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Massage Today
July, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 07

Taking Care

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

I recently spoke to a group of graduating massage therapy students as a guest lecturer at a career development course. The school recently started its massage certificate program, so the class was small - only seven students.

I asked what brought them into the field, and what they thought they would be doing after being a year in practice. All planned on being successful - most planned on starting full-time, right out of the box! None had any offers of employment, even though they were graduating in four weeks.

Their dreams didn't surprise me; my surprise came at the responses of four of the seven who shared that they had never experienced a massage before starting school! It would have been five out of eight, but one student dropped the program when she realized she couldn't stand touching others, and liked being touched even less. What would possess someone to apply to school, write a large check for tuition and give up time to study, without determining if the experience holds personal efficacy?

Massage therapy brings me many surprises. Perhaps the one that strikes me most is how few massage therapists avail themselves of regular massage! Massage therapists expect self-care from their patients and clients, but hesitate to apply their own suggestions to themselves! Self-care has emerged as a hot topic for today's caregivers striving to balance the responsibilities of profession and family.

Unfortunately, self-care generally is not supported by our culture; some people equate self-care with abandoning responsibilities or self-centeredness. Therapists often receive rave reviews for taking better care of others than they do themselves. As a result, many are suffering near epidemic levels of physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue. Taking time for yourself allows you to be a better spouse, parent, friend and therapist. Self-care is empowering. You take charge of your life when you implement any healthy practice into your routine. You are the expert on your needs - if you don't acknowledge their importance, who will?

Our client base will not benefit if we don't take time for ourselves. When we are emotionally depleted, those in our care see our weariness and frustration. While we do our best to respond to their needs, we can make them feel guilty for needing us. We serve as role models for our clients. When we take care of ourselves, we exemplify positive self-esteem and healthy behaviors. Getting regular massage shows that we know how to care for ourselves!

Here's a sobering thought: One in eight women has a chance of getting breast cancer at some point in her life; each year, 40,000 women die from breast cancer. Between 80 percent and 85 percent of all massage therapists are women. The savvy female massage therapist will use the skilled palpation of her massage therapist to assist her in breast health. It makes sense that a massage therapist trained in the nuances of soft tissue will do a better job of regular examination than the physician you see once a year! Insist on the care you need!

Dr. Saralyn Mark, senior medical advisor on women's health with the Department of Health and Human Services and NASA, stresses the importance of knowing your family history. There is a difference between getting breast cancer before menopause and after menopause. You should be more concerned if you have family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause, as there could be a genetic factor involved that will require additional caution:

"Know your family history on both your mother and father's side," said Dr. Mark, who added a word of caution about failed mammograms. "They've been around for 40 years, but they aren't perfect," she said. "Even if your mammogram is negative, if you feel something during a breast self-exam, see your doctor immediately."

When overbooked, overworked and faced with clients presenting with various needs and/or maladies, we go out of our way to provide the best possible care - a normal reaction by most caregivers. However, this also is a time when special attention should be paid to you, the caregiver. In fact, your health is the best guarantee you can give your clients: the guarantee that you will be able to provide them with good care.

Self-care may seem like a luxury, but it's not. One of the principles of self-care demands that you deliberately choose to care for yourself. We should do at least as much for ourselves as we do for our clients. Do you tell your clients to get regular massage? Do you tell them what the benefits are? I tell mine that massage relieves stress; maintains flexibility; keeps them physically and emotionally alert; helps them stay in touch with and listen to their bodies; provides an opportunity for professional evaluation and care of emerging strain patterns; and helps them maintain a healthier lifestyle. If that is true for my clients, it is certainly true for me!

I hope those students I spoke with find massage therapy meets their expectations. I hope they develop practices as robust as they can handle, and that they take good enough care of themselves so that can happen.

I try to find my way to a massage table at least once per week. I see and feel the benefits. I also feel no hypocrisy in suggesting that my clients come more often to feel better, because I'm asking no more of them than I am asking of myself.

Be the best massage therapist you can be. Use superb body mechanics; take regular vacations; eat well; exercise and stretch regularly; and learn new things ... but most importantly, go get a massage!

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters relating to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue. Please send all correspondence by e-mail to , or by regular mail to the address listed below:

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4139
Huntington Beach, CA 92605

Former editor of Massage Today, Cliff is owner of Windham Health Center Neuromuscular Therapy LLC. He is nationally certified in therapeutic massage & bodywork and is licensed as a massage therapist by the states of New Hampshire and Florida. Cliff is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners; a professional member and past president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association; a certified member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Inc.; and a past chairman of the board of directors of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.


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