Love Your Work, Massage Therapists

I happened upon a Dilbert comic strip today that perfectly illustrated for me how important it is for massage and bodywork therapists to love their work. When you don’t love your work, it becomes immediately obvious to your client, your co-workers and your boss if you happen to be employed at an establishment. The comic strip also pokes fun at the sometimes tenuous title “Certified Massage Therapist.”

The comic strip feature a therapist who starts the session out with having the client (Dilbert) fill out a lengthy medical form, thinking to herself, “Less time I have to actually touch him.” Then, as she begins the massage she wonders if anyone realizes she only massages with one hand. Hmmm, she thinks, maybe if I use this pen instead… So she starts “clicking” a writing pen on Dilbert’s back, telling him she found the source of his problem. He tells a friend afterward that he needs to go back several more times so the therapist can get rid of the “clicking” in his back. The strip title is “Certified Massage Therapist.” I only found it funny because I know certified therapists just like that. What wasn’t funny is that certified therapists like that, who do not love their work, are almost as damaging to the overall massage industry reputation as are prostitutes who use “massage” as a ruse.

How many of us have had a similar therapist as in the comic? How many of us have been this therapist at one point or another in our careers? Do you love your work? Do your clients love your work?

I’m retired from hands-on bodywork, but I loved being a massage therapist and I loved my work. What I didn’t love was the bureaucracy being a massage therapist entails, but that’s another article for another day, perhaps. What I will say is, state or national certification does not guarantee you’ll be a better therapist; or, will it make you a safer therapist. It’s a bureaucratic hoop designed for us to jump through.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating against getting certified if it makes operating your business easier, or it makes you feel or appear more professional; or, of course if it’s required by law in order to work or get a job. But getting certified is not necessarily going to make you a “better” therapist. If by getting certified requires more training of you, perhaps it will; but more training will generally make you a better therapist with or without a piece of paper.

No doubt, what makes a better therapist is attitude and touch. Certainly skill comes into it and contributes to touch quality, but overall it’s the attitude that wins the day. No matter what, if you do not love your work, your client will feel that in your hands. They’ll also see it in your body language, and hear it in your voice. And, they’ll remember you when it comes time to book their next massage – with someone else.

That being said, I’ve always felt the best way to ensure massage therapists are competent is to simply let the market rule. If a therapist is awful, they’re going to go out of business tout de suite, or their spa is going to let them go. I do realize that my opinion on certification is controversial, but it is my humble opinion based on my free-market principles and one who loves freedom. My opinion on certification is not meant to disparaged certified therapists in general, but simply to point out that it is not the sweeping panacea it’s purported to be. If it helps a therapist love their work more, of course, I’m all for it. If it gives the impression to the public en masse that the massage industry is legitimate, then sure, fine, I’m for it – as long as it’s optional. Again, it’s my opinion for which I know I will receive plenty of flak.

The question is, can you love your work and still be a terrible therapist? Of course. That’s true in any career or field. However, if you don’t have good hands or mad bodywork skills, you’re going to have a tough time staying in the industry whether you love your job or not. The difference is, I suspect a bad therapist with a bad or indifferent attitude is going to find themselves without a job much sooner than one who loves the work they do. I also believe that even if your skills and touch are questionable today, that doesn’t mean that with a positive attitude and a burning desire to be amazing, one can’t eventually achieve that. There is tremendous power in positive thought and it can overcome incredible deficits.

“Never judge yourself by what you have done. Judge yourself in terms of what you will do. You are not the past. You are the present becoming the future.” – Raymond Charles Barker

I recently went horseback riding for the first time in a hundred years. Okay, I exaggerate, but it has been a very long time since I last rode. As a teenager I had a couple of horses and rode quite a bit, so even though it’s been a while, I know a good ride and a good horse when I have one. I didn’t have one. My horse, who shall rename nameless, clearly was not loving his work. He was more interested in the Chaparral treats along the way than paying attention to his job. He lagged behind despite my gentle urging, dragged his feet continuously, stumbled a lot and was completely detached from the ride. I told him I could stroll faster than he was walking, and massage therapist how to become my rear-end wouldn’t hurt in the process. He’s what I consider a factory worker in that he goes on the same boring ride every day, perhaps two or more times a day, with strangers on his back, most who are likely inexperienced riders. I spoke to him after the ride and urged him to find work he loved because it was obvious he was just going through the motions. I know he has no choice in the work he does, (and that all he heard me say was “blah, blah, blah…”) but despite how much experience he has as a trail horse, his blase attitude toward his work left a lasting negative impression on me about him and his stable.

Mr. Nameless reminded me of many therapists I’ve met and worked with along the way while working in busy spas. I’ve worked in couples’ massages and could not believe the lack of passion or even remote interest my co-workers had in what they were doing. Sadly, their only motivation was their paycheck. Everyone needs to make a living, but that lack of interest or detachment ultimately gets transferred to the client which is not what the massage and bodywork industry is about. The problem with that is, of course, the client may say to themselves (or anyone and everyone with whom they come in contact) that massage, or massage therapist, or that spa was terrible and therefore all massage or therapists are terrible and that spa is terrible, too! It certainly makes marketing more difficult for therapists in general, not to mention how a bad therapist can affect the reputation of a spa.

If you’re wondering how you can possibly love your work if you hate your job, your boss, your co-workers or your pay – or all of the above – the answer is that you have the power to change any of those problems. You can find another job or start your own business, or even change fields altogether. Yes, in this shaky economic climate it may be unwise to change jobs or careers when you actually have one. So then what? What can you do if you feel “trapped” in your current situation.

In a job situation where you are feeling trapped, you have the ultimate power to liberate yourself. Your liberation comes from your attitude and your mind.

Change your mind – change your life. Instead of waking up in the morning thinking, “I hate my job,” change that daily mantra to “I love my work! I’m great at it and my clients love me!” Imprint your brain with positive thoughts. Find things about your current situation you love and focus on those things instead of what you “hate.” As the song says, “Accentuate the Positive!” Love your clients. Strive to change their minds. Tell yourself that you are going to change their world today by giving them an awesome massage – the most awesome they’ve ever had. Approach every session with a determination to rock your client’s world. Believe in your own ability to be able to do that. If you’re tired or your body hurts, your mental attitude has an enormous influence on your body. Don’t start your day with, “I’m so tired…” Instead, tell yourself over and over again how great you’re feeling and nothing can hold you back. You will be surprised at how powerful positive thought can be. I know I am.

I first realized the power of thought when I encountered a very difficult (awful) client. I immediately imagined the whole session becoming a ninety minute nightmare. The client was in a foul mood, he was rude, and to make the situation even worse, his body was not the most pleasant landscape on which to work. Normally I wouldn’t even notice, but when the client is surly, downright mean and bossy, it’s nearly impossible to screen out unpleasantness.

Overwhelming dread began to set in. As I began the session, I could actually feel my client’s attitude begin to permeate my body through my hands. It was terribly unpleasant. The first five or ten minutes were absolute agony for me. Then, for some reason, I began a mental chant, “Massage with love… massage with love…” over and over again throughout the session. What began to transpire was amazing. Suddenly, my client’s silent antagonism began to dissipate, even float away, and the whole dark experience literally lightened before me eyes.

At the end of the session it was if the client I started with had been changed out and replaced with an entirely different person. Of course an awesome massage was probably just what he needed, but what if I had continued that session with the bad attitude his attitude had given me? Who would have I ended up with on my table? From then on, whenever I had to deal with a problem client, I would begin the mantra, “Massage with love, massage with love…” It worked every time.