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.