Friday, October 30, 2020

Dealing with Stress & Burnout as a Massage Therapist

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The adage “Healer cure thyself” is good advice for massage therapists. As healers, massage therapists urge their clients to reduce stress, listen to their bodies and take care of themselves, but all too often they do not take their own good advice.

The physical toll

The work is physically challenging. Massage puts great demands on the healer’s body, potentially endangering vulnerable hands, arms and shoulders. Part of the solution is to learn proper technique, even if it feels awkward at first.

But what about the client who is an absolute bruiser – a walking slab of dense muscle? For these clients, you will need every trick in the book. Even so, you may also want to explore rotating the client within your circle of therapist colleagues, so that you each see the person only once every few weeks. At a certain point, you may need to consider referring an overwhelming client to someone else – permanently. While wanting to help people is an important part of the job, there may be times when you need to put your own future first.

The psychic and emotional toll

In some ways, the physical challenges are the easiest to handle. It is the psychic and emotional costs that may be the hardest to spot and the most difficult to deal with. Consciously or not, good healers absorb at least some part of their clients’ pain and trauma. As with many therapists, healers can suffer from compassion fatique and secondary PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) that results of absorbing other people’s pain.

Dealing with the problem first requires identifying the warning signs in yourself. Do you tire more easily? Does life seem less exciting and joyful? Do you find yourself being short with people? Are you experiencing changes in eating and sleeping habits? Does feedback from others suggest you may be burning out?

Your best bet is to structure healing times for yourself, times when you do not perform or think about massage therapy. Even if it’s only a weekend, take the time to go for long walks, to look at nature, to play with kids, to enjoy a lingering brunch with friends. Click here to read our article on dealing with Post-Traumatic Disorder (PTSD), since much of the same advice applies.

The stress of business

How many clients per week can you handle? Where will you find them? Have you saved enough to pay your federal income tax next year? How can you find the time and the money to take that new class you need? When should you start putting money away for your retirement?

The bad news about massage therapy is that:

  1. It doesn’t pay as well as people think – Many clients think their therapist’s rate-per-hour is high. But many do not understand how much unpaid downtime the job entails. They also don’t understand the additional burden self-employed therapists face in funding their own health insurance and other benefits.
  2. The field risks becoming glutted with too many people who want to do the same work – Do you have days when it seems like everyone you meet is a message therapist or they are studying to be one?
  3. Practitioners have reason to worry about how to weather illnesses and injuries and their ultimate longevity in the field – Can you afford insurance or a rainy-day fund to carry you through?

The good news is that:

  1. You are doing what you love.
  2. You truly help people.
  3. You can take steps to control your own destiny.

The best strategy to deal with the stress of being an entrepreneur is to focus on gaining practical business knowledge and developing a personal business plan. Some specifics to address when crafting your plan:

  • Remember the 40% rule – Self-employed people often find they earn less than they expected. But what they do not always realize is that only a fraction of your hours are billable. For most people, 60% of their time on the job is spent doing something other than direct, paid client service. There’s marketing and promotion, as well as accounting and record-keeping. Then there’s answering phones, talking with clients and buying services and supplies. Subtract additional time for education and training time. Don’t forget doctor’s appointments, visits to the dentist and vacations. So if only 40% of your hours generate income, how much can you realistically expect to earn this year? Should you raise your rates? Will the local economic climate allow you to do so?
  • Develop and implement a marketing plan – Most small business owners fear the cycle of feast or famine. The thing to remember is that feast is a good problem, while famine is not. If you generate too much business to handle yourself, you can always refer clients to therapists you know and charge those therapists a finder’s fee. Or you can hire someone to handle your overflow. Next month we will offer a special article on developing a market plan.
  • Build partnerships and alliances – Word of mouth and referrals from other respected professionals are important business-building tools. Offer to pay a finder’s fee to other therapists who refer overflow clients to you. Offer discounts to various clubs whose members might be good clients (bicycle clubs, even garden clubs). Ask areas doctors and other professionals to consider providing you referrals – ask them what they would like in return.
  • Develop alternative revenue streams – Many massage therapists are anti-materialistic and motivated by a strong desire to help others. But you shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty. Being smart about money doesn’t mean being hard-hearted. You need to remember that you will not be able to help people over a lifetime unless you also take good care of yourself.
  • Learn as much as you can about business, taxes and benefit options – Even if you can afford and already employ a bookkeeper, tax professional and retirement consultant, the more you know, the better your informed choices will be. What can and can’t you deduct as home office expense on your income taxes? Do you need disability insurance? What kind of IRA makes sense for you? What associations offer group rates on health insurance? Learn all you can, because good business people will tell you that it is not just what you make, but what you keep.

Information is the key to controlling risks, while planning reminds you of long-term goals that cannot be accomplished overnight. Use the form below to tell us you ideas and advice.

Tell us how you deal with burnout — we want your tips and techniques, what works for you and what doesn’t

Sophie Jones
Sophie Jones leads detox and weight loss retreats around the world from Bali to Costa Rica and many more places in between. Join her on her quest to help her clients lose weight, fully detoxify and begin a new healthy lifestyle. sophie@cleanseplan.com

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