Massage Therapy and mental health
What do Massage Therapy and mental health have in common? EVERYTHING!
This past January was #bellletstalkday in Canada and what better way to talk about mental health than through personal experience. Having worked in the massage therapy industry for almost 15 years I have some deep personal experiences with my own struggles. In today’s modern age when the work-life balance seems to be on everyone’s agenda, it’s easy to obscure one from the other. Our work life leaks into our personal life and our personal lives dictate how we do our jobs. So in essence, it’s important to touch base on both sides of the coin.
The internal massage therapist mental health struggle
Contrary to popular belief, massage therapy is not only a physically demanding profession but also a mentally exhausting one. To put it into perspective imagine yourself if you will, working in a dark room. Often times with no words being spoken and soft music playing in the background. Sounds relaxing right? Except you aren’t the one on the table. You are exerting yourself physically. The aim of any massage session is to relax the client on the table so that you the therapist, can administer your fingers and sometimes your elbow into their body to help them heal.
On average, one out of 5 clients will want to converse with you during their session. This means that if you see 5 clients a day, you will spend 4 hours in silence. In a dark room with only your own thoughts to pass the time.
First of, massage therapy always focuses on the client, what the client needs and how to give the client the best possible experience. However, no one talks about the therapist. Even during my massage school years we never talked about the struggles of how to cope with clients and the effect that might have on your own mental wellbeing. Sure we talked about the professional role as a massage therapist but never touched base on how to deal with the aftermath. How do you cope with passive aggressive clients? How do you cope with silence? How do you massage the same body part hour after hour, day after day, year after year?
Tips to save your mental health
Certainly if massage therapy is in your wheelhouse you consider yourself an introvert. You probably work best alone and one on one with people. More than likely you also have an interest in helping people feel better and have a love of health and overall wellbeing. Massage therapy in any form can be used as a preventative measure or as part of a rehab protocol.
Most massage therapists excel in therapeutic massage but some tend to sway towards the spa environment. Whichever way you swing, we all need to have a strong mental foundation if we wish to excel and stay healthy in our profession.
One cannot underemphasize how mentally exhausting massage therapy can become. Here are my top tips to save your sanity working as a massage therapist!
1. Know your physical limits
Listen up therapists, we can’t all be superheros to every client. We also cannot please every client that gets placed on our tables. Sometimes you are sought after by referrals and sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. However, you have to know your own limits with what you can do with what you know. Our hands are our livelihood. They are the gatekeepers to your longevity in your profession, only do what you know you can do. If deep pressure isn’t your thing then don’t give it your 100%.
For example, I once had a client ask me how much of my strength do I use for my massages in percentage terms (during his massage) to which I replied “Only what I need but NEVER 100%”. Obviously this client did like my response because he never came back. To clarify, if I was to give 100% of my energy and strength to every massage I’d be out of a job in a year.
Not everyone requires deep work. And certainly not everyone enjoys deep work. It is your job to make sure that the appropriate amount of depth is secondary to your contact location. I say that again, depth is ALWAYS secondary to your location. Know your anatomy and your physical limits.
2. Listen to your body
Have you ever had a client come to you and say “just go as deep as you can and make me hurt?” I have. Too many to count actually and these are the clients I try to keep from coming back to me. Let me explain.
When it comes to my massage therapy practice and my mental health, I place the highest importance on what my body will allow me to do. As a trained professional, it is my job to determine when deep pressure is adequate and when it’s just an affinity for torture. There are many clients who do not have any body awareness. What this means is they have a hard time differentiating between different degrees of pain. Some clients simply do not feel any pain at all. Therefore no matter how much pressure you administer, that person will not feel anything. Not to mention, sometimes your finger strength alone cannot pierce the appropriate structures.
So don’t be worried. If you cannot deliver what the client needs, move on. Don’t try and please everyone on your table. If you were to give 100% of your strength to each client you’d be out a job sooner than you think.
3. Choose your music wisely according to YOUR taste, NOT your clients
In addition to listening to your body you also need to listen to good music to keep you mentally sane. We all have different ideas of what good music is so I will keep this quick. Choose what you like. You are the one in the room for hours on end. I have never had a client complain about my choice of music and if they did, oh well. I don’t run a a la carte massage business. Choosing music for my clients is not on my list of priorities. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the tunes I have.
4. Diet, sleep and sunshine
As a result of my own health journey I have come to realize that what you eat, your sleep and the amount of time you spend outside closely correlates to your mental health.
This isn’t some rue to get you trying to live a lifestyle does it not attainable but I strongly believe in the correlation between eating nutrient dense foods and your mental health. As a massage therapist who deals with many clients on a daily basis I see it all the time. Health intake forms are littered with clients with insomnia, depression, irritability, sleep apnea, the list goes on. All autoimmune diseases which can we healed in part with diet.
Sleep is also on my list because this is when your body heals. Think of it as a charging station for your body and mind. Broken sleep or restless sleep never gets you into a proper circadian rhythm. These prolonged sleeping problems can have drastic effects on your life and your total mortality.
5. Practice what you preach
For instance, would you trust a fitness trainer who is unfit and doesn’t look the part? Your clients come to you based on what you bring to the table. As a massage therapist your job is to help people either relax on your table or get them functioning again after injury. Depending on what you do ie. spa versus a physiotherapy clinic.
For those who come to me, they know relaxation is far and few between. As a massage therapist my goal is to get you moving again pain free. I do not claim to do anything besides hands on manual therapy aimed at decreasing pain and increasing mobility. I do this with the tools that I have gained over the last 15 years. This being my knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology and applying them to each client based on individual needs.
In addition to working hands on with my clients I coach them in terms of living their best lives through exercise and diet. I can only dish out advice based on my background and knowledge. In essence, I practice what I preach. Since starting my health journey and really honing in on my own wellness I have learned you truly are what you eat. Lastly, the advice I give to my clients is based on things I have a) tried or b) practice diligently. If I don’t do it, then why would I suggest it to my clients?
Mental Health Advocacy
Mental health for your massage therapy practice is crucial to maintaining your professional longevity. In summary, take care of yourself before you take care of others. You cannot serve from an empty vessel. Fill yo’ damn cup and then get on with it!
meraki [may-rah-kee] (adjective) word used to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put “something of yourself” into what you’re doing, whatever it may be