One of my favorite things about interviewing people is getting an insight not only into why people do what they do, but also into how being an expert changes their perspective of the world. It might seem obvious in the case of police officers or truck drivers, but think about it from your own perspective. How much of your professional insider knowledge plays into your worldview? The odds are that it is a lot, and the reason is simple: if you are good at what you do, your profession has to become a part of your personality. This isn’t a question of whether you are what you do, but rather one about how your professional choices and dispositions reflect your values in some way.
While on the face of it, this might not appear to apply to massage therapy, in talking to some of the professional therapists at OC Massage, it became clear to me that being experts in their craft is important to them, and they think about how to improve both themselves and their practice constantly. In fact, that is part of how they decided to open their business.
Karen Thibault had been working in a law office, Sharon Phillips had worked as a waitress, among other things, and Gwen Taylor had a family tradition of massage therapy. They were drawn to massage therapy for different primary reasons, but the central reason was the same. Simply put, they wanted to employ personal and professional skills they already had and sought out a career that would allow them to accomplish that. As it turns out, (and as many people already know) there is more to massage therapy than a brisk rubdown. Doing it well requires picking up on subtleties, creating the right environment, and keeping up with the best practices in the field.
Striking out on their own
Gwen, Karen and Sharon all had worked at spas in the past and were happy in their jobs, but each of them wanted to do more as professionals. Although it is not the only aspect of a massage, relaxation is a critical part of it. Chaos can undo the work of relieving tense muscles almost as fast as the relief occurs. Many practices where the OC Massage founders previously had worked included day spa-type services, such as cosmetology. It isn’t bad, it only is different. Day spas tend to have a more chatty and mechanical background ambiance than is good for the quiet art of massage.
The women all developed the belief that the noise of a spa took a little bit out of the massage experience. This wasn’t just their conjecture either. Massage therapy occupies the middle ground between medical, holistic, and recreational treatment. As such it really kind of demands its own space, and in lots of practices that is exactly the case. Massage is the primary treatment rather than an add on. This increasingly is excepted among people who enjoy or even require massage therapy.
In addition to clients who spend their long weekends away from the cities here, there also are a number of people who take massage as part of their routine for promoting both mental and physical health. The point of the massage is to meet certain goals that are best addressed at a professional practice, which is why OC Massage was formed. The practitioners had elevated their abilities to meet this particular demand.
Technically, it is a job
The fact that massage therapists engage in continuing education makes sense, but is still surprising at some level. Because it has so often been seen as a luxury, there is no shame in forgetting that there are medical and health benefits associated with massage. From there, it is no great leap to recall that for any profession with medical implications, developments in the understanding and treatment of the body happen all the time and have to be disseminated.
Obviously massage can be relaxing, but the relaxation is the side effect more than it is the point. Think of it in terms of problems going away. Tension can collect in your muscles and affect your joints which can have an effect on your sense of well being. Massage doesn’t so much remove the tension much as it reminds your body to let the tension go. Much of the massage is focused on reestablishing good blood flow from the muscles to the heart.
“You don’t need a lot of pressure for a massage to work,” Karen said.
By continuing to improve their knowledge, massage therapists are able to significantly improve the application of the skills they developed in therapist school.
The art of relaxation
The academic aspect of massage, just as with any other profession, is the jumping off point where practice begins. Learning to deal with people, to anticipate and understand their needs, is something that comes with research and practice. To that end, the therapists at OC Massage still go out and get massages elsewhere as a way of getting a feel for the experience rather than just supposing what it might be.
This isn’s so much a critique of the competition (in fact they don’t often frequent local massage practices) but rather a way of keeping themselves centered. They like to remind themselves what it is like to be a customer and review how seriously their expectations are met. That is one of the first places where the tradition of massage therapy strays the furthest from a medical approach and enters the completely subjective realm. The key to being a reliable massage therapist is balancing what the people require with what they prefer. Massage is an elective endeavor, so for people to continue to come back, there has to be a feeling of value and satisfaction as well as a thorough job done.
At OC Massage, there is an intake process, wherein the therapist discusses the person’s needs and expectations. If they have had a massage before, the therapist gets a sense of what the person liked and didn’t like about the experience. If the person hasn’t, the entire interview is aimed at establishing comfort and trust as well as a good understanding about expectations.
“Snoring is music to a massage therapist’s ears,” Karen said.