Top 10+ things I wouldn’t miss about massage therapy school clients

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Today marks 10 full years since I got fired from my last cocktail waitressing job.  As I have explained before, it was actually a favor in disguise, not that either party (they or I) knew it at the time.

Although I went on to have one more W-2 employee-based job after that (for a semi-major mall-retail chain), I consider the waitressing job to be my last “real” W-2 job, because while waitressing, I didn’t know what else to do, and although I knew that waitressing would not, by any stretch, remain my long-term “career”, I knew that waitressing and I were stuck with each other, at least for a while.

That “career” ended 10 years ago today.  At the time, I was shot down, defeated, and depressed, but I quickly began to revive and renew, stepping into the scary world of the unknown.  I obtained my retail job with the understanding that it would provide marginal subsistence while I pursued a higher (to me) goal: massage therapy.

My massage therapy plans were to open my own practice, treating clients in a spare room in my house that had been converted into a full-blown massage therapy studio.  One concept many newly-minted massage therapists fail to grasp in full is the energy, difficulty, and time involved in starting one’s own private practice from scratch.

In the meantime, the owner of my massage therapy alma mater approached me (several times before I wisely relented) about coming to work for him at the school’s clinic.  The school’s clinic was often staffed by graduating classes of massage therapy interns, but he needed bonafide licensed therapists to handle the down-time in between graduating classes, during which there would be few/no interns to serve clients.

The job sounded good, and it was.  Although they pay was much lower than I could charge in private practice, there were several perks, tangible and intangible.

On the tangible side, the school promoted itself and kept a full-time front desk staff, ready to take phone calls and schedule clients for therapists, whether or not the therapist was there.  The school was well-known and enjoyed a favorable reputation.  I also didn’t have to answer all my own phone calls.  And I loved being able to maintain the boundary between work and personal space more easily; it was easier to avoid the tendency to bring “work” home with me.

Intangible benefits included a change of scenery (something besides the 4 walls of my own house), a variety of clientele, and the fact that I knew and liked the other therapists there, which meant I got to see my friends every time I went to work.  It was also an independent contractor arrangement; this meant that I got to set my own schedule and dictate my own way of doing things, and it also meant that I became my own business and itemized all my tax deductions (read: I got to write my expenses off my taxes).  Yay!

Interestingly enough, I worked at that school’s clinic for about 3 years.  That in and of itself is a miracle of sorts because I’ve never stayed at any job for longer than 2, and those were jobs I really liked!  In the unskilled labor world, one rarely works in one place longer than 6-9 months.

Inevitably, though, drawbacks began to add up, and inner tension began to swell.  Looking over past personal journal entries (particularly late 2006 through the middle of 2007) written on particularly trying days, I found several rant-sessions in which I listed things I would not miss about the school facility.

About clientele…

  • People who were cheap, picky, and feel entitled to Cadillac service while paying Chevy prices.
  • People who actually wanted Deep Tissue Massage (more expensive) and knowing better, but scheduling a relaxation massage (cheaper) to try and save $10.  They drove up in a BMW, you’d think they could pop extra for a legit Deep Tissue instead of trying to  pull a bait-and-switch on the therapist.
  • Coming to a discount massage place where MTs work their butts off to make it and then leaving discount tips or no tips.
  • People who don’t get that school massage therapy prices are heavily discounted from the regular market rate, and think that massage therapy ought to cost this little!
  • People who called my cell phone (I give them my card with my number), but then don’t call the school to schedule it!  (I’m fine with them calling me–that’s why I gave them my number, but they have to schedule the massage session through the clinic, not me.  You’d think that if they found the spare minute to call me that they could find another spare minute to call to the school – I made sure the client has the school’s number)
  • People who called to request me (which is great!) after 5 months wanting to get in that day and if I can’t see them that day, they don’t call back for another 5 months!  (Wouldn’t tomorrow or next week do?  After all, it’s been a while.)
  • People who hop from good therapist to good therapist without sticking with someone already.  I don’t mind if their first choice isn’t me, but please don’t waste our time if you’re not looking for someone to continue with (it’s really hard starting from scratch all the time; you never feel like you get anywhere.  That, and the school started keeping track of how many clients requested each therapist and MTs with low request rates risked getting booted.)
  • NO-SHOWS.  Seriously, everyone has a cell phone these days.  And everyone seems to lack the ability to put them down.  There’s no excuse for not being able to call and cancel your appointment with proper notice.
  • People who keep feedback to themselves, even though I specifically encourage them to give it, and then never return.  It doesn’t help when a client clams up; therapists can’t read minds. How am I supposed to know what I could’ve done better, and how can I ever tailor the session to be a better fit next time?  If they gave me a second chance and opened up a little, maybe their next massage would’ve been the best they ever had.  We’ll never know we’re a perfect fit if they fall off the face of my planet.
  • Out-of-towners – yes, they’re really nice; no, it’s not their fault, and no, it’s not their problem…but near the holidays, a Saturday full of visiting relatives of current clients kills my request percentage (see above) and makes it look (on paper) that I can’t get any requests.
  • People who want you to “fix” every problem they’ve developed after waiting a year or so to see you again and only deciding to spring the $42 when they couldn’t practically move anymore.  Oh, and they only booked an hour.  And they want to relax, too.  And they want a little more work on the neck…and back…and shoulder….and could you do that foot thing?  All in an hour.  Gah.

About the facility…

  • The general disrepair of the facility
  • Cheap prices that contribute to the devaluation of the massage therapy industry
  • Having to differentiate services instead of simply meeting a variety of client needs (such as having to stick with either a relaxation massage or a deep tissue session or a hot stone massage, etc).  Many people need to relax but also need corrective work, or firmer pressure on one area, etc.  It’d be much nicer to simply set a single rate based on time, and then give the client whatever they need.
  • Lack of control – whether it’s a sudden addendum to the independent contract, a new micromanagement headache, a memo in the box (usually relating to said management headache), not being able to control exactly who I see or what technique I do on a certain day or how appointments get scheduled, etc.

Make no mistake, I generally enjoyed my time there.  I also genuinely liked the vast majority of the clientele.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have stayed so long.  But I felt a huge surge of freedom when I finally left.

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