Finding Ways to Build a Better Profession
By Joi Edwards, PT, MT
“Joi, you should tag along. Be a teaching assistant. You might like it.” That was my buddy Nick, owner of Fluffy Tiger Massage in Durham, North Carolina.
Nick was teaching a continuing education course in Charlotte on cupping and was inviting me to come along. I am a physical therapist and was already cupping, but I wasn’t teaching. And honestly, I had no intentions of ever teaching. I’m a homebody and introvert at baseline. Public speaking . . . to be quite honest, public anything . . . was not my jam. I enjoyed the quiet refuge of solitude much more than the shine and attention of the spotlight. But I liked cupping and I liked Nick, so I went along. And with that decision, my world was forever changed.
We went to Charlotte and of course Nick set the crowd on fire—literally. He taught fire cupping, and it was amazing! I was able to interact with his students and later decided I indeed wanted to pursue teaching. Nick introduced me to the owner of the school, who was equally as fabulous as Nick, and I later began teaching CE courses there. What began as one class, in one location, with a few students, has now blossomed into four different CE courses, 15 workshops per year, in several different states, making connections with thousands of amazing therapists nationwide.
I share all that to say none of this would have been possible without Nick. He opened doors for me. He could have easily looked at me as “the competition,” and not invited me to Charlotte. Instead, he gave me a seat at the “teaching” table. Nick was my warm and fuzzy portal into the massage world. And as I peeked through that door, I loved what I saw. If everyone was like this, I thought, I would have made the transition a long time ago. I naively assumed that everyone in the massage world was as kind and warmhearted as Nick.
Eyes Wide Open
“Cupping is snake oil!” “What kind of doctor are you?” “You’re a witch!” “It’s barbaric. Bruises!!” “You should be ashamed of yourself!” “Your profile sucks!” “You’re a phony!” And those were just a few of the less inflammatory comments I received after sharing some of my first social media posts about cupping. Insult after insult came at me, not only about the “snake oil treatments” I was sharing, but about my character, my lack of credibility, and even my Facebook design. They ate me alive, but they didn’t even know me. This was not the warm and fuzzy portal I had so lovingly been introduced to. And I was utterly confused.
This would not be my last encounter with toxic professional interactions—those undeserved insults, negativity, hostility, passive-aggressiveness, and anything in between, produced with the intent to directly or indirectly hurt, cause negative vibes, or prevent progress. I was astonished and dumbfounded. I could not quite put into words the disappointment I was feeling. It was like meeting someone I had idolized for decades only to find out they were the biggest jerk on the planet. That kind of thing sort of takes the wind out of your sails. But the burning question for me was why? Why were they like this? Why was this even a thing? Why would anybody, let alone a whole slew of people that were in a field predicated upon intuition, kindness, and healing be so utterly and unfathomably mean?
I have a theory . . .
Crab Barrel Theory
My parents are from East Texas. We used to go fishing and crabbing when I was little. After catching them, my dad would put the crabs in a barrel to keep them until it was time to go. Crabs are very strong. If you put one crab in a barrel, it can use its claws to climb its way out of the barrel. But if you catch more than one crab and put them in a barrel together, when one tries to climb out, the others will instinctively pull that crab back down into the barrel to prevent it from getting out. All the crabs end up working against each other instead of working together to escape the barrel.
Some therapists come from a professional or personal background where competition and sabotage are the only ways to succeed and illuminate talents. This crab-barrel mindset follows them into every realm of their life, even into the massage world. These broken people seek to create brokenness in other things, including other people. You might hear these therapists bad-mouth their colleagues or even speak down toward a profession they have only superficial knowledge about. “I could totally be a physical therapist. They don’t know anything. I know way more than they do.” Or, “Look at Becky. Her treatments are a joke. I don’t even know why she’s a massage therapist.”
The underlying misconception here is that attacking someone else will make the attacker’s light shine brighter. It does not. Attacking, belittling, and speaking negatively about someone else only dims the attacker’s light even more. It creates a negative force field that engulfs and entraps the aggressor and anyone with like-mindedness that remains within that pathway. The longer the exposure to the negative energy, the stronger, more disillusioning, and lasting the effect. The result is an inability to rise to one’s fullest illumination because of the constant darkness cast over anything that therapist sees, hears, or witnesses from another professional.
I am blessed to know some very wonderful and talented therapists. These therapists are empathetic and kind. They exemplify what professionalism in the wellness community should look like. In contrast, I also know some therapists who are super educated, with decades of experience, who excel at their crafts, but are unable to open their eyes, minds, and hearts to anything outside of their own treatments and biases.
I may be clumsy, scared of heights, never wash my feet, and have horrible balance and coordination. For these reasons, ashiatsu may not be the best specialty for me. On the other hand, Jasmine may have wonderful balance, top-notch motor skills, be fearless of heights, and have clean feet. Ashiatsu may be the perfect specialty for her. Your truth is your truth, not the next person’s and vice versa. People come from all different walks of life, and have different abilities, and different likes and dislikes. What may organically resonate or work for me may not work for you, and that is perfectly OK.
I like to drive on the back roads when I go from one town to another. It is peaceful to me. My sister, on the other hand, loves the highway. She likes the speed and the lack of traffic lights. Do we both end up at our destinations, even though the routes are different? Yes. Are either of us wrong for taking the routes we choose? Absolutely not. As therapists, we have to remember to keep an open mind and avoid being so quick to judge anything or anyone outside of our narrowed viewpoints. This leads to a lack of professional growth; therapists being stuck in their own way is fertile ground for seeds of discontentment to be planted.
How Do We Fix This?
The massage world is a melting pot of sorts. In melting pots, with so many different ingredients, you undoubtedly get many different flavors. I understand there will be outliers. There will be a “Mean Megan” here and a “Negative Nancy” there. Some things and some situations are beyond our control. However, the things we can control should be whole-heartedly attempted in order to better ourselves and our collective profession.
Work on Yourself: If you at all identify with any of the “crab barrel, can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees, Negative Nancy, or Mean Megan” characteristics discussed here, then figure out why. Take an open, honest, and hard look at yourself. Do the work. Fix you. Take the time, space, and steps to heal yourself from the inside. We all have these moments—the trick is recognizing where these emotions come from and making an effort to rise above them. The result is a much happier, more fulfilled human being capable of spreading genuine positivity and healing vibrations to everyone they come in contact with.
Educate Others: There has never been a more opportune time for self-growth and speaking out for what’s right. Conversations, education, and an openness for feedback are catalysts for change. Take opportunities to kindly educate others who may not display behavior conducive to the positive atmosphere we are happily and pridefully attempting to maintain. This may not always be easy, but it is worth it. I once had an uncomfortable conversation with the head of a continuing education company that took pride in broadcasting videos of unsuspecting therapists with the sole purpose of belittling and criticizing them. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to vibrate from my heart and educate this company on better, less hurtful ways to contribute to the wellness community.
Educate Yourself: Learn from everyone around you. Understand that everyone will have a different opinion and a different clinical perspective. None of them are wrong just because they are different. Take what resonates with you from each person and make it your own. Be leery of people who are quick to point out that someone else’s idea or clinical theory is wrong. Knowledge and technique are fluid. They continuously flow and evolve. There are no hard stops. There are no “absolutes.” Opening yourself up to learning is empowering and empowered people empower people.
Support: We won’t always agree with each other. We have different perspectives that are collectively created from our own weaknesses, strengths, motivations, and experiences. Even when we don’t fully subscribe to the next person’s philosophy, there is a constant baseline of respect that should always be followed. We are not on some strange reality show where we have to use strategy and sabotage to vote each other off the island. Above everything else, we are professionals. Professional behavior creates a stronger foundation on which we can build. An unstable foundation is a recipe that ensures anything built upon it will eventually crumble.
In the words of Will Smith, “I am trying to climb and fly as high as humanly possible,” and I want to take the people and profession that I love so very much with me. I want to do everything I possibly can to contribute to the collaborative and continued success of the massage field. I want to provide mental and emotional support to my fellow therapists. I want to learn from and share ideas with my massage family. I want to seek and build networks and business opportunities that improve our profession. The only way to climb out of the barrel of negativity and competition is through collaboration.
We, as massage therapists, are here on the backs of generations that have struggled through years of sacrifice, years of being called masseuses, years of being asked for happy endings, years of naysayers shouting that we aren’t good enough or therapeutic enough to be recognized as health-care professionals. We have come a very long way and still have so much further to go. We are stronger together, so if I can extend my hand to help pull someone up as opposed to pushing them down, best believe I am doing it without question every single time.
Dr. Joi Edwards is both a licensed massage therapist and a licensed physical therapist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in recreation, a doctoral degree in physical therapy, and specialty certification in orthopedic physical therapy. She works full time as a physical therapist in Cary, North Carolina, is a consultant for Lure Essentials and Game On Gear, and owns her own continuing education company, Owlchemy Education.