1/14/17

As the industry evolves, there is an intriguing divergence in progression of our field.  My message tonight involves the difference in perception presented by massage educators versus the expectations of owners of massage establishments.

As I have witnessed peers describe the industry to recent graduates and matriculating students, I am amazed at the divergent views presented.  Employers certainly need to make profit; juxtaposed in view we therapists need to make enough to both pay our bills and enjoy a surplus to save for future events and life happenings.  Increasingly, I have employed therapists indicate displeasure for 1) wages earned, 2) compensation for non-massage tasks and 3) being faced with unethical choices by employers and witnessing unethical actions.  The purpose of this article is to present to employers reading this post what the average educator is sharing about these topics in the entry-level classroom.

Allow me to make an attempt to bridge a gap of employee versus employer expectations in our field.  It is my hope that industry standards become more aligned in relation to what is presented within entry-level classrooms.  Certainly, there is variance allowed considering where one is educated and the massage market of a region.  There are fundamentals presented ubiquitously in entry-level programs.

The first point of contention massage therapists share with me concerns wages earned. A slow, steady decline occurred from 2007–2014 with regards to the average massage hourly rate.  Some call this effect the “Envy Effect” to insinuate that Massage Envy’s success has spawned a multitude of similar businesses with a model that devalues massage services.. This insular view does not explain fully a decline in hourly charge for massage.

The most probably factor is simple supply-demand of therapists.  If demand for massage stays constant while the supply of therapists increases, prices decline.  The massage education market place has certainly corrected in recent years with fewer massage graduates nationwide entering the work force.  Demand has increased marginally as we slowly enter more sectors of the allopathic field. Prices have remained relatively constant nationwide as one surveys the hourly fee of massage in various markets.

If a therapist is concerned about wages, the best response is to create more demand. Become more adept at explaining massage and bodywork.  Speak to perceived value.  Improve one’s skill set and specialize within a niche market.

What are teachers telling students nationwide?  The number of professional development, business, marketing and sales hours has reduced nationwide to make more room for licensure exam preparation, anatomy, kinesiology and pathology study.  The discussions in classrooms includes the perceived “Envy Effect”, that an employee need not accept lower wages, that a private practice will earn more money in the long run and employees deserve to be paid what they are worth.

Employers—if you feel backlash about the wages you feel are fair, please understand that the aforementioned points are shared by teachers nationwide.  Massage therapists have legitimate reason to worry in that: a) some employers don’t pay for “down time”, others may pay minimum wage, b) paychecks have a tendency to be variable in our industry with vacillating “busy” and “slow” times, c) raises are not standard procedure in our industry contributing to the American Phenomena of real incomes steadily declining since the 1970s.   These factors are just as real to the therapist as the need for an employer to generate profit.

The second point of contention massage therapists share with me concerns compensation for non-massage related tasks.  I am defining non-massage task as any task not involving a therapist applying therapeutic massage upon a client.  Teachers in entry-level programs are making it quite clear that tasks to ensure a massage establishment functions healthily is a fair expectation.  Helping with laundry, room clean up & set up, supporting one’s teammates to get their tasks complete and cleaning equipment are reasonable expectations for an hourly massage employee.

Contention may arise in regards to extra time necessary for client charting / soap notes and front desk duties.  A business model providing an allowance of merely 10 minutes between the completion of a 50-minute session and the beginning of the next 50-minute session does not allocate proper time for client charting / soap notes.  Therefore, therapists may be asked to stay after their assigned hours to complete such notes.  On average, a soap note takes between 5–10 minutes to complete properly.  Therefore, a therapist is thinking “I am staying an extra 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes after my shift to complete this work” which will elicit an expectation of pay for that time period.

Front desk duties include answering phones, escorting and explaining conditions to clientele, scheduling and upselling services. These tasks will be viewed as additional tasks outside of normal massage practice to the average therapist.  Employers need to ensure therapists are paid as equal to the front desk staff if such duties are demanded.

The final point of contention that massage therapists share with me involves business owners employing unethical tactics and demanding and/or tolerating unethical acts.  Of all the concerns, this is what I hear most from my peers.  I thought the offensive and unethical acts would have solely been performed by non-LMT owners, perhaps from a lack of understanding of our industry.  Sadly, I am also hearing of owners who are LMTs engaging and encouraging unethical acts.

Certainly, I understand that no amount of massage board regulation, police intervention and governmental body aid can eradicate unethical behavior.  Integrity is key in these cases.  Teachers in entry-level program preach the need to hold integrity as a central platform of our practice.  When therapists with integrity witness therapists without integrity, and getting away with such actions, it infuriates them.  Rightfully so!

Teachers are also encouraging students to contact local massage boards, contact police and raise awareness of businesses engaging in unethical practices.  Teachers also present scenarios to students on how to respond to unethical acts.  We shall examine a few examples of such acts.

One example of unethical behavior encouraged (according to therapists speaking to me) by employers is the act of providing sexually-oriented sessions for well-established and well-valued clientele.  Employers, please know we are preaching to our students to not give in to these demands.  Even though these clients may make much money to the business for such services, this is putting the therapist at great risk of harm, both professionally and personally.

A second example of unethical behavior stated by therapists to me is providing deep tissue massage when this style is contraindicated.  One prime instance involves Whiplash patients encouraged to receive deep neck work the day of their car accident.  In entry-level programs, students are presented to not massage or stretch the neck during the acute stage of injury and to avoid deep massage application.  Understandably, a massage business owner not versed in massage may not realize that deep tissue massage is not appropriate in the acute stage of injury.  Please be open the knowledge and perspective shared by the massage therapist if this is you.  Massage therapists need to work judiciously  with many pathological clients and are encouraged to error on the side of caution until physician orders deem massage appropriate.

A third example of an unethical behavior shared by therapists involves an owner not paying therapists for work rendered, yet a client may complain about the session and therefore not be charged.  A service was still provided and, as long as the therapist was acting within scope of practice and professionally, the therapist still deserves to be compensated for their time.  Employers—please don’t be so willing to treat massage as a commodity like a hamburger.

Massage therapy is not a commodity–good, rather a clinical session (even relaxation has clinical benefit) on par with any other medical treatment.  One would never hold as an expectation “I am not paying this bill because I am still ill with X condition” to their doctor.  Teachers preach to their students that our work is just as valuable in the health care field as any other allopathic work.  Teacher present massage in ever-increasing clinical manners, a plus for today’s students to recognize the power and effectiveness of massage!

This blog entry’s intention is to help employers understand how the average massage therapist views the industry at large.  Certainly, every therapist is different in how they interpret their education and studies.  It is my hope that greater understanding amongst employers and employees develops as more common ground is conceived and appreciated.  To my LMT friends, please understand that running a business involves more costs than one realizes, especially due to governmental regulation and taxation.  To my employer friends, please understand your massage therapists are seeking a living wage (which varies person to person) and a safe, workplace environment to express their creative outlet and healing potential as therapists.

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12/22/16

As 2016 winds down, now is a healthy time to reflect on the state of the massage and bodywork industry.  From my vantage point in Arizona, here is what I observe:

To be transparent, I am an exam item writer for the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx).  Nothing in this post is intended to be taken as insider information.  My sole purpose is to provide perspective and opinion on the health and direction of our great industry.   No revelations upcoming for the reader.

The product life cycle has entered a mature phase for our industry services.  Innovations are still present, yet slowing.  Member organizations are squabbling for control of what we teach and how we perform.  Schools are enhancing their curricula to meet and exceed public demand and meet MBLEx standard.  Consumers are now savvy to what they perceive massage to be.  Catch the semantics with that last statement?

I shall eludicate upon the final statement first.  A generation of consumers have now been acclimated to massage thanks to the Envy effect.  Their initial impressions are powerful and shape how they view other arenas of the massage industry.  In my practice, clients note how different my sessions are compared to what they receive in the chain franchises.  Most appreciate the extra time I may devote to educating them on their bodies.  Now is the time to be better than ever at “speaking the work”, understanding how to formulate treatment plans, educating clients how their lifestyle habits impact their bodies and get the most results from each session.   Many consumers only know one way of viewing massage, they simply “don’t know what they don’t know” yet.

Entry level training and continuing education is evolving in profound manners.  The emphasis on “more knowledge & more advanced techniques” presented in entry level programs is a double-edged sword.  Yes, many therapists are coming out stronger in knowledge and skill set than ever before.  However, many therapists miss the fundamentals in fast paced programs and never find the means to garner them, leaving them prone to feeling lost and “behind the eight ball” upon graduation.

Having worked in both entry level and continuing education sectors, I can attest to the great chasm mentally that occurs when students are expected to learn more, yet miss the fundamentals necessary to critically think through client cases.   Certainly, school owners and curricula writers need to “keep up with the jones” in the highly competitive education market place creating attractive programs that impress the incoming student.  However, as programs become more advanced, there is a tendency to breeze through the basics quickly to make room for the sexier content.

Too many students lack the basics upon graduation such as proper communication, holding space safely, proper hygienic practice, transition and flow of strokes in session, muscle locations and function, and making safe choices in ethical dilemmas.  To me, these are the basics that every LMT needs to possess to better apply massage practice safely.  Creating multi-session treatment plans and incorporating clinical and advanced modalities becomes easier once students acquire the basic framework upon which to construct thoughts.

Some questions that are pertinent to shaping the future of our industry are:

  1. Have the efforts to encourage research in the field accomplished desired results?  Yes, we have more case studies reported upon.  To contrast, do we have more statistically sound, collegiate level research formulated on the effects of massage therapy?  Yes, in volume from 5 years prior.  As I survey sites such as pubmed.gov, I would expect more in regards to research efforts considering the tremendous momentum behind research efforts, including demanding research hours for NCBTMB board certification renewal.
  2.  Where is the next big phase of growth going to be witnessed for the massage field?  In the 1980s, it was the sports field; in the 1990s, it was the spa field; in this century, its been the medical field.  Have we tapped into every potential market?  I believe we can delve even deeper in the medical field with working in tandem with all allopathic practitioners as long as we a) continue to maintain high professionalism and ethics and b) continue demanding more course hours in anatomy, kinesiology, physiology and pathology.  I see a revival of the eastern paradigm approaching in the coming years as limitations of western medicine are more readily witnessed while those practicing the healing arts of homeopathy, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and similar paradigms manifest greater success.
  3. How much more advanced can we (should we) make entry level school programs?  We need to recognize that not every massage student will have the aptitude to excel in an accelerated program (compare course and program content now from 15 years ago to determine my definition of accelerated).  My peers nationwide consistently note that the number of students who lack note-taking skills, attention in lecture and quality of touch has steadily increased over the years.  Couple this trend to more challenging clinical course & science content and add that to less classroom support as enrollments dwindle creates a condition where many students fall through the cracks in massage education.  A tired story for some to read, but a story that needs telling until significant efforts to reverse these trends are witnessed.

Overall, I assess the health of our massage and bodywork industry is strong, yet not robust.  There is a lack of direction coming from the member organizations as they compete for our dollars and interest.  Everyone thinks they are right, everyone placing energies in different directions.  Until the 3 aforementioned questions are answered, the varying groups who attempt to discredit other arenas of our industry will continue to splice efforts and slow progress.

Perhaps we need a “constitutional convention” amongst many major players to determine a healthy course for our industry.  Or perhaps, we simply need to allow different industry arenas to operate independently and successfully without judgment or discrediting efforts.  I don’t have the answer.  I do offer this post as perspective for those in influence to have a healthy framework of discussion.

I love the massage and bodywork industry.  I love our place in the greater trillion dollar health care industry.  I love witnessing miracles of healing upon my table.  I love sharing sacred space with my students in class.  No matter what direction the industry travels next or where our next major area of group stems from, I will continue to enjoy the ride.  Namaste!

 

11/26/16

People often ask me “what is your advice on making my business better….my massage better….get my practice started…..how to handle this client……”.  The answers I provide contain one common thread which is “slow down.”  Living in this high tech, high stress and high intensity world, the art of slowing down becomes imperative.  This is why I love teaching Reiki and other forms of energy work—these modes of healing encourage the practitioner to slow down their thought processes, their minds, their movements and their breath.

To therapists seeking to improve business efforts–> Slow down on your efforts and focus them upon a target market.  Assess to whom your skill set will serve best.  Assess also which continuing education sources will serve your efforts to reach and serve your target market.

To the therapists wishing to improve their massage effort–> Slow down and use less effort.  Slow your strokes upon the body.  Use your body to apply pressure rather than your fingers, thumbs and wrists. Turn your small quick strokes upon one spot into longer sweeping strokes upon an entire limb.

To the therapists seeking guidance in getting your practice started–> Slow down your lifestyle.  Take a moment to pause and reflect on your life choices and lifestyle.  Are you making choices to support or detract from your private practice goals?  Are you spending money to improve your financial standing or freely giving your money to every corporation in sight?  What do you really need and/or really want?

To the therapists seeking guidance about client cases–> Slow down and return to your anatomy manuals.  When considering any pathologies:  1) recall how the anatomy of a system should function, 2) consider how the organs involved are no longer functioning, 3) assess the benefit of bodywork compared to the manifestations of the condition.  Will bodywork help a particular symptom or not?  Will a particular modality better serve than simple Swedish? Often times, a simple Swedish relaxation session may be applicable, other times more sophisticated bodywork is necessary.  This train of thought will help one with working with pathologic clients.

The art of slowing down and remaining present is imperative in effective bodywork.  This manner of living will help in all aspects of life, not only your massage practice.  Let us all learn to slow down, enjoy each day, remain present with ourselves and others and receive the fullness of life!

11/18/16 Now is amongst the best times to be a massage therapist! The level of respect we are gaining in the allopathic field and greater sick care industry is remarkable. I love conversing with clients who respect our opinions of health and wellness. Teaching my latest continuing education classes has enlightened me to the progress made in recent years in credibility. Fellow LMTs, let’s continue to educate ourselves and the general public of the virtues of massage!

Welcome to Jimmy G’s blog!

11/11/16

Welcome to Jimmy G’s blog about the massage and bodywork industry!  My name is Jimmy Gialelis, LMT, BCTMB.  I graduated from the Utah College of Massage Therapy in Salt Lake City, UT in August, 2000.  My career has spanned the spa and private practice arenas of the massage and bodywork industry.  Presently, I am a Continuing Education provider in Tempe, Arizona and maintain a successful private practice. The balance of teaching classes and working with clientele allows me to convey new lessons to my students as unique client challenges are encountered.

Sitting in the seat of the teacher allows me to continue to learn and grow as a therapist.  Serving my fellow man and womankind allows me to live within sacred spaces with my clients.  Hallmark tenets of effective bodywork including compassion, awareness, intuition and trust remind me of the beauty of our field.  I feel blessed to share sacred space both in my studio and in my classroom.

The purpose of this blog is to share thoughts and opinions of the massage and bodywork industry.  Lessons may be shared, perspectives compared, viewpoints presented and a voice of reason will be my intention.  Email me at jimmymt77@yahoo.com to share with me anytime.

I am passionate about progressing the massage and bodywork industry to greater credibility in 1) the eyes of the public and 2) the allopathic field.  Greater gains in these two respects will allow massage therapists opportunities to live up to the our title as therapists!

11/12/16

I am proud of the progress made by pioneers of the massage and bodywork industry.  In one generation, we have expanded our industry within both the spa and medical arenas.  Chiropractors and physical therapists accept massage therapists within their practices.  Chair massage is employed within many businesses.   Many hospitals utilize massage related services including energy work such as Reiki.  Patients with chronic conditions were once told massage was not useful for them—however, now they realize massage can alleviate their signs and symptoms.  Now is the best time to be a licensed massage therapist.  We have industry leaders over the past two decades to thank for these advances.  Let’s take a moment to thank an elder of our field for their contributions.

There are yet more doors to open.  Within which industry sector do you foresee massage making significant strides?  Where is the next big phase of growth going to be witnessed?  How does training / education need to shift to accommodate massage therapists in these uncharted waters?  Please reply with your opinion!