Thoughts on the Novel Coronavirus and Your Practice from ABMP Chairman Bob Benson

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A massage table in a tranquil massage room

My most recent massage—a vigorous deep-tissue session that included special work on the levator scapulae, trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, and scalenes to address a balky neck and shoulder caused by ill posture writing articles like these—occurred March 10, just slightly before the alarm bells sounded. Increasingly, the glow after that 75 minutes has become a fleeting memory.

Customers everywhere are anxious to get back to complementary health-care routines. Their resolution will be varied, from itching to book an appointment to dramatically limiting the amount of close human contact until a vaccine is developed and widely administered.

Total consumer demand for massage therapy and bodywork services may be curtailed from levels experienced in 2019. By how much and for how long, we do not know. So many of us are more focused on the next two weeks, it’s difficult to consider what’s down the road. Worry about food on the table, rent, mortgage payments, and—God forbid—major personal or family medical emergencies come to the fore.

Yet, even in an acknowledged emergency condition, both state and federal government agencies are challenged to respond to the demand for relief programs. States, which are responsible for administering unemployment insurance, move to their own different drummers. ABMP staff have your back in terms of keeping abreast with federal information. We try our best to keep up in each of those 50 jurisdictions; you can help by letting us know as your state makes any progress; email us at gr@abmp.com.

The Variables of Reopening

We are already seeing steps to begin getting people back to work even before epidemiologists fully concur it is smart to take that step. As this pace intensifies, it will be an uneven, bumpy road—with certain geographic regions, certain kinds of jobs, and continuing constraints such as social distancing and required daily health assessments all coming into play. Where massage and bodywork treatments fit on such a phased timing map is uncertain.

Getting government permission to reopen your professional practice, from both your Governor and your state licensing agency, is only the first meaningful step—a necessary but incomplete condition. The hard part is when you feel prepared to begin working with clients again and how your personal feelings meld with how comfortable and confident your clients feel about receiving your services.

Most therapists are likely to reopen before we have a widely administered vaccine, being cautious about starting back, adopting new practice protocols, and understanding that future practice will be different from past work. While some among this group will dive back in as soon as all state permissions are in hand, others likely will pause until certain medical milestones seem in place in their community.

Decisions have to made based on uncertain and imperfect information. Even if one possesses a well-thought-out moral compass and rudder, sometimes decisions are not clearly black or white. Risk exists no matter what course of action is selected. All we can do is gather the best possible information in the time allowed, thoughtfully integrate that information, make as good a decision as we can, and communicate that thinking to the clients who look to us for leadership.

Weighing such measures and sorting your own risk–reward judgments and values will be an individual matter. You will have to find your own comfort zones. Your clients will do the same.

Client Communication

Knowing that someone else may be infected with coronavirus without displaying any symptoms is downright scary to anyone who prides themselves about staying informed in order to make good judgments. How do we get past social distancing to the point where a client can become relaxed about receiving massage or bodywork treatments that necessarily involve direct touch? It won’t be automatic or necessarily come quickly.

Confidence will gradually return. You can help regenerate your practice by sharing your honest feelings with your clients, to show understanding about what they may be thinking and feeling, and to talk about what you are doing professionally during this interim. Part of this upping your game is real improvements in sound decision-making and revised procedures that enhance healthy outcomes. The other part is building client confidence— seeing how you have improved your procedures and knowing that everyone else coming into your space must also meet new, higher standards. Walk in your client’s shoes.

As you become nearer to possibly reopening, communicate what community health markers you are looking for to gain confidence that it may be time to begin carefully providing sessions. Each therapist will have an individualized program, which is a product of the kind of work they perform and the context of their practice. A complete list of ABMP suggested protocols is available at www.abmp.com/back-to-practice.

Together we will get through this. People will regain confidence in the value of massage and bodywork treatments in this new age. Eventually a vaccine will be found and become omnipresent and the final barriers to seeking treatments will melt away. But this progress will not happen on autopilot. Let’s embrace honest, empathetic client communications and thorough thinking about how your sessions can become even safer and more productive. ABMP is here to support you.

Bob Benson

Chairman

ABMP

Government Relations and Financial Updates

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Comments

Thank you. This is a very good letter. I'm struggling to compose a reentry "announcement" letter that sounds confident yet stating uncertainty as well. I would appreciate a template that I could edit to make my own. Would that be something that could be included in the "Forms" ?