May 22, 2013

Adding New Skills

One of my massage therapist friends had a good bit of extra time on her hands when she first started her practice, so she picked up a Spanish book and taught herself to speak it.

My therapist friend has not used her knowledge of Spanish much in her day spa, but it has come in handy many times when out and about in Southern California, where the number of people more comfortable speaking Spanish than English is fairly significant. Learning another language was a good brain stretch for her.

Spanish is also good to know in a therapeutic setting, especially in medical massage, with many staff therapy aide jobs preferring bilingual.

Thus I had been thinking a bit about trying to learn at least survival Spanish, the kind that can help you find a fire exit or a bathroom. At the hotels where my day spas were located, most of the staff was more comfortable speaking Spanish.

I often sat at the large round table in the cafeteria where the house-workers had lunch, trying to follow as much as I could of the conversation, which went on at about 450 miles per hour. I picked up a few verbs and phrases with a little coaching, and felt a little more confidence in my language abilities.

My motivation was something else as well. During the height of the recession, I decided to limit the amount of time I spent banging my head against the wall trying to book clients. I needed something to stretch my brain, too.

If you have ever watched TV there are about 500 commercials on about 500 channels for a language immersion course on computer. I didn’t do that. I picked instead some cd’s that I could play to and from work in the car. Old-fashioned, yup, that’s me.

Months into my cd experience, I decided to try my Spanish out at the local Mexican restaurant. My mother-in-law orders in perfect New-Mexico Spanish all the time. I thought I would try my luck. The staff at Bahia’s is famously bilingual, slipping from English to Spanish and back to English with ease.

I carefully ordered what I thought would get me a combo with a little cerveza.

Our server looked at me in complete surprise.

Aha! She can tell I am speaking excellent Spanish, I thought.

After a pause, she leaned over the table and looked me right in the eye.


My mother-in-law explained, in Spanish, that I was trying to speak Spanish. We all had a good laugh. Me, my folks, the people in the next booth, the entire wait staff and the lady seating customers.

Despite much urging, I declined to repeat my order and pointed at the menu.

Taking the Last Step off the Diving Board

At a recent continuing education class, I spoke with a recent massage graduate struggling with starting her massage career.

A few months have passed since graduation, and she has had trouble with deciding on a venue for massage. Should she work on her own? Work for a doctor? A spa? Join an established massage practice?

Not sure what would be the right path, she has been holding back.

I offered my advice. “Go to the end of that diving board and jump off. You have to get some experience to know what you want and what fits you well.”

Easy for me to say, but someone has to say it.

Starting a career in massage is not easy. A newbie therapist might find out, after spending a lot of money for training, that he/she does not like massaging people. It happens.

Know, however, that life will go on. If you don’t like something, you can always do something else.

I view massage training like a nurse’s education. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to work on a hospital floor. But nurses may end up anywhere in a hospital, sub-acute facility, even an insurance company.

One of my good friends found out she didn’t like hands-on, but she is darn good at administration. Turns out that is a gift from God, too, and she runs a large day spa quite well. It is a bonus that she understands what therapists are going through. Empathy has a place outside the therapy room, too.

At the other end of the spectrum, another therapist told me one day how disappointed she was in her training. “I thought I would be setting my own hours and making $60 an hour,” she said.

She was happy to give up on massage and blame her school for misleading her. I went to the same school and never heard any of that talk.

But the time to start your career is when you don’t know where you are going. Experience does not have to be a negative. It can lead you where you need to go. Sometimes you just have to step into the air and have faith.

May 17, 2013

Just Lucky, I Guess

 Sometimes during a massage a client will ask me how I got into the business of doing massages. I don’t really like to take that question seriously. I have a serious answer, but I don’t like to share it. I’d rather say that it just happened that I noticed one day that I had a knack for massage, or if the client is getting a deep tissue massage I’ll say that the Inquisition wasn’t hiring so massage seemed like the next best thing.
Flippancy isn’t really an answer, though, and I would like to say what happened, except it might just be a bit too much like real life, a bit bumpy and all the seams showing.
How did I get into massage? It was the only thing that helped me.
I was working at a large metropolitan newspaper, no not that one, and I was having more and more frequent migraines, shoulder pain and neck problems. After years of cradling the phone in my neck, running around on deadlines and parachuting into tense situations, I did not feel very good.
Mostly I was stiff, but I had trouble with weakness in my hands, pain running from my neck down to my hands, and a definite sense that the longer I stayed swirling in the news vortex the less good I would feel.
I tried different types of therapy, mostly physical therapy, and I would feel a little better for a while and then back to daily pain. Lucky for me, the symptoms were never bad enough to suggest surgery. At the time I didn’t know it, but that was dodging a big-caliber bullet.
One time at physical therapy I was assigned to a therapist who was doing trigger point therapy. I had no idea what she was doing, but after a few minutes of pushing on my neck, I felt a lot better. It seemed like it was the only thing that worked very well. At me next appointment I asked her to do the treatment again. She told me that once treated, trigger points were gone and did not need to be done again.
As I did my exercises in the common room, exercises which I knew would make everything hurt again, I felt motivated to investigate what worked for me.
Being a journalist helped a lot. I really knew how to look things up in a library. I spent a few hours at the medical library and emerged with an idea for a new career. Not only did I understand a lot more about trigger points, I also understood why they were not being treated properly. Trigger point therapy requires warm-up massage strokes, experienced treatment followed by soothing massage and repetition over several sessions to break the pattern. It was all very hands-on and required focus and dedication. The kind of service massages therapists provided.
After a while, I gave up on p.t. and went for massages. My insurance and health savings account did not cover massages, but since they worked, I was happy to pay for them. Feeling good was important to me. 

Which leads me back to my other flip answer. When asked how I got into massage, sometimes I’ll rub my neck and say: “Just lucky, I guess.”

May 3, 2013

Aw Shucks, Twern’t Nuthin’…

Sometimes clients love their massage so much they bring me gifts. I love a nice card or a bottle of olive oil. A box of cupcakes? Oh please, don’t feed me!

I have to admit it is wonderful for the ego. One long day – a Saturday - my clients brought me lunch. How did they know? Are we psychically linked?

Gifts are wonderful expressions of thanks, but are there a place to draw the line? Do we massage therapists’ need one?

When I worked at a newspaper we had strict rules because we didn’t want any implied or perceived favoritism through gifts. We in the news section picked up the lunch check; we turned down the offered goodies. But it was not all black and white. One day the business editor decided it was OK to accept goodies if it could be consumed in an afternoon. The next day the business section got a case of wine. Meanwhile, the travel editors and the sports guys did all kinds of things for free.

But in the therapeutic realm, is there a reason to turn down gifts? I don’t know. A sandwich and a box of cupcakes seem fine. What about a Hawaiian vacation? A free refi? Sponsorship at the country club? If it is a substantial gift is it still OK?

One of my good friends, a personal trainer, got a nice-looking pair of diamond earrings from a client at the holidays. She was fine with it, actually pretty giddy. It seemed to me fine to accept, as long as the client was not doing it for romantic reasons, which he wasn’t.

I guess I will think that one through if it ever comes up for me.

How do therapists feel about gifts? Are they bonuses for a job well done? Will they cause a problem in the therapeutic relationship? Are they any different from other tips?

Oh my the question virus has bitten me today. I suspect gifts are OK as long as they don’t stand in for something else – an invitation to a personal relationship or some obligation outside the massage room. That makes the free helicopter sightseeing ride a no-no because a lonely male client offers it. But the free use of the vacation home for a weekend seems all right. Therapists, what do you think?