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Massage Today
May, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 05

The Politics of "Free": The Dichotomy of Doing Good

By Raymond Blaylock

Massage therapy is growing by leaps and bounds. Over the years, we have employed several approaches to nurture this growth pattern. In the mid-1980s our tool was "sports massage." We took massage, via sports events, into a very public forum with a high level of success. Doing this permitted people to view massage happening in a favorable light, the light of day, in fact.

In 1985, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) National Sports Massage Team was formed, co-founded by myself along with Bob King of Illinois and Tom Fink of Pennsylvania. In those early days and for years to come, we gave away our services at sports massage events all over the country. Our first national event series was the Bud Light U.S. Triathlon Series. This early work with sports massage catapulted our message of massage all over the country into the media and the positive press began in earnest.

However, the dichotomy of doing all of this good for massage therapy and our profession as a whole is that people began to assume massage in a public forum is free. Massage schools and practitioners continue to perpetrate this image today. Have you ever been giving a massage at an event, where someone asked you if the massage was free? Why do you think they ask? I would be truly surprised if any other health profession gives away more hours of their service than we, as massage therapists, do.

It is a fact of human nature that which we receive for free is valued less than things we have a vested interest in. If you have ever been to a convention or a trade show you know what I am talking about. You walk around picking up items that you may or may not need or want. You bring a bag full of "stuff" home and you may or may not ever use any of those things. But if you purchased an item you would keep track of it and use it as soon as possible.

Politics of Free

The politics of free are affecting our function as massage therapists especially with respect to seated massages. Being in a very public system, we constantly have people asking, "Is this free? We respond with something like, "No, this is a professional service that we have provided for this event." We have been told seated massage is a great public relations/marketing tool, which it is. We have also been told seated massage is great for stress relief, which it is. However, do you ever see your dentist or your internist out in the park on a Sunday doing free work? Why would you expect to see any other health care provider out offering free service?

Massage therapy has several public image issues; and this misperception that our services are free is one that directly effects our ability to make a living, and needs to be addressed immediately. A very simple solution will correct this misperception: remind the public that our work is valuable.

Whenever I do seated massage at a function that is not a revenue producing event, I take donations for a worthy cause. This has multiple positive outcomes. First off, it continues to allow us, as massage professionals, to use seated massage to promote our practices and profession. It also allows us to give people that initial massage experience and allows them to show their gratitude and be vested in the experience by making a donation to a good cause, such as a homeless shelter, SPCA, or UNICEF.

Additionally, people begin to realize that they need to make that energy (and value) exchange with their massage therapist. The massage therapist expends their energy giving a massage. The client then gives their massage therapist some "green energy" that is used to do energy exchanges with other people in their lives. Or, as in the instance of the fundraiser the massage therapist takes that green energy and gives it to a worthy cause that can turn that green energy into good works, and so on. This is the best of all possible outcomes a win-win-win scenario. Plus the massage therapist is connected to something in the community that the community holds in high regard.

Another way you, as a massage therapist, can deal with this is when you rent a booth at a show or festival, where you expect to charge for a massage. First be clear with the exhibit coordinator that no one is going to be there giving away free massage. Put it in your contract for the event. Talk to your massage school if they are out there doing events and giving away massage at events. Your massage school should support you in the education of the public.

Important to Note

Make sure whether it is a revenue producing event or a fundraiser that you get the names of everybody you work on for legal reasons to show who you worked on and who did the work. With a revenue event (where we are charging for each massage) collect the money before they get on your chair. This avoids any possible "confusion of free" before they get on the chair. If it is a fundraiser, get their name before they get on your chair and after they receive their massage you tell them, "I hope you enjoyed your massage. If you would like to make a donation to this event you may do it at the sign-in desk." If you are working with a charity or a not-for-profit group, it is nice to have a representative at the event to talk about what they do and how the money will be used.

In my opinion, all massage therapy events are either fundraisers or revenue producing events, and it behooves us to participate as this educates the public about the benefits of massage therapy as a necessary part of their health care. That said, please know that I do not feel that all massage must incur some form of money exchange. I know and understand that if you and I go to the women's shelter, for example, to give a massage, we are not charging or taking donations. And if we are at an emergency scene, we are not charging. If we are doing any form of "give-back," we are not charging for the massage.

We can do good and do well for ourselves at the same time. Ben Franklin called it "doing well by doing good." We can improve the public's perception of massage therapy by getting them invested in the outcome by creating an energy exchange via green energy. An interesting note to end on -- green in the color spectrum is the color of harmony, balance and growth! In many cultures, the color green denotes growth, learning, healing, abundance, fertility, and prosperity. It is believed to augur great success in any new venture. Any of those sound like a place you would like to be?


Raymond Blaylock, practitioner and educator, is the director of education at the Touch Resource Institute. He may be contacted by email or through his Web site: www.mytouchresources.com.

 

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