Cooperative Competition

Support Your Profession and Yourself

By Felicia Brown

In a profession of healing and helping, it’s difficult to fathom that some of our colleagues are less than honorable in their behavior and dealings with other therapists. Over the years, I’ve seen “professionals” who have poached or “redirected” clients from a coworker, bad-mouthed another therapist to colleagues or clients, refused to tell clients where a fellow therapist had moved to or was working, and posted negative or erroneous reviews online. Some of the incidents were driven by ego, others by fear, still others by financial motivation or sheer desperation. What these therapists missed, unfortunately, is that the success of one increases the success of us all.

Regardless of the motivation for the misdeeds of these therapists, the bottom line is that they are all actions in which the philosophy of holistic healing—that each of us is a part of, and has an effect on, the whole—was simply not being followed.

Though I am definitely not perfect, I have always tried to assist others in our profession—to help them connect the dots, improve themselves, or find the resources to become successful. I am a big believer in what I call cooperative competition: I think there is enough work, knowledge, and clientele to go around, and I believe that by helping each other succeed, we can all move forward together and prosper as a profession.

Learning the Hard Way

This mission and belief toward cooperative competition didn’t come out of nowhere, as I taught and trained others professionally even before I became a massage therapist—first as a figure skating instructor, then as a waitstaff and restaurant trainer. My transition into massage therapy did not change this aspect of my personality. Instead, it actually allowed for even greater opportunities to share my knowledge, and increased my desire to see people around me—including clients, students, and colleagues—succeed. After being part of a very nurturing, supportive group in massage school, I really expected that other massage therapists would also think like this and would help me in the ways that I craved and needed.

Sadly, my first work experience as a massage therapist taught me that not everyone in the field was supportive of others. My two coworkers were—at least in my newcomer’s eyes—seasoned industry veterans with tremendous knowledge, experience, and a stable of loyal, regular clients. I really looked up to and admired them and wanted to learn from their wisdom so I could be as successful as they were. But, in my new workplace, it quickly became apparent that my presence as a new and eager therapist was seen as a threat.

After a few grueling weeks of work and getting my “massage legs,” when I approached them about trading massage, both were evasive at best, telling me they already traded with other people or didn’t have time to help me. But I could see the truth—they looked at me as competition, someone who might steal their ideas, techniques, and clients.

After being put-off and feeling quite snubbed, I vowed then and there to help others in the field—students and seasoned therapists alike—so that they would never feel the way I did in those early days.

Building a Network

Initially, I started getting to know others in the area by trading with therapists I looked up in the phone book and called out of the blue. Many had no connection to my school or workplace at all but were willing to get together with me at least once. During our sessions, we’d often share feedback on each other’s work and ideas to improve our practices or techniques. We’d also share stories about difficult clients, challenging work situations, and career opportunities that might be of interest to one another.

One of my favorite people to trade with was Kay. Though she had been in practice much longer than I, she was always willing to exchange with me and made me feel like she was learning as much from me as I did from her. It was an incredible confidence booster for me as a new therapist to have her “on my team” and the beginning of a long, meaningful friendship for both of us. Though she died a few years ago, I can still hear her telling me how effective my work on her subscapularis muscles was, and I think of her often when I am doing massage. I still use some of the techniques she taught me and am forever grateful for her support and friendship.

Later, as my own practice blossomed, I became known as the local expert on marketing and growing a massage business. Many of the people I had traded with in those early days sought me out and, because they had been there when I needed them, I willingly helped them all. In turn, this brought even more good fortune into my life and business. In addition to numerous speaking, teaching, and writing opportunities, my acts of cooperative competition also brought a constant stream of incredible people who wanted to work in my massage practice and, later, my day spa.

Without the support of the massage therapists and other related professionals I’ve met, traded with, and helped, my own businesses would not have been as successful. My career-long investment of practicing cooperative competition has paid off again and again … and continues to do so. It will for you, too.

Where to Begin?

There are countless ways to get involved in supporting your profession (and, in turn, yourself). Some of them may seem more obvious than others in terms of payoffs and rewards, and some may be a better fit for your personality or situation than others. What they all have in common is that they can benefit you and others in your local, state, or universal community of massage therapists, as well as the clients we all serve. 


Getting to know other massage therapists is probably the easiest way to start. In short, networking is simply meeting and greeting others wherever you go, while learning about each other and your respective businesses. Taken a step further, networking is also a means of introducing others to individuals and businesses in order to mutually benefit all parties. Within the massage therapy profession, networking allows us to form relationships with fellow therapists and related professionals who can help to bridge some of the gaps in our individual support systems.

For example, even the greatest, most gifted, most accommodating therapist in the world has to refer their clients to others from time to time. Give your clients (and another therapist) a gift by helping take care of their needs when you are unavailable. Best-case scenario? Work out a reciprocal agreement with someone who will also send her clients to you when she is on leave.

There are many networking ideas you can embrace to build your professional community. Here are a few:

Invite others to meet for lunch or trade services. Some of you may decide to exchange services with another individual therapist. Others may decide to gather with a small group for coffee or lunch to share stories about how to grow your businesses or manage difficult clients. Either way, this level of intimate camaraderie and fellowship with other massage professionals is valuable on many levels.

Organize or attend a local networking meeting or social event for local therapists. The format and content of these kinds of meetings can range from something that is purely social in nature to a meeting with an educational topic or theme. In the latter, colleagues share information on techniques or provide demonstrations of different modalities that make everyone’s work better.

Attend state, regional, and national conferences and conventions. You’d be surprised how often you meet local people events away from home.

Join or set up an alumni association for your school. If you still live in the area where your school is, being involved with your alumni will give you ample opportunity to connect with other therapists. You’ll already have common ground and connections, so deepening your relationships with these folks should be even easier.

Social Networking

Social networking has changed the way many of us do business and stay in touch with our clients and prospective clients. More importantly, it has opened up the lines of support, education, and communication within the world of massage therapy. As this medium has an ever-expanding number of tools, sites, and techniques for individuals and businesses alike, I am only able to scratch the surface here. The bottom line is that social media makes it instantly feasible for massage therapists to reach out and connect with one another.

Here are a few social networking ideas to get you started:

(or Both of these well-established social networks have a number of groups available for massage therapists in general or organized by different modalities or techniques, as well as by state or region.

Join to expand your local and professional network. Because this site is based on expanding one’s list of contacts and is focused on business, it is also a great place to connect with other business-minded therapists.

Write a blog for other therapists or contribute to the discussion on others’ blogs. The beginning of many great conversations and professional friendships is on blogs written by, and for, people in our industry. I write two blogs, and I encourage you to check out these as well:,, and

Mentoring and Peer Counseling

Different than networking, which can be done as little or as often as you like, mentoring is more of a commitment over time to a particular individual or group. While meeting or talking with these folks can be time-consuming, mentoring is a worthwhile endeavor. The information you share with those you mentor can impact them, and potentially many others, in a positive way. Sometimes just offering an encouraging word or setting an example can provide someone the inspiration needed to make a change for the better.

Here are some specific ways you can be part of a mentoring/peer counseling circle:

Be available for potential therapists.

Clients and other individuals may come to you seeking advice on massage training programs and the realities of the profession. By taking the time to discuss their motives and curiosities, you are in effect acting as a part of the screening process for both the student and any program they seek out. Who better to counsel a potential new therapist on the realities of this profession than a real-world product of a massage program and a living example of the possibilities that lie ahead?

Request interns from local massage programs and colleges. The requirements for interns working in your practice may vary depending on whether the internship is arranged through a massage school or college. Local labor laws must also be taken into account. In some cases, the intern will not need to be paid other than receiving some type of credit for the course. Specific assignments are sometimes given, with grading conducted by the supervising therapist. If the internship candidate is independent of such a program and is perhaps looking to become a therapist on your staff, the rules may be quite different. Either way, you are providing valuable work experience and gaining affordable assistance in your business.

Become a peer counselor for established professionals. From time to time, most therapists need guidance of some kind or another. Often these folks will turn to someone they know or respect for help. I gladly help other therapists in any way I can, provided I have not had a particularly negative experience with that person in the past. By helping others in our profession, we strengthen the whole.

Volunteering and Community Involvement

Giving back to our communities is an amazing way to gain credibility for us as individuals, as well as for the entire massage profession. While you can certainly volunteer on your own, being a part of a volunteer group can be beneficial as well. One example from my own career was a massage-a-thon that I organized to raise money for a local charity. I called upon all of my local trade partners and colleagues to each provide one or two hours of massage at this two-day event. With event dates scheduled for April 15–16, we promoted it to local accounting firms and got television and newspaper coverage for the event. As a bonus, many of the therapists who participated got a new client or two. There are countless other ways to give back while getting to know others:

Sign up to provide postevent massages for local sporting events. These events always need therapists and provide a unique way to bond with your colleagues. It’s also a nice treat for hardworking athletes, and a lot of fun for everyone who participates.

Coordinate a team to provide a low- to no-cost massage day. Consider putting a group of colleagues together to serve cancer patients or survivors once a month. This can be in your office, a spa, or even a cancer-treatment facility. Be creative and find a compassionate way to help these folks or others experience the healing powers of massage, while you create unity and a real sense of purpose with your team.

Do cooperative advertising with other area therapists to promote massage awareness. Be a part of one of the various events available to promote awareness of massage therapy and related services, such as Spa Week, National Stress Awareness Month, or EveryBody Deserves a Massage Week. This helps everyone by saving money, gaining new clients, and educating the public about massage.

Get involved with professional boards, associations, organizations, and events. There are countless opportunities here, but one of note is the Sanctuary, sponsored by Massage Warehouse. This “spa area” is on-site at many of the conferences where Massage Warehouse has a presence. Practitioners are always needed and it connects you to both the professionals you touch and the charity designated by the Sanctuary.

No matter which avenues you choose or how you decide to support your colleagues and competitors, I encourage you to get involved in cooperative competition. The investment can result in more clients and income, great friendships, a stronger profession, and a truly invaluable, career-long payoff. 

 Felicia Brown is an author, educator, and consultant. She is a contributing author in the Thank God I ... book series, volume 3, released in October ( Contact her through