The disturbing trend is that certain professionals whose status historically earned them the privilege of working regular human business hours are suddenly expected to be at the client’s beck and call. Thanks to the bunny-type proliferation of some discount massage places and a shift in the mentality of local spa owners, independent massage therapists find increasingly puzzled reactions to the fact that the therapist might not actually work certain days. It’s like we’re not supposed to take days off.
My favorites are those who, about twice a year, call us in the wee hours of a weekend morning, laying on the guilt trip that they must absolutely be seen that day. Bonus points if they insist on an evening appointment (I have actually heard one client with muscles of steel say “as late as possible”). This isn’t a once-in-a-blue-moon I-slept-wrong-and-I-won’t-be-able-to-function-unless-you-work-the-crick-in-my-neck type of situation, either; these are people who make the above-mentioned scenario a way of life. It isn’t that they woke up in pain one day; it’s that despite our educated suggestions extolling the benefits of massage therapy on a regular and consistent basis, some people still choose to wait until the pain they started to feel several months ago becomes intense enough that it starts interfering with their activities. In other words, what they woke up with today isn’t really any worse than that of yesterday, it’s just that it wasn’t convenient enough for them to plan an appointment around regular business hours. (Also please know that we understand that most people work regular business hours, and so we are already open most of the week until several hours later than standard operating hours.)
Part of a massage therapist’s training is (or should be) boundary-setting, which is the practice of setting limits on anything from working hours to appropriate conversation topics, because we seem to have a chronic problem with this as a profession. We are giving, caring, nurturing, open people. We often work in studios set up in our homes. Instead of having an assistant answer the phone, we answer our own. We put up with those looking for those Special Services we don’t offer, those who want to negotiate cheaper rates, or those who want to dictate our schedule to us. We find it very hard to say no, to lay down the law. It’s tough to walk both sides of the tightrope; you have to go from caring therapist to cashier and policy enforcer in seconds flat. There is an inherent incongruence that comes with the territory, because you are nurturer and confidante on one hand, and a business owner and policymaker on the other. Massage therapists in particular find it generally tough to say “no”; some unscrupulous clients pick up on this hesitation and run with it, eventually leaving the therapist in a situation where s/he feels taken advantage of and walked all over.
I’ve spent countless hours over the past few years trying to arrive at professional boundaries that were fair and logical, while keeping it simple. The policy manual is a living breathing document that is always subject to change, especially as more clients present me with additional challenges I hadn’t considered before. At what point does a late appointment cancellation become too late? What constitutes a valid reason for doing so? How much slack do I cut someone who is late? What if it becomes a habit? Exactly how low will I go when asked about discounted fees, and under what circumstances? How many times is a client allowed to reschedule an appointment? What information is required in order for me to accept a check? What are my open hours? Which days am I taking off? I struggled with these questions and many more, especially in the beginning.
I understand calling a business number with the sole intention of leaving a message to be returned at the other party’s convenience. At this point, you know they’re closed anyway, and you’re not in a hurry. This is perfectly acceptable. Call me old-fashioned and maybe even overreactive, but I guess my pet peeve is when people call you on a day you’re closed (especially if it’s in the evening), actually expecting you to pick up the phone and talk to them. As Christian as I am not, I still take Sunday as a day to rejuvenate and reconnect with my family, and I resent anyone who simply expects me to drop everything and make an appointment for them that day. I’m a licensed professional and a person with a family, with a school schedule, with a house to clean, dinner to eat, an aching body to relax, a stress level to bring down, and sleep to get. I, too, like to take my evenings and go for a walk or listen to music. I don’t think it’s healthy to avail myself 7 days a week, and I guess I resent someone for likening me to McDonald’s where I should just be open for them whenever they want, despite the fact that they themselves won’t take the time during our regular working hours the rest of the time…except the twice a year, that is.