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Massage Today
May, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 05

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

Wow, so you're finding out firsthand how quickly you can get pulled into the world of a busy spa. The daily operations have already become a big part of your life, and the people you work with are now some of the main characters in your own personal drama. Drama is the perfect word, isn't it? You're not the only person to find yourself suddenly awash with strong emotions and conflicting feelings in your first month of employment at a spa. This probably happens for new employees (and owners) in many lines of work, but in several ways, spas are supercharged environments in which our natural feelings are magnified. The reasons for this are many. So don't worry: you're not "losing it," as you said in your last letter. You're just experiencing a normal adjustment phase. I'll try to answer that question you asked about your "moral dilemma" later in the letter, but first I'll describe why spas might seem like such intense places to work.

The Fuel of Human Contact

One of the reasons spas can be so singularly cathartic is that they put people together under fairly tense circumstances. Think about it for a minute: Where else do you find a place that combines the scheduling nightmare of a small airline; the temperamental personalities of a few dozen therapist/artists; the aesthetic concerns of a five star hotel; and the hygienic exigencies of a medical clinic?

No wonder everyone is running around like crazy all day, while at the same time trying to provide a calm and soothing environment. You're right in comparing the spa to a theater production, Lou. There's a definite divide between "backstage" and "onstage."

In my opinion (perhaps because I'm a massage therapist like you!), it's the prevalence of touch in spas that adds an extra edge of intensity. Spas are vessels that contain chambers of touch, where the real magic of the enterprise takes place. The front desk, retail space, wet areas, locker rooms, and gym are important too, but it's in the treatment rooms that the core business of a spa happens. The interface within that chamber between you and the guests is, symbolically, the interface between the inner and outer world, everything that is the spa and everything that is not the spa. Your hands, and each spa guest's skin, are the positive and negative poles of the engine that runs the entire enterprise.

Few other businesses run so intensively on the fuel of human contact. Spas offer us the opportunity to grow more conscious through the experience of this contact and its attendant emotions. Take your present "moral dilemma" for instance. Perhaps that isn't precisely the right term for it. In my opinion, this isn't a case so much of "right" or "wrong" but rather an opportunity for you to explore your own character.

The Dilemma

The situation you're facing occurs every day in spas. You give a client some excellent bodywork, and she asks you afterward if she can have your card so you can give her a massage outside the spa. That way, she gets a massage where she wants and when she wants, and you get to keep all the money instead of splitting it with the spa. A win/win situation, except perhaps from the spa owner's perspective. And there's the dilemma you feel. You know what the rules are at your spa - they are clearly stated in the employee manual. And you know that certain other therapists break these rules; they've told you so themselves. Thus arise all the conflicting feelings - loyalty to the spa; the desire to be "one of the gang" on the massage team; the desire for more money; the desire to please the client; the desire to be a good person; and the desire not to get caught.

Here's what I think you should do. It's very simple. Follow the rules stated by the spa that has employed you, not because it is wrong to massage that client at her home, but because by doing so, you would create a division within your own consciousness. You would need to rationalize what you are doing, which would weaken you as a person. If the spa's policy on this matter were different, that would be another story, but the owners have made their feelings clear. If you act behind the spa's back, you will cause yourself a little psychic damage, even if no one ever finds out. By your action, you will effectively say to yourself, "I cannot be completely trusted," and this will take a long time to repair.

The only way you can make one of this spa's customers your own private customer is to ask the spa owner or director if it's OK. If the thought of doing that makes you uneasy, you've solved your own dilemma. Follow your heart, Lou. It's the fastest way to the long-term success you seek, regardless of whether or not you make a few extra dollars next week from a new private client.

Talk to you later,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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