Living Well: Nourish Your Practice, Passion

Nourish Your Practice

Although your clients aren’t probably going to want to read full research reports, there is a lot of good information that can be gleaned from research you can use to talk with your clients about the benefits of massage therapy. Doing so will illustrate that you’re both invested in the health and well-being of your clients, as well as the massage therapy profession.

The Sources. As with most things in life, all research is not created equal, and so you need to be aware—and make your clients aware—of what can accurately be assumed by any research you might talk about. Don’t say something is definitively proven, which is very rarely, if ever the case, if you’re uncertain about the quality of the research or the results.

But you also shouldn’t shy away from letting consumers know about the research that is out there helping you better understand the solid benefits your profession has to offer. For example, a study published in the March 2010 issue of the Massage Therapy Foundation’s International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork investigates the use of massage therapy to manage pain in an acute care setting. The preliminary findings show a strong correlation between reduction of pain levels after massage therapy and statistically significant differences in pain scores before and after massage. Additionally, the study found that a majority of the 53 participants who completed the research project experienced increased relaxation, emotional well-being, ability to sleep and ability to move.

So what? Clients coming to see you probably don’t exactly mirror the study participants. You still might consider mentioning the results to those clients and potential clients who see you for pain relief. You can talk in general terms about the results of some recent research, as well as what the findings might mean to these clients, saying, for example: “Some recent research investigating the effects of massage therapy on pain management in the acute care setting suggests massage therapy can help people better manage pain.”

Sounds obvious, but being able to talk about research in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your client can be a very effective means of educating them about the benefits of massage therapy. Highlighting some of the research being done in the massage therapy profession helps clients better make the connection between massage therapy and maintaining their well-being—which can be particularly useful for clients who might now view massage as a luxury they treat themselves to once in awhile.

Talking Points

A recent study conducted by Jose Benki, a research investigator at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, suggests that how you talk to people when you’re trying to convince them to do something may play a role in the results. The study included recordings of 1,380 introductory calls made by 100 male and female telephone interviewers, and then analyzed the interviewers’ speech rates, fluency and pitch, correlating these variables with their success in convincing people to participate in a survey.

Benki and colleagues found some interesting results:

“Interviewers who spoke moderately fast, at a rate of about 3.5 words per second, were much more successful at getting people to agree than either interviewers who talked very fast or very slowly,” Benki explained. Talking too fast, researchers posit, might indicate an attempt at deception, while talking too slow may suggest you aren’t knowledgeable about the subject.

Success rates of participants weren’t as affected by pitch, to the surprise of some of the researchers. “We assumed that interviewers who sounded animated and lively, with a lot of variation in the pitch of their voices, would be more successful,” Benki says. “But in fact we found only a marginal effect of variation in pitch by interviewers on success rates. It could be that variation in pitch could be helpful for some interviewers but for others, too much pitch variation sounds artificial, like people are trying too hard.”

Fluency, in this instance indicating pauses in speech not command of a language, also had an impact on success rates. Participants who engaged in frequent, short pauses saw more success than those who didn’t pause at all. In fact, participants who made no pauses at all were less successful than even those who were described as pausing too much. “When people are speaking, they naturally pause about 4 or 5 times a minute,” Benki explains. “These pauses might be silent or filled, but that rate seems to sound the most natural in this context.” Benki suggests that people who don’t pause while speaking sound too scripted, raising red flags for those they’re talking to.

What does this mean for you specifically?

Well first, think about how you engage with your clients and potential clients. Particularly with people (or potential networking opportunities) who aren’t familiar with you—and might not have a good idea of the benefits of massage therapy—how is your approach? Do you find that your demeanor is easygoing and natural, or are you easily tripped up? Do you race through your talking points or can you confidently explain what you do?

What can you do?

If you know the material you’re going to talk with clients and potential clients about, chances are that how you talk to them will be far more natural. When talking with clients and potential clients, stick with what you know and are comfortable explaining.

That isn’t to suggest that when you learn a new technique or modality you shouldn’t talk with clients about its potential, but don’t rush headlong into marketing something new until you’ve had the opportunity to become fairly familiar with how to perform the technique and how it might benefit your clients.

Being authentic is another key consideration when talking to clients and potential clients. It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in thinking about other people’s expectations, but try to remember that people are really interested in who you are, and what you know about massage therapy and how you think they might benefit.

For example, don’t try to interject humor if that really isn’t your style. And be honest about what you know, even when admitting you’ll have to do more research to answer a question a client might have. Staying true to what you’re passionate about and truly understand about massage therapy is important when you’re marketing yourself and your practice—and will make these efforts less difficult and more natural.

When you know you’re going to have the opportunity to talk to someone about massage therapy, make sure you practice what you’re going to talk about. As the study results suggest, you don’t want to sound too scripted, but if you appear to not fully understand—or believe—what you’re talking about, chances are you’re not going to convince anyone else, either.

So, ask a friend if they’d mind helping you out by listening to you talk, or stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself. You might also consider spending some time writing down your thoughts until you pinpoint your focus. You might be surprised by how spending 30 minutes freewriting your thoughts about massage therapy lets you strip away what’s less important and find what you’re truly trying to convey about yourself and your practice.

Nourish Your Passion

You work in a demanding profession, one where you deal with people who are in pain, or might be dealing with significant life changes, stress, chronic disease—the list is endless, really. There are also the physical demands of the job that can take a toll on your body.

When you add all of these things up, you’re left with perhaps a better-than-average chance that massage therapists will have to deal with the issue of burnout at some point. You might feel exhausted and frustrated where you once felt motivated and energized. The passion you once felt for the massage therapy profession may be slowly turning to aggravation.

The tricky thing about burnout is that it doesn’t announce itself, but instead sneaks up on you, steadily chipping away at your reserves until practicing massage therapy—and countless other activities you used to enjoy—no longer feel good. The good news, however, according to a recent article in Psychology Today, is that experiencing burnout doesn’t have to be career-ending.

Here are some ways you can deal with burnout and get back your passion for the massage therapy profession:

Take inventory of the situations that are causing you stress, anxiety, worry or frustration. Can you decipher what’s triggering these feelings Also, don’t try to think of everything at once. Consider keeping a notebook handy where you list what you’re finding frustrating, feeling free to add as they come to you.

Find at least one way you can change the situations you’ve listed to relieve the feelings of frustration, anxiety or stress. Then, begin implementing these strategies into your routine. You probably aren’t going to see immediate results, so don’t add to your frustration by expecting the problem to be solved quickly. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, and you can’t solve burnout overnight, either.

Learn to say no, and mean it. Don’t take on any new clients during this time, and don’t commit to any events or new activities. Of course there are going to be things you need to attend to, and events and activities you’ll want to engage in, but resist the urge to say yes to something when no is a possible answer.

Delegate whenever possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you know other massage therapists in the area that can help ease your client load while you recover from burnout, ask for that help without fearing you’ll be giving away business. Your clients will understand your need to take care of yourself—trust that.

Shut down your devices. It’s easy to get caught in the endless cycle of electronic devices that keep you constantly connected to friends and family, as well as the outside world. Knowing when to power these devices down—so you yourself can power down and recharge— is essential. Take  half a day, or a full day, to step away from your phone and computer and allow yourself to unwind.

Get out there. Make sure you’re spending time with people you care about, and try to socialize outside of your professional group of friends, too. It’s wonderful to connect with other massage therapists, but pursuing other passions is a great opportunity to gain different perspectives, which might be just what you need.

Support system. Most people think of a therapeutic setting when they hear “support group,” but that doesn’t have to be the case. You can find great support at your local AMTA chapter, for example. Finding people you can talk to about your feelings—as well as vent some frustrations—will help reduce stress and feelings of isolation, two common results of burnout.

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Satu F., AMTA member since 2003

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