massage education, Thoughts on the profession

Job Description

The question that often follows “How long have you been doing this?” is: “How do you like this work?”  The answer is pretty easy.  I love it.

I’ve tried several other careers and even done well in a few, yet none of them held my heart and my interest like massage therapy.  This particular work is, for me, a fantastic blend of several different jobs.  I am a massage therapist, which means I am:

A Scientist

It started in school where I did a deep dive into the anatomy of the muscular system, and started on the path to learn more about Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology.  It continues now as I try to connect everything I do with some understanding of the working of the human body, and with information from the latest research I have been reading.  It is my job to be curious, to ask questions and to continue learning and discovering.

A Tradesperson

I learned a skill that I perform with my hands.  After my period of learning and apprenticeship (at the student clinic) I started practicing this skill and I work every day to further perfect and advance my skills.  I have apprentices (students) of my own now, and as I am guiding them through how to work with their hands, I am finding better ways to work with my own.

An Educator

Given the chance and the interest, I will talk to every client about what I notice and what that could mean for their particular body.  I will also take the time to talk through what massage might be able to address and what might need a different kind of support.

A Student

As I said to a client this week, I may be the “expert” in the room on muscles and soft tissue, but each client is the expert on their body.  I am here to learn from them.

An Artist
person with body painting
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Every human, every human body, is unique.  Every day and space that body moves in is unique, so every time a person walks into my office it is the time to create something that never existed before.  Massage does not, for me, happen by formula.  It happens by being completely present in the moment so I can make something new that will never happen the same way again.

I have the opportunity to be all of these things, and sometimes more besides.  This week some asked me, “Have you always been a massage therapist?”  I’ve had lots of occupations, and this is the one that lasts because it pulls in all of those jobs.  It asks the most of myself and give the greatest rewards.

massage education, Modalities, Oncology Massage

The Impossible Task

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I have two hours this coming Thursday to teach a roomful of massage students about Oncology Massage.  I will fail at this task.  I know I will fail because I have deliberately, and with careful attention, set myself up to fail.  I look forward to it.

If you’ve been around me for anything more than an hour or so, you know that I practice oncology massage, and I teach oncology massage basics whenever I can.  This is a three day, 24-hour, continuing education workshop where we routinely end the class by telling people how much more they have to learn.

About 8 weeks ago, when I took a good long look at the syllabus for the Pathology class I’m teaching, I saw that I had one class period to cover oncology massage.  Just one class.  Two hours.  To me, this is barely enough time to really make sure the class understands what cancer actually is, other than something you wear pink or run 5Ks to “cure.”  I decided that I needed to get in front of this topic right away.

The information I can cover in two hours is maybe just bordering on enough to give students the right intake questions to ask — the questions that will help them know when they need to refer someone to someone who is trained in oncology massage.

Fortunately for me, every class mentions a cancer of whatever system we happen to be studying, so I have frequent, relevant times to set expectations.  I have repeated variations on the phrase “more training is needed” since the first week of class.  I have tried to repeat often that the best therapists are those who work within their knowledge and skill set — those who are generous with admitting they don’t know something.  I am trying to set them up to know what they don’t know.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
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This Thursday, armed with our textbooks and the 70-or-so slides that go with it, we will attempt to talk through oncology massage.  We will fall short.  We will, in other words, fail.  And in doing so, we will gain the much more valuable knowledge of our own limits.  I will be happy with that.  If I can release these students from this class with more questions and curiosity than answers and certainty, I will have done my job well.

Let’s get to falling short.

massage education, Thoughts on the profession

There’s a Week for That

Did you know there’s a thing called Teacher Appreciation Week?  I had no idea until a little into my second year of teaching at a massage school in Chicago.  When I discovered it, I also discovered what my students really thought about me.  It was surprising, eye-opening, unforgettable.

When I arrived for my evening classes, many students stood clustered around a long table in the hallway of the school.  Some bent over, awkwardly cradling books, bags and papers in one arm while they wrote on something with the other arm.  I made a minimal-detour beeline for my classroom, as I typically did, and figured there was some kind of group interview or job fair coming up.  And here is where I admit that I am that guy — I check email selectively, particularly email that is very specific to one of my jobs.  If the subject line or the preview does not seem to be directly related to my job (in this case, to my students or the classes I was teaching), then I delete it right away.  I am that guy who asks stupid questions, like, “What’s with all the birthday cakes in the lounge?” or, “Why are there a bunch of students clustered around a long table in the hallway?”

It was, as a colleague told me, Teacher Appreciation Week.  On top of that table were cards, one for each instructor.  Students got to write whatever they wished to whomever they wished, and at the end of the week, the cards appeared in our mailboxes, complete with messages.  I picked mine up at the end of a day and read it on the train home. I was shocked.

I teach because I love it, and because, some days, I’m pretty good at it.  I’ve written about it here, and I hope it comes through that I feel a pretty strong responsibility to the students who end up in my class.  I try to start each new class with two assumptions:  we are adults, and we are able to learn.  My job is to create the right circumstances for learning and discovery to happen.  Some days are better then others.  Some groups are easier than others.

pexels-photo-887353.jpegRight there, though, on the card in front of me, was the written proof that somehow these students learned lasting and special lessons that maybe had nothing to do with myelin or the pathologies of the cardiovascular system.  Their messages ranged from the simple “Thank you,” to heartfelt words about some specific thing I had forgotten that I did or said to them.  One class, small in number but strong in personality, took a whole extra sheet of paper to illustrate and label one of their favorite (?) in-class activities.  (I laugh-snorted at that one, and other people on the train gave me lots of room.)  I had no idea that so many things were sinking in, coming through, and being remembered.  Of course it touched and moved me just as any true sign of appreciation and gratitude touches and moves any human.

I still have that card.  I pull it out on days when I am not sure if I have this whole life thing down yet.  And that is my enduring gratitude back to everyone who wrote on that card, even if it was a quick, perfunctory “Thank you.”  To all of those former students — I thank you.  You held me up in ways that you don’t even know.

And if you are thinking of someone, feeling grateful for any little thing, wondering if it would be weird to send a quick message of thanks, let me know:  it’s not weird.  It’s beautiful.  Do it.

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