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Massage Today
October, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 10

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,

Sorry I haven't written for a while.

I've been busy teaching workshops lately, and then I was on vacation. I'm glad to hear that your training in the new spa techniques last month went smoothly, and even happier to hear you decided to bite the bullet and delve into "fluff & buff" modalities, regardless of your initial reluctance.

I told you that you'd be impressed with the level of professionalism in the training. There's a growing network of dedicated people out there who insist on serious skill enhancement in the spa setting. The funny thing is, I actually know the woman who did your training! We met a few years ago when she and her husband were just getting back from stints as spa directors in Bali. As you now know, the product line they were training you on was born from their experiences there.

You didn't realize you were going to receive such in-depth information, did you? It's good that you're following up by studying the literature on your own and practicing with your colleagues. Too many therapists take a single training then head straight out to perform their new skills on the public. Have you checked on the internet for more information too?

Therapist Beware

Even though your experience was a positive one, you should still be aware that there are some people out there who are primarily interested in selling products to spas. They provide education merely as a hook to produce more sales. The situation is such that vendors are probably the main source of instruction for the majority of spa modalities, and very few non-product-related entities have taken the time to focus on spa education. But that's changing rapidly. There's a woman in West Palm Beach, for example, Anne Bramham, who has opened a training spa. She offers intensive programs for directors and therapists who want to understand the philosophy and physiology behind the treatments. I know that other similar centers are about to open across the country.

Serious spa training is an idea whose time has come in this country, though it's been going on for a long time in Europe. Remember I told you about a spa training trip to Czechoslovakia I wanted to take? Maybe you can come with me! It's run by a professor from San Antonio who knows more about hydrotherapy than almost anybody else in the world. He also leads trips to the incredible Liquid-Sound experience at a spa in Bad Sulza, Germany.

I teach a few workshops each year to therapists, estheticians, and others who want to learn about spa modalities without being told one particular brand of products is better than any other. I think it's better that way. Don't get me wrong; I definitely understand the need of product vendors to make money. Yet not all vendors have gone beyond that basic need and taken education in the spa industry to higher standards. There are some, though, that have centers around the world giving detail-oriented trainings that go way beyond just explaining how to use their products.

It's a fine line we're walking in the spa industry between education and promotion. You and I didn't enter this field to get bombarded by advertisements, and we certainly don't want our clients to feel that way. However, we do need to familiarize ourselves with certain products if we are to be effective at what we do.

Power to the (Spa) People

So, what do spa products and treatments really do? They feel good, of course, and that's probably why people think they're purchasing them. But you and I have to remember the treatments are powerful, as I mentioned to you in my last letter. We have to take that power seriously, even though there's a strong tendency to discount the treatments as merely "fluffy."

There are several treatments that I personally feel to be quite powerful. They include the herbal wrap (my favorite); seaweed wraps; sea salt scrubs; aromatherapy applications; and hydrotherapy. I'll explain each of these from my point of view in a future letter, but for now I'd just like to give you some common-sense guidelines for whenever you're faced with the choice of "to train or not to train on a new treatment or product."

Ask the trainer or company these questions before signing up for your next training:

  1. Where do the products come from?
  2. Are they fresh and natural?
  3. Do they contain any harmful chemicals?
  4. How long has the trainer been working within this modality?
  5. How many spas use these modalities and products?
  6. Do the techniques have a proven track record?
  7. How popular are the products in a retail environment?

For me, the most powerful spa therapies contain an element of heat. Anything that heats me up really does the trick for my particular physiology, but I know that's not the case for everyone. Most people don't take into account the intimate and personal nature of spa treatments - powerful, natural ingredients soaking directly into your pores while you lie there pondering your life - and as a result, there is seldom enough customization going on in spa treatment rooms. It's often a one-wrap-fits-all mentality out there, but that is changing. Look for tailor-made spa treatments to gain in popularity over the coming decade.

Trainer, Train Thyself

Sorry I don't have time to get into any specifics about the treatments right now, Lou. Like I said... next time. Anyway, I'll leave you with one last word. I know you were impressed with the trainer, and fascinated by the ritualistic approached she shared about the treatments from Bali, to the point where you were ready to hop the next plane to the South Pacific. You even mentioned wanting to become a trainer yourself. My only suggestion here is, whoa, slow down! There is a danger in the spa world of wanting to move too fast, simply because there are so many directions to move in when you start looking around. Trips to Bali and well-paid training missions all over the country might sound glamorous to you now, but remember that if you don't put in the legwork first, pay your dues and learn the ropes in their natural progression, you'll end up with a fancy job title and no substance to back it up. Even more likely, you'll end up seeking the perfect career and being turned away due to lack of experience. Take it one step at a time.

Talk to you later,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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