Jenny Hampton, marketing officer for the Massage Training Institute, explains how important self-care is for massage therapists and how it influences all aspects of our work, including quality of touch
Self-care is such a vital part of a massage therapist’s life, but what does it mean? Everyone has their own routines, whether that’s morning yoga, a grounding exercise before each client, receiving a monthly massage, attending a supervision group, or any one of a number of other nurturing activities. Self-care is anything that fills you up, that makes you feel nourished and able to care for your clients.
Without it, we have no inner resources to call on and can’t be fully present with clients.
We also aren’t walking our talk, as professionals who advocate taking care of the body, mind and soul, to be in integrity, we must take care of our own.
On MTI courses, self-care is in every part of the training. It’s in the posture we ask students to use. It’s in the techniques we teach. It forms the basis for client communication and is the essence of our approach to massage.
We use the 50/50 approach. This means that the therapist brings their 50% – their time, presence, skills and knowledge, and the client brings theirs – clear and honest communication including speaking up when they want something to be different, disclosing all relevant information and engaging in aftercare to aid their healing process. In this way, the massage is a partnership. The therapist isn’t ‘overgiving’ and wearing themselves out in the process. They are meeting the client where they are at, not trying to make them let go or change if they aren’t ready to. It also means the client doesn’t have an expectation that the practitioner will ‘fix’ them instantly: they participate in their own healing.
Setting clear boundaries forms the structure for this, making it crystal clear to the client what our responsibility and level of expertise is, and what it’s up to them to let us know. This is done in the initial conversation before the treatment is booked, via consultation forms, by asking them to read and sign terms and conditions and through the verbal consultation at the start of treatment.
We see that creating a healthy therapeutic relationship is fundamental to a massage therapist’s self-care. This way they can continue to experience the joy in their work without feeling depleted and as though they are taking the world on their shoulders.
Another reason why self-care matters so much is because of quality of touch. Techniques are useful, but unless we have the right intention and approach to using those techniques, the client isn’t going to receive the most benefit.
Research from DePauw University in Indiana shows us that the intention of the person giving the touch matters. It discovered that people can communicate several distinct emotions through touch alone, including anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy. Accuracy rates ranged from 48 per cent to 83 per cent, comparable with those found in studies of emotions shown in faces and voices.
So, if you feel nourished and supported yourself, chances are you will communicate this to your clients through your touch. This is why we put so much importance on quality of touch in our training. Before students learn the difference between effleurage and petrissage, we encourage them to be present, curious and massage themselves to see how it feels to be approached with different types of touch.
Of course, we all have times in our lives when our bodies are filled with strong emotions and we are dealing with challenging events. At such times, all we can do is return to our own presence, keep breathing, focus intently on where we are, and hope this stillness will infuse our treatment and transmit to our clients.
Self-care at home
Let’s have a bit of fun: how many self-care tools can you find around your house? Can be anything from a tennis ball for easing glutes to a water bottle for stretching out the plantar fascia. Find as many as you can in 10 minutes and compare lists with a fellow practitioner.
What are your favoured methods of self-care? Make a list and compare with a fellow practitioner. Whether that’s a nourishing smoothie for breakfast, taking 10-minutes to meditate or walk in the fresh air, or something more structured, such as CPD, supervision groups or meets ups and swaps with other therapists.
about the author
Jenny trained with the Bristol College of Massage and Bodywork in 2010, not intending to practise massage professionally, but was so inspired, awed and blown away by what she learnt, she had to share it with others. She has been in private practice ever since, along running the marketing office for MTI since 2016. She is based in north Shropshire.