It’s a matter of choice

Male or female?

When given the choice between a male or female therapist, which would you prefer? There are definitely many factors that play a role in this decision, including your gender, sexual orientation, religious and/or cultural mores and presumed stereotypes to name a few. Although ideally it should be an equal opportunity booking system, ultimately you want to book with someone you feel comfortable with. More often than not, the therapist that fits that bill ends up being female.

While still in school, I remember becoming very anxious about my ability to find work upon graduation. I consulted with one of my teachers, who happened to be male. I was hoping he could advise me on where it would be best to apply and what potential employers were looking for in a “rookie” therapist. Keep in mind that this teacher had a successful private practice, had been a lead therapist/supervisor at a very popular gym/spa chain and super active member of various professional groups related to massage in addition to his position as a core member of the faculty. Despite all this experience, he told me that it had been very difficult for him to obtain clients. He had to work twice as hard as the female therapists to strum up business and eventually reach the level of success he had. His skills and expertise were not the deciding factor; it was his gender that put him at a disadvantage.

Think about the power differential. The client laying on the table is in the most vulnerable state. You are unclothed and in a submissive position. You trust that the therapist towering over you has the education and skills to address your needs properly and respectfully. You hope that they don’t judge you or your body in any way. You pray their touch is firm, focused and has a flow. You want them to put you at ease from the start, so that you can mentally check out and really enjoy the benefits of the work. Regardless of gender, a true professional will be able to provide all of the above to the client, but without a doubt women win out for their perceived nurturing nature, transcending the role of “mommy” on the massage table. A recent article in Psychology Today outlines the gender gap when it comes to caretakers. Society expects women to be the natural choice due to their biology, while men are hardwired to be natural “fixers” and protectors. You might think these qualities would bode well for the male therapist, but not when it comes to massage.

Minus the watch, this is a perfectly normal image of a male therapist working the lumbar region of the back of a male client.

Then there is the tricky area of sexuality. As long as there are “happy ending” jokes circulating and brothels posing as massage parlors, the massage profession will always have to prove its legitimacy. That said, heterosexual men, whether single or married, can feel extreme trepidation at booking with a male therapist because of what other people may assume about their sexuality. Also, since the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated during massage, an erection could occur and the thoughts of this happening with a male therapist brings on much anxiety. On the other side of the coin, heterosexual women, whether single or married, can feel hesitant to book with a male because of the possibility of an attraction related to their touch or the judgment of their body in a sexual manner. I recall one of my clients telling me she didn’t care if she had shaved her legs or had cellulite dimpling on her thighs with me because “we have the same parts” but if she had gotten a male therapist she would have felt embarrassed. Throw into this mix the complicated and often skewed ways touch could be perceived after a trauma or abuse and again, the female therapist is the “safer” choice.

You may wonder then, how male therapists are ever able to get clients and be successful in this career. There are some stereotypes that work in their favor. With respect to strength, males are definitely viewed as the stronger sex and more capable of delivering deeper work. Even more so if the work is sports specific, as most massage therapists affiliated or employed by sports teams tend to be male. It took many years for Kelly Calabrese to push through these stereotypes and become the first female massage therapist employed by a Major League Baseball Team. All that aside, education and über professional conduct will prove to be the most powerful tools in bridging the gender gap. The more informed the client is about massage and its benefits, about the background of the therapist and their skills through testimonials and reviews, the more likely they will be able to make an informed decision when given the choice of male or female.

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YELP me

Def: To utter a short, sharp bark or cry (i.e. to review)

Addendum/Update 10/18/12   It was reported on news-radio this morning that YELP is going to crack down on companies creating fake reviews to market themselves. There will be a “CONSUMER AWARENESS” label on the profiles of the businesses that have done that to let potential clients/patrons that they are guilty of this offense.

Never underestimate the power of a review.

Positive or negative, someone’s assessment of you can and will have an impact on how other people perceive you. The internet is an infinite source of information, posted by all walks of life and intelligence. For this reason, I always take what I read with a grain of salt because I understand that not everything that is published on the world wide web is absolute, unbiased TRUTH. In the field of social psychology, attitudes are an important factor in the evaluation of a particular thing. Our attitudes influence our beliefs and often, our behavior. We form our attitudes in a variety of ways. Personal experience, observation of others’ experiences, social expectations and societal codes of conduct all help to shape attitudes. Another important factor is conditioning, a process of behavioral modification where a person is made to associate a desired behavior with a totally unrelated stimulus. Example: Any commercial ad that shows a subject in an idealized state resulting from the shampoo they used, the drink they are holding or the perfume they are wearing, etc. This is classical conditioning at work and most of us are not conscious to the fact that the ads have worked in this way. Operant conditioning is a little more obvious. A behavior is associated with either a reward or a punishment. The reward, as in getting a bonus for working longer hours, increases a behavior while the punishment, like being asked to leave a restaurant to smoke your cigarette, is said to decrease the behavior.

Keeping in mind that other people’s experiences can form attitudes and thus, influence belief and behavior, you can understand how a review functions on a larger scale. As soon as it is published people will read it, comment on it, re-post or email it to their sites and contacts, tell their friends via social networking sites, “like” and “favorite” until the information has taken on another life altogether. One extremely popular and useful site for reviews is a place known as YELP, where ANYONE can review just about ANYTHING – from spas , to restaurants, schools and even the Department of Motor Vehicles. All you need is an email address to make or break someone’s career. Many businesses have started to realize just how much of an affect these reviews are having on their sales. As a result, some have started providing incentives for positive client reviews and discounts or complimentary services for negative ones. I have seen firsthand how a devastatingly negative review of a colleague led to the comping of the treatment provided and a gift card to use towards a future purchase down the line. Weeks later the same client wrote a second review thanking the establishment for taking such good care of the situation and noting that they would be back with friends soon. In this way, the business did not lose face or future client $$; however the downside is that my colleague’s professional reputation was negatively affected. Any future clientele that come across this review could potentially choose not to book their appointment with this therapist for fear of the experience happening to them. Case in point, I received a booking request recently based on the review another client of mine had posted, singing my praises. This new client’s positive attitude was influenced by another person’s experience of my skills and work.

Here are my thoughts: Before you rush to express your positive or negative experience via the internet, take a minute to assess the gravity of your words. If something truly feels relevant enough to be shared in this manner, I absolutely agree on posting the information. After all, I too YELP; however we all have to possess some level of accountability. For instance, if I am having a bad day and the barista behind the counter at the coffee shop messes up my drink order, that doesn’t mean it was done on purpose or that he/she is an idiot. Also, if I am just getting over a cold, the massage I am receiving may actually make me feel worse the next day. That isn’t the therapists fault; I should have said something. And speaking of sharing important information, an esthetician had a client who never wrote on her intake form that she had a heat sensitivity a.k.a allergy. After the wax treatment, the client claimed that the wax had scalded her. The esthetician, obviously concerned, addressed the client who then admitted her allergy. After pointing out that she never mentioned this to her before or during the treatment, the client proclaimed, “Well, it’s not like you asked me?” Again, accountability applies here. Very few people are truly “psychic” so if you know you have a problem, say something. If you sense a little attitude in what I am saying, perhaps it will influence you to be a little more scrupulous when sharing your TRUTH with others.