In the following, we will have an experienced free-lance bodyworker/massage therapist and massage teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area in the US share his views on entering the profession as a bodyworker or massage therapist. Although market conditions and outer circumstances in India differ greatly from the conditions Art Riggs encountered and observes others encountering in California, the gist of what he has to say is of universal value, as it gives ample food for thought to anyone who is in the process of considering a career in this particular field.
What do you really want by becoming a massage therapist? Employment? Income? Security? All of these may be a necessity. But even when the necessities are met they will not guard you against burning yourself out in a routine job, with little chance of advancement. Therefore, it could be that you want these only as a stepping-stone, in order to plant your feet firmly in the field, with the added vision of your own practice, or a full career that keeps growing and allows you to grow with it. Which is where you want to be and what you want to do when you start to study to become a bodyworker, or massage therapist. You need a vision. And you need to have a plan, in order to put it into action.
To quote from Art’s presentation, “The choice of word ‘profession’ instead of ‘business’ is intentional. For some, the realities of providing income to live require initial focus on ‘business’ aspects and postponing the lofty aspirations of a ‘profession’…. [Therefore] many new therapists begin their practice by working in a spa, chiropractor’s office, or similar setting. This is an excellent way to gain the experience of working on many different people to hone the skills you learned in school. There are no worries about establishing an office, recruiting clients, and paying for the initial expenses of beginning a business. Spas provide a relatively consistent income… There is also the advantage of the camaraderie of working with a group of like-minded friends…”
Yes, so far so good. Although the situation is not quite the same in India, it is still similar. For example, mostly as a spa therapist you do not receive a percentage of what the client pays as you do in the west. Instead you have a guaranteed salary. But the biggest danger remains the same, and that is: burnout. Especially if you work in a busy spa, you will probably not be able to work there for more than five years because you will be requested to work on too many bodies in quick succession, without the necessary break time in between. There will not be enough periods of relaxation and recuperation. In order to make a satisfactory living you may need to overwork. If you overwork, chances are that you will injure yourself and become disenchanted as you struggle to survive. In the end you will not be able to continue because, for example, you have ‘fried your wrists and the finger joints’.
But burnout is not the only danger that Art Riggs points out, as “One other concern about working for someone else is that it can be very limiting in chances to express your individuality. In a spa or chiropractor’s office, the clientele for the most part dictate what type of massage you give. When you have your own private practice, this relationship is reversed. Your personal style and expertise will quickly bring you the clients you want to work with in the manner you choose. Obviously as much as I recommend working in a spa… to initially expand your massage skills, I have strong opinions about the advantages of working for yourself, in the long run. These feelings come from the elation I see in massage therapists who make the transition to working in their own practice…” Elation makes the difference between the drudgery of a ‘business’ and the joy of exercising a real ‘profession’.
One thing is for sure, no matter if you want to eventually have your own practice, or rise in the hierarchy of a bigger organization, you do need to have a perspective and you do need to have the skills required in order to achieve your aims. If you opt for the lowest level of training in massage, one that just suffices to get you your first job here in India where standards are still appallingly low – you will not go very far, and you will not prosper.
If you really want to enter the bodywork profession you will need a good basic training… and then more additional training periods as you go along, gradually becoming more experienced, with a full bag of skills.
After all, it is your skills and experience that make you stand out, make you special and make people come to you instead of going to someone else. It may be impressive to look at what was bought for the crores of Rupees spent on the interiors of a spa. Eventually, they do not bring one more client. It is good, unique and authentic treatments that do.