted with those who seek to belittle that which we have worked so hard to make valuable and sacred. There will always exist that bevy of society that refuses to see the professionalism of our field, as well as those who damage the reputation of our field with their wrongdoings.  
I believe there is a responsibility on our part. We must, as individuals and therapists, diligently work to educate our clients, families, and friends. We must maintain a heightened awareness of the words we use when speaking with clients and even in social settings with regard to the work we do. We must be crystal clear in our own minds about our personal and professional boundaries. We must always adhere to the highest of standards in our practices and in the treatment room. At a time when social media allows entry into every aspect of our lives, it is imperative that we understand that the world is watching. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to the field of massage to remain steadfast in our conviction that we are professionals.  
In so many ways, the field of massage has become respected and viewed as an important complementary therapy by even those in the medical field. This is progress, and however slow, it is still progress. We will always experience setbacks. Each time the news reveals a story of a therapist who has been charged with sexual misconduct, we all take a few steps backward. And again, we must continue to set the bar higher. What we do as individual therapists impacts the field as a whole. Holding true to our beliefs and the quality of care we give our clients creates a ripple effect. And again, the world is watching.
I have never forgotten the look in my father’s eyes the day I told him about massage school. Thankfully, I did not let it change my direction. Almost a decade after he admonished my decision to become a massage therapist, I had the pleasure of hearing his oncologist say, “Arthur, you should let Susan give you a massage. It has been proven beneficial for many of the symptoms you are experiencing.” That day, my Dad looked at me sweetly as he lowered his glasses and smiled. That day, I was proud of my choices—and my dad was too.

Susan Coffey has a private practice in Watertown, Massachusetts, and also works for Care Dimensions (formerly Hospice North Shore). Visit to learn more about her work.