This is a popular question posited to me by many a new and regular client. You can never be fully honest for obvious reasons. You don’t want to seem tired and overworked, even if you are, because now the client is thinking they will get a shitty massage or feel guilty that they are number (insert double digit) of the day. If I am in the spa setting, I usually make a joke and say that I am “strong like bull” in a mock Eastern European accent and tell them not to worry. If I am in a clinical setting, I distract them back to the matter at hand – their condition, thus dismissing the question altogether. If they bring it up again, I then tell them these clinical massages are shorter and more focused, so don’t worry about me. Let’s focus on you!
Truthfully, there is a magic number of massages a therapist can perform consecutively before burn out happens. Of course, this number is different for all of us. I weight train and exercise at least three times a week; therefore I am “strong like bull.” Despite this strength and stamina, I know that if I do 5.5 hours of consecutive massage, I am at my body’s limit for the day. I learned this from the rare times I had done 7 or even 8 hours of consecutive massages. The next day, I could barely make my hands into fists coupled with the ache in my forearms and shoulders. Now, for those of you who may say, “You work a 6 hour shift? That’s so part time.” Let me take a moment here and define what consecutive means in this context. These massages are occurring literally back to back. Once the one client is off the table, there are between 5 to 7 minutes to get the room changed over, grab a sip of water, then run to get the next guest without looking like you ran to get them. This is usually what happens in a spa setting, as the booking is done to maximize profitability; not to consider the physical demands made on the therapist. So, you see how 5.5 hours of continuous physical work plus the added cardio of running up and down stairs for guest pick up, drop off and supplies is enough of a full work day for me. You cannot compare it to a 9-5 p.m. desk job, which exhausts many in a different manner (i.e. from holding their bodies in poor sedentary posture and mentally focusing on a screen with few breaks).
I recall working an event where another therapist boasted at the amount of clients they could take on in a day. Observing their body mechanics, I assessed that within a few years this therapist would surely burn out. Chronic Tendonitis is a common occurrence in any profession that requires repetitive movements over long periods of time. Taking breaks to stretch, hydrate and regroup mentally and physically allow this career to last beyond the statistical death knell of 3-5 years. I’m not ashamed or scared to say NO when asked to go above and beyond my limit at this 3 year mark of my professional career. After all, I want to be able to straddle both physical worlds – the demands of my fitness regimen with those of my profession. I feel blessed that I know what my magic number feels like, as it makes me a better practitioner for my current and future clients. As for the rest of my fellow LMT’s, may yours pop up sooner than later.
In my first few weeks working as a massage professional, I encountered what no development class could ever prepare me for. I was bombarded with one after another uncomfortable situation involved a client who expected a “happy ending” at some point during or after massage. Almost every massage therapist, male and female alike although women definitely get it more than men, have encountered at least one such situation in their careers, but even one is too many. I have had my share of male friends cracking jokes over the stereotypical “release” I should be giving my clients to which I always respond with a hammer fisted punch to the side of their heads. It’s incredibly frustrating to spend so much money and time on obtaining a legitimate degree for a legitimate health oriented profession and have to deal with such ignorance and nonsense. Of course, the truth is, so long as sensual massage parlors exist so will the stereotypical expectation. The attitude often is, “well, if they do it, why can’t you?”
Here to add to this ridiculous stereotype is a new program from the Women’s network that is Lifetime Television. It’s called “The Client List” and stars a buxom Jennifer Love Hewitt playing the role of a single mom who, as the synopsis states”…has taken a job at a seemingly traditional day spa, but soon realizes that the parlor offers a little more than just massage therapy. It’s not the happy ending she was expecting but it does open her eyes to a world she’s never seen before. The series follows Riley balancing these two worlds – one that revolves around her kids and family – and the other that revolves around the massage parlor and it’s special clientele. These two worlds couldn’t be farther apart, yet she’s totally comfortable in both. Keeping them separate … now that’s the tricky part as she discovers she’s not the only one with secrets.”
Um…no. This is not an example of what massage therapy is, nor a good example for single mothers in dire straits all over America looking for work to support their families. A Massage Therapist in NY requires 1000 contact hours of training done at a state accredited program ($20,000 plus for the 16 month Associates Degree I earned) on top of a licensing exam that costs a couple hundred dollars to take and once passed, a continuing education requirement that has to be completed every 3 years when your license is up for renewal that can cost thousands of dollars. What is Lifetime thinking??? I suppose a series about Massage Therapy premised like “ER” (which was a pretty exciting medical drama if I recall) would not be nearly as thrilling as watching the illicit world of day spa sex and unlicensed massage. Right. Good job, oh women’s network for promoting this idea of the female massage therapist and for encouraging Mr. Pervy McPerv to come into the spa and boldly ask for his “happy ending.” I’ll know who to thank when his business comes my way.
Thankfully, a petition was created and has been circulating via FACEBOOK to address this giant step backwards for my profession. Take a minute to read it and then sign in to your Facebook account to add your support for this.