As students of massage, we are taught subjects ranging from anatomy and physiology to ethics, boundaries, hygiene, and the history of massage.
In honor of the new year and my one-year anniversary of becoming a licensed massage therapist, I thought it would be fun to reflect on and share. Here are 10 things I’ve learned so far.
- “Every body is different.”
That was a common phrase I heard throughout school, but until I had worked with multiple people, I didn’t know how utterly true that statement was.
While our structures are generally the same, our body makeup varies immensely based on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual states, behaviors, personal circumstances, hormonal output, etc.
No two bodies respond the same way and that’s what makes what we do as massage therapists all the more unique. Getting the opportunity to work with as many people as possible has helped me blossom.
- Environment is incredibly important
Finding the right location and environment to practice has been integral in my development. Being in a space that is comfortable, safe, inviting, and beautiful is vital. While my specialties are rooted in medical/therapeutic massage, providing comfort, cleanliness, and a place to just “let go” is incredibly important to the evolution our client’s healing.
- Every massage I give is different than the last
We leave school with an enormous healing toolbox. I have my “go-to” techniques – and for good reason! But, I also get to formulate a treatment plan based on the client’s needs and what I consider would be the best for his/her healing process in that particular session.
Sometimes I stick with the plan. Sometimes I don’t. This year, I have developed confidence in my abilities, a deeper knowledge of the body, and enhanced my intuitive abilities with practice. Because of this, I feel that my clients have faith in me as their massage therapist.
I’m far from perfect when it comes to confidence. There have been a couple of times I have left the room, hoping to the stars above that I didn’t leave the client feeling worse than when they came in. I always have the best intentions, but I am human and very hard on myself. This leads to my next lesson…
- I recognize that I have learned a great deal about the body
My diverse backgrounds in science, dance, and massage have expanded my understanding of the body and are the foundation of my work. Through my knowledge of the body in distinct modalities, I have become both empathetic and sensible in my approach.
- I am always learning how to be more well-rounded and valuable for the client
I am addicted to learning. If only I could get paid to go to school! Continued education is a large part of what it means to be in the healthcare field. Things are always changing, shifting, developing. Lucky for me, in order to keep up with the advancements, we must keep learning.
I am currently training in Lymphatic Drainage, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Advanced Neuromuscular technique. These new skills will help me become a better integrative massage therapist within an ever-changing field.
Education is not the only part of becoming better at what I do. It’s quite possibly more meaningful that I lean into my “soft skills” – such as listening, patience, compassion, communication, humility, presence, and a desire to serve others. I strive to be anatomically fluent as well as a therapist who deeply listens, is present, and communicates effectively.
- We have to listen past the chief complaint to get to the root of the problem
Early on in my first year, I found myself listening to a client’s main problem without actually listening to what is potentially causing the problem. I would directly attend to the primary issue that, at times, would not yield consistent results. It wasn’t until I saw past the pain to the root of the pain that I would facilitate profound results in my clients.
I quickly learned that pain is a manifestation of a multitude of things and sometimes I am not the only person or the right person for the job. Sometimes, a client may need to see a different provider to have a breakthrough in their pain management. If that’s what is necessary, then I want to help by connecting them to the resources they need.
- Many people don’t know what we do – or at least the full extent of it
During this past year, I have noticed that I have to constantly explain my roles to people. I have become well versed in my nutshell explanation, but I have found that many people don’t know what therapeutic massage therapists do, how we got to where we are, and how much we really know.
It can be disheartening to constantly defend our professional acuity and capabilities, especially when we are in a profession that had previously been fraught with illegal and unprofessional situations. Nevertheless, continually proving ourselves as viable complementary healthcare providers is part of our responsibilities.
- Many people, unfortunately, still don’t know much about their bodies
Just about as much of what I do is about educating our clients on their bodies as it is actual hands-on work. This part is quite fun for me. I love that one of my roles is educating people on the inner workings of the body. I’ll sit with any client to look at a musculoskeletal chart and discuss it. When I see “light bulbs” going off in their minds, I too, light up!
Ultimately, it’s about options, new ideas, and an integrative approach to issues. Giving suggestions on self-care and information on the body that could further our clients’ healing and promote healthy living is as significant as the massage itself.
- Self-care is crucial. Massage therapists need massages, too.
This is probably the most important part of my job. Not only do I teach my clients self-care techniques, which we genuinely hope they do outside of our care, but as therapists, we need to do it, too!
Without self-care, I would not be able to provide the highest quality service to my clients. If my cup isn’t full, how can I expect to fill someone else’s up? I learned this the hard way in the beginning of my career. I realized what I already knew (but ignored) was true – I had to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
- Nothing compares to the feeling I get when I know I have made a difference
It’s that afternoon text from a client that says they are finally pain-free consistently. It’s the update you receive that they haven’t had a migraine or a headache since their session. It’s the sigh when the client walks out of the treatment room.
Most of all, there is no greater feeling in the world than the one I get when I am in service of people. Seeing them smile, hearing their breath steady and deepen, feeling their body shift from tensed to relaxed and peaceful, sensing their trust – those are the jewels of being a massage therapist. I have learned more in those moments than I could ever be taught.
I have learned the humanity of service, the purpose of community, and the love that comes from working with people who need help and can’t do it alone. I have so much gratitude for my clients.
I have solidified my place in the health and wellness field. I am driven by my desire to help to others. It is the beat in my heart. After this past year, there is no doubt who I am destined to be.
Cheers to health, happiness, and 2018!