In a “previous life”, I was a massage therapist. I had a license, my own practice, and an insane number of hours of training under my belt.
It seems so long ago, because, well, it was. Thirteen years, to be almost-exact. So much has happened since then. Rivers of water under bridges and all that.
But I have a long, vivid memory. And I remember every phase of my life as though it happened yesterday.
Thirteen years ago, I was living in Dallas, Texas, and around this time of that year, I was finishing up my massage therapy training at an awesome school, probably one of the best in the Great State.
In Texas back then, you had to complete 300 hours of training (which has since increased to 500). Of those hours, 250 were classroom (which included plenty of hands-on), and 50 were internship (eeeek! The Public! We were terrified).
I remember my internship just as clearly. It went pretty fast, and I had a lot of fun with it. There are some tidbits I wish to impart to the general public, though. These are just my thoughts, based on my own experience, in my location and culture and timeframe (as usual). 🙂
1 – Massage services by an intern are generally for basic relaxation massage only.
In our state, massage therapy interns are/were only taught the basics. We learned a surprising amount of Anatomy and Physiology (nephron (kidney cell) function? Really?), and we dipped our toes (literally) into a few spa treatments, such as sugar scrubs (superior to the old-school salt scrubs, by far!), and of course, we learned the Five Fundamental Strokes of massage therapy.
But we were not trained in how to do deep undercover detective-like problem-solving. We did not learn how to hunt down the source of a migraine or shin splints (that’s more of a Medical/Clinical massage therapy track, known as Neuromuscular Therapy, or NMT, an advanced post-grad certification course–which I did take–and successfully complete–a little later). We also weren’t trained on how to give Deep Tissue massage in the basic program.
So, for those who need to relieve stress or maybe go to sleep for a hour (or longer, upon request), the intern can be an inexpensive option. But if you’re needing pain relief, carpal tunnel care, or TMJ treatment, you’re better off seeing a licensed therapist with an NMT certification.
2 – On evaluation questionnaires, if you marked a category or critique item as less than a perfect score, please explain the reason or offer a tidbit of constructive criticism or suggestion for improvement in the comments section at the bottom, so that the intern can improve.
Many schools will ask each client to fill out a one-page evaluation form to offer feedback to the massage therapy intern, so that they can grow and learn from the experience.
That’s why massage therapy schools usually offer services at a much lower rate, after all; it’s not necessarily that the students are worth less, because many have excellent natural–or efficiently honed–skills. It’s because the massage therapy service is more of a mutual benefit; the client gets a discount and the therapist gets to learn. Given that our state only required 50 hours, that’s only 50 people from which they could gain feedback before setting foot in the “real world”. These forms take a few extra minutes after the session ends, so that’s where the favor in exchange for the discounted rate is fulfilled.
3 – Don’t no-show.
In fact, never no-show on anyone with whom you’ve made an appointment. It royally screws up their schedule. For service providers (of any kind) who run appointment-based practices or businesses, they can’t offer that appointment slot to another client or patient who might have really needed it. And the provider misses out on that chunk of anticipated income. Shame! No class. Nobody would want to go to the trouble of showing up for work, expecting to work, only to have their supervisor say, “we decided to give your morning projects to Linda today, so you’re not going to get paid for the morning. But stick around for your afternoon projects and see if they pan out.” And in my experience, whenever one person didn’t show up, there would usually be one or two more who failed to show up, too. Well, a typical day for a massage therapist is often 3-4 clients. If 3 don’t show up… Then you’ve just battled traffic and lugged your supplies around for nothing. Had I known they weren’t planning to come in, I could’ve stayed home and spent time with my elderly cat and done the dishes and relaxed or something. (I know that Life Happens and that people can’t always make their scheduled appointments for legitimate reasons; I’m talking about the more-common-than-realized “I think I’ll blow off my appointment today” or “I forgot I had an appointment–again” situations.)
Even though in most places, the massage therapy intern doesn’t get paid for their services and thus does not lose income on a no-show, the no-show still screws them.
This is because they’re there for free. They only have so many slots available in a day, too. And they can’t start making money with their services until they’re finished with their internship. So every no-show sets them back. It costs them money, too, but indirectly.
4 – If your preference for a massage therapy intern is gender-neutral, please choose a male therapist.
Normally I don’t advocate the selection of–or preference for–anyone in any position to be based on their gender or anatomy or anything like that. So, in this rare moment of exception, please allow me to explain.
Some people gravitate toward a female therapist. For females, it might be due to an unpleasant experience with a male in their lives, an insecurity about body image, or simply that they feel the most comfortable with someone of their same gender. For males, in my Texan experience, it was more of a “homophobe” thing; they didn’t want another guy “rubbing” on them, especially when unclothed under a sheet.
Trust me, there’s nothing sexual about legitimate massage therapy. Nobody need worry about any sexual undertone; legitimate therapists don’t develop attractions to or crushes on their clients. Female therapists aren’t always more soft, gentle, or nurturing, either. I’ve gotten massage therapy from both genders extensively, and I can say that the quality of the massage comes down to heart, soul, skills, and warm, capable hands, and it has nothing to do with gender. Now, I should disclose here that I’ve never been victimized by a male while in a compromise, power-differentiated position, or anything else, and thus, I have no bias. (Although I do respect those who do!)
For those without a deal-breaking issue like body image or traumatization in their past or present, I encourage the idea of choosing a male intern, simply because such a large proportion of the population seeks a female therapist, which leaves perfectly kind, genuine, and capable guys sitting around, waiting for someone to “take a chance” on them. I’ve had plenty of hours of massage therapy services, and while I’ve experienced a wide range of quality from female therapists, my experience with male therapists has been consistently outstanding! When people are at a disadvantage through no doing of their own, I think the tendency is to try harder. And from what I’ve seen, it’s true. They tend to have a much tougher time getting through their internship, through no fault of their own, and their average talent, personability, and professionalism can (and often are) slightly higher than that of the female average.
5 – Please don’t make empty promises!
So your friend or family member is going through massage therapy school, their internship time has come, they’re freaking out as they wonder how they’ll ever make it through this, and they’re pleading with friends and family to come to the school for a massage, so that their first few clients can be familiar “friendlies” they know, which could build their confidence about working on the public (eeeek! Strangers!).
But let’s say you’re not really interested. Maybe you’re not down with the idea of lying undressed under a sheet, maybe having your skin rubbed with oil or cream isn’t your thing. Maybe you love the idea of massage therapy, but the funding isn’t there, even the discounted cost of student massage. Maybe you’d love to, but the free time just isn’t available. Or maybe you go for massage therapy, but you have a specific problem that requires the advanced skills of a seasoned therapist, and a student intern just won’t cut it. Or maybe you’re uneasy about being worked on by someone who is early on in their career. Or maybe you’re simply not interested, for any reason at all.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.
The only issue is when people say, “sure! I’ll come see you!”, when they really have no intention of coming in.
The massage therapy intern, innocent, naïve, anxious, and hopeful, only hears the “yes!” aspect, which are magical music to their ears, not to mention a huge relief that begins to transform their outlook from bleak to bright. They have no idea how empty and contradictory their friend/family member’s words actually are when those people are all talk with no intention of action.
So, those budding massage interns start to get excited by the promises made, and they start to bank on the idea that those people will come in to see them. And then come Internship Day 1, the intern finds out that those people have not called to schedule yet. And when the intern calls them, they find themselves leaving messages that go unanswered. Then the sinking feelings of betrayal and letdown set in, alongside the panic of trying to figure out what to do next. Ouch.
So yeah, please–never do that. 🙂
6 – Interns of any type only have a set number of hours to complete, and when they’ve completed them, they’re done. So, if you do want to see that intern, be sure to move quickly; don’t put it off. Time flies! My internship only lasted 5 weeks. Others take much longer; it depends on their schedule, their demands outside of school, their motivation, the number of other interns in the clinic, the time of year (holiday seasons can be slower, or not), and the demand for them. Some interns find their schedules filling fairly quickly.
7 – Today’s massage therapy intern is tomorrow’s licensed therapist, often trying to start their own practice. This practice-building often starts during the internship itself, as various clients develop therapeutic relationships with a particular therapist.
Some clients say they will “follow” that therapist to their private practice when they finish internship. This can be incredibly uplifting and encouraging for a budding therapist to hear! It’s music to their ears.
Much like the Case of the Disappearing Friends and Family, however, these words can be less-than-100% sincere, and if they are, then there’s an incredible letdown when the therapist goes to contact the clients met during internship who expressed interest, only to be met with silence.
This can be financially devastating, too, because there were hopes of income attached to hearing those encouraging words of “can you give me your number for when you open your practice?”
This actually happened to a friend of mine, and it contributed to the dissolution or demise of her practice within the first year. She belonged to a church and knew a lot of people, many of whom expressed significant interest and promised to come see her. When Opening Day came, the calendar was empty. This happened through no fault of her own; she was proactive. She didn’t hound or annoy people, but she didn’t sit back expectantly and wait for the floodgates to open, either. I do know that she figured she had enough demand that she didn’t have to spend much time on advertising or marketing efforts, so she didn’t make that investment (which is understandable; if you’re on a shoestring budget, don’t spend money you don’t have to!)
This letdown started her off on a stumbling foot and in a semi-depressed mindset. She didn’t transfer that disposition to anyone else who called up, but I think that her hopes had been so dashed and deflated that she never quite recovered.
So, please never tell an intern that you’re going to come see them when they open for business unless you really intend to do so; it would be unfair to get their hopes up.
8 – Please try not to be over-critical of an intern. Interns are just that: interns. It’s the final leg of school, which means that they’re still learning. They’re not going to be pros yet. I say this because there were (and are) a few clients who might be used to a professional, experienced therapist, or perhaps they had an unusually gifted intern the last time around, etc, and they might unconsciously pit that therapist against those others, which is unfair because those standards are pretty much impossible to meet. So, please go easy on your intern; do give them constructive feedback about what they can improved upon, and if you have cool suggestions or ideas, be sure to share them with the intern! I learned some of my coolest secret tidbits from clients. 🙂