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Massage Today
February, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 02

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,

So, the medical spa is open, and you're interfacing with doctors and nurses and physical therapists. You're looking at forms, charts and files. You're wearing blue surgical scrubs to work, and feeling a little different about your massage career than you did a few months ago at the luxury spa. It's not exactly the way you thought it would be, is it? I understand you're feeling a little let down now, after all the anticipation of getting the medical spa up and running. Reality is seldom as romantic as imagined.

Your two main complaints about your new position are ones I had myself, when I first worked with plastic surgeons who were converting their offices to mini-spas. Complaint number one -you feel there's too much emphasis on the external beauty aspect of the services rendered at the spa, rather than true health and well being; complaint number two - you didn't fully realize you'd have to wait until the insurance reimbursements came through to receive the commissions on the services you give.

I'll talk a little about these issues, and see if there's a way I can help put you more at ease when it comes to working in the medical spa environment. You don't want to bail already; after all, it's only been a month, and you're not even sure the spa will be a success or not. I think you should give it more time and see what happens, especially considering you've just relocated to a new city.

More Than Skin Deep

I can see why you might feel the spa is focusing too much on the aesthetic aspects of health (tummy tucks, liposuctions and face lifts), rather than the holistic/preventive aspects that inspired you to join the field in the first place. You're at a medical spa, where you thought you'd have the chance to interface with people on a more in-depth level, and you've ended up dealing with more superficial issues than you did at the luxury spa. There, you were free to deal with clients as you saw fit, but now things are more regimented. How can you apply your deeply therapeutic skills to someone interested primarily in reducing hip measurement?

I think we're at an early phase of the entire medical/spa integration, and we have a long way to go to reach the lofty plateau you thought you were going to step into right away. Indeed, a handful of spas offer guests serious medical screening and comprehensive lifestyle assessments, such as those at La Quinta Spa, the Chopra Center for Well Being at La Costa, and the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa's Destinations Health programs. I believe this is the wave of the future, even though it's taking a while for the general public to catch on and fully embrace the new paradigm.

What we have to deal with right now, however, is that a majority of the public regard spas as places where they can go to look and feel their best. These are the famous "Baby Boomers" who want it all, and want it now; the me, me, me, me, me generation. I know this doesn't sit well with your natural therapist's instincts of wanting to help people on a meaningful level, but I don't think you should write off the medical spa just yet.

The way I feel about this issue can be summed up in the words of Jen Kerr, who once said "I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin deep. That's deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?"

In other words, it's OK for people to be focusing on their beauty, Lou, and you can help them get the most out of their experience, rather than fighting against what you called the "superficial culture" of the spa.

Delayed Gratification

I know it must be tough, waiting months for a good chunk of your money to come through, but hey, you knew buying into the medical model was going to have some drawbacks. The insurance labyrinth is one of them. I agree it's not an ideal situation, and as an employee, you shouldn't have to wait to receive compensation, just because the business hasn't received payment for the services you've rendered. But remember, you are not just an employee; you're a partner, with stock options, and you're partaking of both the upside and the downside of the business's cash flow.

Consider yourself lucky that a large percentage of the medical spa's business is "out of pocket" because these are for the most part elective cosmetic procedures not covered by insurance. Can you imagine what it would be like if 80 percent of your paycheck was withheld, rather than 20 percent?

Give It Some Time

Lou, it concerns me a little that you're already thinking about leaving the medical spa. You should at least give it a couple more months. Sometimes those of us in the spa industry for a long time refer to the high-turnover rate in soap-opera terms - "As The Spa World Turns." People are constantly hopping from one property to another, sometimes to the detriment of the spa guests' experiences.

I'd like to see you hang in there for a while and see where this medical spa paradigm will take you. Who knows? There may be some unknown reason you are where you are right now. Perhaps it's not the stock options, or even the chance to work in a medical setting, that has brought you to where you are, but something else entirely - something hidden, something about to be. Just wait and see.

Until next time,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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