I have a question. Why did you become a massage therapist?
I’m guessing you’re saying things like, “I like to help people.” or “I’ve always given massages and people told me I was pretty good at it.” or “I’m a physiology and anatomy nerd who is fascinated by the human body and making it work to its optimum potential.”
Whatever your answer, I highly doubt it involves statements like, “I wanted to join a profession that openly and shamelessly tears itself down in ways both obvious and subtle.” or “I have a chip on my shoulder and I feel that being a massage therapist will give me a unique platform from which to discredit the medical establishment and to make outlandish claims about wellness while slandering big pharma.”
Personally, the story of why I became a massage therapist is wholly uninteresting, but if you ask me why I’m still a massage therapist, I will tell you something about how much I enjoy people. I enjoy being a part of their lives. I enjoy helping their bodies work better or experience less pain. Maybe you’re nodding, thinking that describes you, too.
But here’s the bonus. I enjoy setting and maintaining a high bar of professionalism and ethical practice with a passion that equals my love of humans. Can you say that?…and mean it? I hope, with every ounce of my being, that you can.
My love of humans is what gets me out of bed every day, but the heavy, heavy lifting of elevating the profession of massage therapy is what keeps me up at night.
Thing is, I’m finding it easier and easier to distinguish myself as an “exceptional professional” in the world of massage therapy because what I’m seeing when I look around me is setting the bar pretty low.
I see massage therapists posting on public Facebook forums about how much they dislike smelly feet, dry skin or clients who show up too early. They post photos of themselves on their LinkedIn profiles that show more of their cleavage or exposed pectoral muscles than of their faces. They post links to articles about the miraculous, medicinal powers of water, saying things like, “This is why I tell ALL my clients to drink water.” (According to one such article, water cures cancer, MS, osteoarthritis, Epstein Barr and a number of other heretofore intractable and deadly diseases. Sorry, NIH and WHO, but you’re barking up the wrong tree. Billions of tax dollars wasted! Why didn’t we just buy all humans a Brita?) Massage schools are still calling very recent grads and inviting them to be teachers. This week’s kick in the head, however, is the postings by massage therapists claiming that the Ebola virus cannot survive in the presence of “therapeutic grade Cinnamon Bark and Oregano essential oil”.
Please. Please. Please stop. Stop embarrassing you, me and the massage therapy profession.
I have put together a few tips to get us started:
1) Facebook and LinkedIn are very, very public forums. They are visited, by the minute, worldwide, by billions (with a “b”) of potential clients, healthcare workers, insurance administrators and others who are formulating an impression of our profession. Worse yet, many of them already have an opinion of massage therapy and, for that matter, massage therapists. You, your midriff and your armchair epidemiology are digging our whole deeper with every click.
2) Start doing and saying things that make it easy to respect yourself. Let me say that last part again: Respect Yourself. If you’re wondering where to start, look to the quiet (and not so quiet) leaders in our profession. Ruth Werner. Tracy Walton. The Young Thumbs. Kelly Bowers. Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. David Lauterstein. ACCAHC. Note the lack of inflammatory arguing by the professionals who visit these pages. Note the lack of exposed flesh, unless in clinic/lab photos. Note the collaborative, supportive exchanges that leave participants better informed, challenged and/or thoughtful. Note how differences of opinion are often supported by citations from reputable sources or by civil and professional requests for such sources.
3) The next time you feel compelled to solve a potential viral epidemic that is stumping the world of highly specialized epidemiologists, researchers and other scientists who have spent their lives immersed in germs and their behavior?…read a biology book, call an infectious disease doctor or perhaps call Africa and ask them if they have enough cinnamon bark and oregano. Clearly, there is a shortage. At the very least, list some references that come from places that are not funded by the company who makes the cure-all product you’re touting and which includes a sample size larger than your Aunt Tillie and her Bridge club.
4) Stop wearing scrubs because you think it makes you professional, medical or expert. If you work in an environment that warrants, scrubs?…wear them. Use your judgment. I’m not the Tim Gunn of massage therapy. This is not about fashion. It’s about getting real about why you wear what you wear to work and about not trying to be something you’re not.
5) Scope is more than a mouthwash. Your work, your hands, your heart are enough. Work within your scope. If you want to advise your clients about what to eat, how to stretch or how to strengthen something?…go get training in those things (hint: reading a book on a modality does not equal “training”) and hang up your certificate showing that you have the ability to responsibly advise people about whatever these things are that don’t fall under “massage therapy”.
6) Be wary of massage therapy “celebrities”. Engage your own brain and your own intuition. If a teacher is teaching something that clicks for you?…great. If it doesn’t?…don’t let their 20,000 Facebook “fans”, shelf full of DVDS, textbooks and Hall of Fame awards seduce you into believing it. Follow your hands and your heart to an ethical living. It is possible and you don’t need a guru to get you there.
7) The next time you’re in a Facebook or LinkedIn group discussion with massage therapists and a seemingly benign post turns into a lengthy and predictably devolving mudslinging, shouting match that will inevitably be won by the person who has the most time to sit in front of his/her computer?…just say “no”. Don’t bite the hook. Think of all the things you could do with those minutes or hours. (Maybe you could read and comment on the FSMTB’s Model Practice Act, for instance, since you’re so passionate about changing the world of massage therapy. Personally, I rather enjoy AFMTE’s Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teachers for a good beach read.)
8) The next time a client shows up in your office with a serious condition with which you’re not familiar, make a good referral instead of thinking you can educate yourself with Google, while you don’t wash your hands, in the 3 minutes it takes your client to get on the table.
9) Stop “endorsing” people on LinkedIn for stuff you haven’t seen, experienced or received from them with your own eyes, hands, brain or body. If you’re about to endorse someone?…ask yourself if you could write a letter of recommendation for that person about the skill you’re about to endorse. If not?…go clip your fingernails or wash your hands. You can even Skype me and I’ll watch you do it so I can endorse you for hygiene.
10) Lead with humility and curiosity. Just do your work.
You are enough. Your scope is enough. Your hands are enough.
We could niggle and bicker about the differences in statutes from state to state, but massage therapy, strictly defined, typically is limited to the manual manipulation of soft tissue. That’s muscles and skin and fascia. It’s not bones. It’s not nutrition. It’s not essential oils as medicine. It’s your hands. It’s your well-trained, intuitive hands, making changes in skin, muscles and fascia…from the outside.
That’s a lot. I think you’d find yourself plenty busy if you just focused on that. Whadya say? Let’s give it a shot.