January 24, 2010

The Best Compliment

Sometimes you get the nicest compliments from clients when they don’t say a word.

So it was Friday when a client came in after a hell week at work, plopped on the table and pointed at the right side of his neck.

A few minutes after getting his lymph flowing and addressing the rebar in the area where his trap and posterior scalenes should have been, the big thank you came.


Gee, I felt good.

What is the best compliment you have ever gotten from a massage client? Come on now, you know we kind of live for them. They are a blast. I bet when someone does a great job on some horribly long commercial litigation case, the client doesn’t often give up a hug.

I’ve gotten hugs. Tips, yeah they are great. But that spontaneous expression of total relaxation followed by a good nap? I love the sound of good buzz-saw snore.

So what does it take to really snore up a storm? I had a therapist friend once who would get crabby if the clients fell asleep. “She fell asleep while I was working on her SCMS!”

I’d like to think it was a compliment, not exhaustion. Not too many people will let you play with their violin strings like that.

Catching those Zzzzzzzzz on the table came at the end of a long week of fun, feel-good moments. One lady I wasn’t sure of at all – fibromyalgia, lots of accidents, lots of angst - called back after a detox lymph massage to say she felt reborn. Usually massages give her the flu-feelings for a few days. Not this time.

We talked for a bit before doing her second massage about modulating moods and fatigue with breathing and mindfulness. She had heard about these things before, but I got the sense she was connecting the dots.

“I feel really good. I’m impressed!” she said.

Now if I can only get her to drop into the Zzzzz-zone.

I like nothing if not a challenge. And it sure beats commercial litigation.

January 19, 2010

The Flake Factor

Are massage therapists flaky as a demographic? Someone asked me that question recently: another therapist, actually. We were shaking our heads over tales of therapists not showing up for shifts; therapists throwing fits over one client too many, or one client too few, or one client too pregnant; therapists simply disappearing into the sunset, destination unknown.

Personally, though extremely sensitive and empathic, I'm almost as un-flaky as they come, and so probably unqualifed to answer this question. I've almost never been late, and it generally takes an act of God to even get me near being late. I've never not showed up for a shift, never disappeared on an employer. That would unprofessional, and in my up-bringing, simply unthinkable. I would be mortified to let my clients down, my employer down, my teammates down. Even thinking of being the cause of that kind of panic, disappointment, and havoc gives me guilty shivers. And I know many therapists just like me in this way.

On the other hand, there's no denying there's more than a handful of therapists out there who are flakier than homemade pie crust. And I can't deny that whenever we hire a new person at my place of business, I send up a silent prayer: "Oh please God, let her be dependable and sane. Oh please, oh please." I don't want someone who hires on and then gives notice in two weeks to go to Bali. Or disappears and ends up in Bali. But you can only plan ahead so far and so well. Working both in the corporate world and in the academic world showed me that a person can give a wonderful interview and be a lousy employee or vice versa.

Still . . . lousy or not, corporate and academic employees rarely no-show or just disappear. Why? Probably because they'd get fired and lose their income and benefits. Which, yes, would happen in massage too, only flaky therapists don't seem to be very moved by such punishments. Nor are they moved by the shame of letting clients down and teammates down. I find such behavior disgusting, but it exists and occurs often enough that it should not surprise me anymore . . . and yet it does.

Which, I guess, still doesn't answer the question about the flake factor/percentage in our chosen field. I would like to think that among SERIOUS therapists--those of us who feel we have a gift, purpose, calling, etc.--the flake factor is low. We can be "odd," or "unique," or "foo-foo," and still not be flaky. As to the rest . . . I wish they'd choose another profession. And not tarnish the image of ours.

January 8, 2010

Mix and Match: Light to Deep

At my place of business, we use a level system of 1-4 to describe the depth and intensity of a given therapist's typical massage style. Recently, I interviewed a job candidate who had never heard of this system and wanted me to explain it. "Well," I said, musing, "Think of Level 1 like someone sweeping you with a feather duster and Level 4 more like a run-in with Helga the Prison Mistress. And Levels 2 and 3 as steps in between." Overly simplistic, yes; especially since once you've been working as a massage therapist for a long while, you realize that there are levels within levels. For example, no Level 2 therapist is ever the same so no Level 2 massage is ever really just 2: it can be 2.3 or 2.5 or 2.8.

However, even though the level system may not always be spot-on accurate, it does serve as some sort of guideline. We keep a coffee-table book for clients that contains each therapist's profile, and each profile clearly indicates what level each therapist works at. In addition, our front staff makes an honest effort to match incoming clients to particular therapists whenever there are special depth requests (and that means light or deep). I believe that this is a good thing: for example, no one who requests a really deep tissue massage wants to end up with a Level 1 therapist.

Not all businesses use the level system, though, or even go to the trouble to match clients with appropriate therapists. I've worked at places where clients requesting serious deep tissue were paired with Level 1 and 2 therapists, simply because those therapists were the only ones available at that time and the business wanted to book the slot at any cost. In my opinion, the cost could be losing a client: if you specifically ask for something, and you pay for it, you rather expect to get it.

Some people would try to justify the above by arguing that defintions of deep tissue differ greatly. Boy, do they (read a bit of sarcasm here). Just about every therapist I've ever known listed "deep tissue massage" on his or her resume, whether or not he or she actually practiced it. And who gets to decide what is deep? The person with the most common sense, maybe? There are levels of deep, but we all know the difference between deep and light. We just do. Light is not deep no matter how much you wish it was. And I have met many an unhappy client out there who has ended up on a table either wishing for deeper or praying for lighter.

Maybe some sort of universal level system in massage wouldn't be so bad. It seems to me that using such systems to match clients with therapists would make for happier clients and more ethical business practice across the board.

January 1, 2010

Weighing Choices for New Year's Resolutions

This is generally the worst time of year for manipulative ads on weight loss. Whether it's pills, diets, or gym memberships, you can count on TV strangers in spandex or bikinis telling you that THIS year you absolutely HAVE to have their products in order to make your New Year's resolution come true. Well, guess what air-brushed spandex/bikini people? I never played with Barbie dolls, and New Year's resolutions for weight loss almost never come true . . . plus, they bore me spitless.

It might be different if all this weight-loss frenzy were truly based on health concerns, but often it's just based on vanity and cultural anxiety. And I've seen the damage such frenzy does both in my own early life and in the lives of the people, particularly the women, who end up on my massage table. Makes me wonder . . . unless a person is so morbidly obsese his life or quality of life is in danger, is losing weight something all that important to resolve do?

Consider this little story: When I was in massage school, I continued to teach English to make ends meet. I had a Japanese student who was an advanced speaker of English, so I tended to work with her using articles and essays to improve her spoken English. One day, I found a news article written about how thoughts on women's weight differs from culture to culture. The geographical focus of this article was the African country of Niger, a place I was somewhat familiar with, having worked on girls' education projects there when I was in non-profit. And in Niger, girls really, really, really want to be . . . FAT. Yes, they WANT to be as fat as they can possibly get. Regular little "butterballs" as my father used say.

A story like this can really turn your world upside down if you were raised to set goals for seeing your own skeleton in the mirror. My Japanese student and I were surprised and amused to read about a gathering of teenage girls in a beauty shop, where the most popular girl in town was also the fattest. This girl said things like, "That girl over there is pretty, but she can never gain weight." Other girls whispered that they wished they could be as fat as the head girl so that they could be popular and make the best marriages. One average-sized girl said she was happy the way she was, but she might try to put on at least 10 to 15 pounds, just to look good and be healthy. The author noted that the richer the man in Niger, the more huge women he gathered around him, as weight is a sign of health and weatlh. Anyone seeing a reverse pattern here?

And then, there was a darker side to the story. Women weren't just eating more food to get fat, because in many cases, food was limited. Instead, they were taking animal steroids--an extremely dangerous practice--in order to beef up. Animal steroids are banned for human use, of course, but the black market trade in Niger still does a brisk business, especially before holidays and special occasions. You can't have the family thinking you're a weakling or that your husband's a bad provider, after all! One doctor who treats such women stated something to the effect of, "The world is crazy. In American women have everything, and try to look like they have nothing. Here, women have nothing and want to look like they have everything."

In considering such a story, losing 20-30 pounds as a New Year's resolution doesn't seem so important. Personally, I'd rather resolve to donate monthly to a charity I like called Operation Smile for kids born around the world with cleft palate. Or make sure all of my recyclables actually make it into the recycling bin, not the trash.