In massage school, we talked all the time about trades. We would connect with each other, with other therapists in the community, and we would set up trades. It was going to be great. We were going to get so much bodywork, and so much feedback. We would be healthier than ever.
The reality is, trades are very difficult to set up and delicate to manage. Once we started working, we realized how little time we had to do trades. We also realized how little energy we had left over after a full day of clients. And if we schedule our massage trades all at once, it became hard to enjoy receiving massage because of either being keyed from giving one, or from thinking about giving one. We started to neglect our self-care in all the ways we swore we wouldn’t. How long had it been since we last received massage? Well, to be honest, we had no idea.
Recently, a very dear friend and fellow massage therapist started her practice at the Heartwood Center, where I work. We spent many hours talking over our businesses, planning outreach we could do together, and generally supporting each other in the process of becoming self-employed. Fortunately, we work many of the same days, so we decided to do regular massage trades with each other — each of us alternating a week so we both received 2 massages a month.
Since trading with each other, I have noticed that I have more stamina, mentally and physically. My chronically cramped right hamstring muscle is starting to open up. I sleep better — all benefits of massage that I have preached to my clients for years.
What surprised me, though, was that since trading with my friend, my work has improved for all of my clients. Working with a friend requires careful management of the boundaries between friendship and clientship. While my knowledge of my friend’s life might inform the massage work I did with her, it was (and is) not appropriate to use the massage space to talk over our lives. That comes later, when we both have a break and are eating lunch in the kitchen. At first, I had to take some extra time to focus before I massaged my friend — some more deep breaths, another brief mind-clearing exercise. Now those extra steps have translated into deeper focus for all of my clients.
The bottom line is this: we both started our practices thinking we were striking out on our own. What we found was that community ties actually become stronger. We worried that we would feel isolated when we started our practices. In truth, we realized how isolated we were when we worked for other people.