Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired - An MTís Legacy

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September/October 2009 Issue

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An MTís Legacy

Whatís Your Impact?

By Robert Chute
[Feature]

When a bricklayer builds a wall, his work may stand for generations for all to see. Not so for massage therapists. Even when our results are measured, it may be the therapist alone who sees the incremental changes. Of course, we can make major changes in people’s bodies and lives. Some of the changes we facilitate are concrete, measurable, and objective, like changes in range of motion. More often the changes are subjective, felt by the client, but ephemeral, elusive, and transient. If someone feels less pain after a treatment, that is excellent and worthy of your work. Sometimes, though, the nature of our work makes us long for more demonstrable achievements.  

When you retire from massage therapy, what will you have when you’re done? What evidence will there be that you have made a difference in your massage career? What will be your legacy?                 

measurable Results

Of primary concern to our clients are the immediate results born of our hands-on skills. People come in feeling one way and when they leave they should in some way be different and better.

The word legacy suggests long term, but we should not underestimate the power of the benefits of massage, even when the change is relatively brief. Even when we meet the so-called short-term goals—pain relief, a good night’s sleep, relaxation, and an hour’s vacation from gravity and concern—clients’ needs are honored. It is an incredible gift to be able to perform the services we provide. Celebrate whatever you can do to help.

Some people seem to be more wired into the benefits of touch than others. You’ll recognize those clients easily. They’re the ones who have regular appointments booked and are always eager for their next session with you. Whether they are enthusiastic regulars or occasional clients who swing through once a year, you do good work. It’s the nature of things. In fact, it’s so good, you have to work pretty hard at it to give a truly awful massage. Don’t underestimate your value or power just because you can’t “fix” someone in a session or two. There are too many variables to put that heavy pressure on yourself or on your client.

Generally, long-term results tend to accrue through cumulative treatment or through focus on remedial exercise that clients can do for themselves in between sessions. Clients wouldn’t expect to be healthy after one session at the gym, so it’s reasonable to give you time to work wonders over multiple sessions.

When therapists shy away from asking clients to rebook, that reluctance probably signals an underestimation of the value of what we do. People want massage. People need massage. Our human physiology is primed to enjoy its benefits.

Whatever your venue—spa, clinic or chair massage—be proud you are a massage therapist. Be thankful you can help people with your skills. Be results-oriented, but value subjective as well as objective feedback. When you look back on your career in that light, you’ll appreciate the core of the work.

Tip: Get a journal for your reception area so clients can leave comments. A dark day is brighter when I page through mine to see all the nice things clients have written over the years. It’s something I can always treasure long after I’m finally done with massage therapy.

          

therapeutic Relationships

We work in a one-on-one context. Our therapeutic relationships are supposed to be sterile, devoid of the “friend” label. Yet many clients tell us things about their lives they wouldn’t share with others. As we touch, inevitably, we are touched by people’s experience and their life stories. We are not working at a distance, looking at anonymous blood samples through a microscope. We work in close relationship to our clients for extended periods of time.

After you retire, you will need to redefine yourself in relation to your former clients. When you are no longer their massage therapist, who will you be? Will you ever see any of your former clients again? Will any of them become friends with whom you could socialize?

Many therapists have ethical objections to that idea, eschewing the dreaded dual relationship at all costs. Beware of that phrase “at all costs.” That cost could be too high, especially if you live in a small town where your citizenship among a small group nullifies your remote and aloof status. We need social support, especially as we age. Tend to your circle carefully. When you’re old in a small town, your former clients may be the only people you know.

Most important here, what impression do you leave with people? Things go awry sometimes. A single thoughtless remark, a joke taken the wrong way or an accidental breach of confidentiality can ruin you professionally and personally with an awful lot of people. Marketing experts have noted a profound tendency among people to repeat a business horror story over and over to many people. The good things you do get much less word of mouth.

How are you perceived? What do people remember about you? That is your most personal legacy and it will determine your place in the world long after you’ve stopped massaging (if you stop massaging.)

Tip: How do you think of the people you treat? Are they patients? Clients? Guests? Are you so busy they are file numbers rather than people? Are you their healer, technician, facilitator, confidante, humble therapist, or paid friend? Each of these labels can carry some heavy positive and negative baggage. Think on it.

lead by Example

I’ve often treated high-performance athletes and occasionally professional athletes. I don’t look like I could. To put it bluntly, I’m a fat massage therapist, and not just by a few pounds. It’s been a lifelong struggle I have alternatively dealt with and ignored for years, yo-yoing up and down the scale. No, it’s not healthy. And that’s why I finally decided to make big changes in my life (and I hope I’m not too late.)

It no doubt affects me professionally in ways I’m happily not too aware of. There have been potential clients who have written me off and gone to therapists who look how they perceive massage therapists ought to look (i.e., bodybuilders or rail-thin marathoners.)

On the first day of massage school, my instructor told us we should be an example of what we do. This struck to the heart of who we were as people. To instill relaxation, we should appear relaxed (especially when we are not.) To instill confidence, we should appear confident. To restore health, we should radiate health.

I’ve fallen down on that score, though the healthy changes I’m making in my life are not for the cosmetic reasons that might draw in reluctant clients. I have no patience for bigots of any stripe and I’m frankly appalled at opinions that denigrate overweight clients and therapists—particularly when they are uttered carelessly by people who are therapists themselves.               

To our pixie-like judges: if you’ve always been thin, don’t criticize others for not being able to pay for something you got for free. You don’t share our genetics or our hunger, so lay off or I’ll sit on you.

I admit I should have been more conscientious about weight-management long before now. However, since I don’t own a time machine, now is the next best time to start. I’m doing it for me, but also for my kids so they’ll inherit the legacy of a dad who can keep up with them and be around when they’re getting married. In the short term, I joined them on a rope course at camp this summer. I need them to see me active so they’ll be active. Besides my sardonic worldview, I want them to inherit healthy habits, too.

Tip: Evaluate. In your presentation and demeanor, are you showing the best you there is to show? Are you meeting the high standard you set for yourself when massage was new to you?

Remuneration

When people talk of legacy, they often think of family businesses that have grown to empires. They think of wealth transferred to younger generations. In a word, money. No one really wants to talk about money. That’s why it’s imperative we talk about it here.

Yes, you get paid and chances are, it’s slipping through your fingers every day. This is a short-term reward for your work that you want to grow into a long-term legacy.

Most of us won’t be able to retire. For most therapists, it’s not probable. Retirement is a fairly new phenomenon that is disappearing all over, so don’t feel too bad about that. Lots of people can’t afford to retire anymore and self-righteous feelings of entitlement are so last century. Get over it and start building what you can with what you’ve got. You need a plan so your safety net doesn’t have too many holes.

Years of leisure while dressing horrifically in golf outfits are not necessarily the point of a nest egg. The point is to have options in case you can’t do the job anymore. Money yields many options.

We’re generally a poor profession and don’t earn enough. We carry too much debt. We owe too much and we don’t save enough. Did I mention you should wear a helmet while reading this section? Strap in.

One thing you can do is stop the hemorrhaging by identifying where the money is going. If things are bad, sit down with a financial planner to learn what your options are. Figure out what your goals are going to be to pay off debt and how short a time you can accomplish this goal. Credit card interest cripples, so cut to nothing as quickly as possible.

Once that debt is paid off, it’s time to speak to an investment counselor to determine where the money is going to go to grow. Discuss your insurance needs with a broker, too. Life insurance is important, but don’t forget critical illness insurance, either. If you’re disabled, these contingencies will save you and your family further heartache.

Don’t blow this off as something that could only happen to other people who don’t eat wheatgrass and do yoga. I knew a young massage therapist who thought she was immune to entropy because she took such good care of herself. Cancer killed her and she had no insurance benefits to leave her children.

More uncomfortable questions: Do you have some emergency money set aside? How long would the money you have right now last you if your clinic burned down tonight? (And is your place of business adequately insured?)

How much can you put aside each month to invest in your future? Even if you assume you won’t be able to retire, it’s highly likely you’ll still be breathing, eating, and codgering around for some time before you shed this mortal coil. Massaging till you drop is a somewhat romantic image (except for the unsuspecting client on the table at the time). Shopping till we expire is more realistic.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to thrive in your work, consider how you can give back to your community through modest annual gifts or estate planning. Perhaps you can help support a local healthcare initiative or other program that would be an ongoing testament to your interests and work.

Tip: Even if you don’t have much to leave anyone, there’s an excellent chance you should think about setting up a will. If something happened to you, who would be your child’s guardian? If you don’t, it won’t be you who makes decisions about who takes care of your kids.

Teaching and Mentoring

At some point someone’s going to ask you to teach or mentor. You may find yourself in front of a classroom someday. This has many rewards. The wisdom you pass on today could echo through the next generation of therapists. Your lessons could affect all the people your students serve. Years from now, one of your students could be speaking about what you taught them in hushed, reverent tones. Teaching and mentoring are critical to the development of our profession.

 However, teaching and mentoring opportunities can manifest in all sorts of ways. The local massage class may want to tour your clinic and get a taste of how you practice. A massage student may ask for an internship as part of their training or you could be a guest speaker. Sometimes new graduates get a helpful transition to real world practice through apprenticeship or supervision. When a colleague dials you up for an opinion, be flattered they thought enough of you to ask.              

Some professions have an unfortunate boot camp mentality that overvalues competition. The reasoning goes, “It was tough for me, so I’ll make it tough for the green ones coming up.” This is slowly becoming an outmoded model in medicine. Teamwork is valued more now since no one can know everything.

Tip: Help when and where you can. Once upon a time you benefited from others’ generosity of experience. One day, you may yet again.

Inspiration

Once in a long time a client will connect so intensely and thoroughly with what you do that he or she will want to become a therapist, too. I have been honored this way by five clients who became colleagues.

 Whatever they saw in how I worked with them, it struck a chord that resonated. There was something about our exchange that worked on them in a deep, meaningful and hopeful way. There is no higher compliment to a massage therapist, nor a finer legacy.

Tip: Please think about what inspired you to get into this field. Do you inspire others in your professional conduct? Is this just a job now, or is it still the calling that told you massage is what you were born to do? If there’s a gap between how you felt about it then and how you feel now, reflect on why that is so you can make changes for you and for your clients. They deserve no less than your full engagement. That’s how legacies are inspired and grown.

  Robert Chute is in his 16th year as a massage therapist and is a regular contributor and columnist for Massage & Bodywork. Contact him at consciousbodywork@hotmail.com. To read his latest column, turn to page 136.

 



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