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Massage Today
February, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 02

A Successful Man Working in a Woman's World

By Terry Russell

It's a woman's world - verbiage heard through the ages. History resonates with women's issues like voting rights to equal pay. Media keeps women in the forefront with working women frying the bacon to anchoring world news. It is no wonder the mindset of strong women has filtered into the massage industry.

I remember sitting in massage school class being so excited to start my new career later in life. Massage therapy was going to be my new profession. It had become my new passion. I am so thankful that my school back in North Carolina did not bring up the fact I was not a woman. A fact I never really gave any thought to except to fill out a questionnaire or go to the rest room.

Graduation came, national certification passed, state license granted. Nothing was going to stop me now, or was it? My first real massage job was at a high end spa. Awesome, I thought. I would be working on educated, successful people who realized the importance of touch. Period. End of discussion. Not a specific gender touch, but just touch in its most sincere and healing intentions.

It was during orientation that it was brought to my attention that since I am male, I was automatically at a disadvantage. What? I have trained and embraced neuromuscular massage. I was put here to ease pain and educate those in chronic pain. While not totally in error, I was clearly far from the truth of my reason for existence. My client education was to be in the form of explaining to the public that a guy's touch has all of the same benefits that a woman's touch will have.

massager - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark I remember vividly one night the spa was about to close and a client had just flown in. He was in desperate need of bodywork to prepare him for a seminar he was presenting the next day. He was a doctor so I thought there would be no problem with me being male. After all, I was the only one that agreed to work over. He met me with great resistance, demanding a female therapist. When he learned the next female appointment was the next morning, he opted to keep his appointment with me. By the end of the massage, he not only thanked me but apologized for his behavior earlier. He became a regular client of mine and would only schedule when I was available.

I continued to be one of the most booked therapists in the spa. Intent is everything, even if it is making the world aware that gender is not relative in touch. I firmly believe we are only limited by ourselves. If you see yourself less than anything other than being an awesome therapist, both your current clients and your potential clients will see you as less as well.

I went on to create a successful private practice by marketing my strong points and ignoring my manhood. Often, I was faced with questions that before I entered this field I would have thought of as trite. Early in my career, I learned most of these potential clients only wanted me to be real with them. They were going to be vulnerable on a massage table and needed reassurance the person in the room understood their concerns. It really was that simple.

When greeting new clients for the first time, I would take the time to explain how their session would work. I would ask them where they would like additional time spent. I would explain where and why I would work certain areas. The key I found was that I always finished my explanations by asking them point blank – do you have any questions or concerns? If they were apprehensive, I just opened the door for dialogue so they would not have to start an awkward conversation.

Many times, I was met with "well, this is the first time I have had a man work on me." Perfect. This was my cue to take the conversation from a zen-like tone to a more medical office tone. To steer the conversation into more of what I hope to offer the session and less about gender. I wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere so that by the time they were on the table, they were a little more at ease and by the need of the session they were glad they opted for a male therapist.

As my career has shifted and I have been in the multi-line distributor arena for several years, I have had to opportunity to meet many therapists, students and educators in the massage industry. I am amazed at how we, as an industry, can set limitations on our potential male therapists. I have had many conversations with male students at trade shows who show concern for their future because they heard in class that it's hard for guys to make it in the industry. Really? Don't you think it's hard on all therapists when starting out? We all had to sharpen our skills, build our tool box from scratch and build a clientele based on skill and talent. Nowhere in the last sentence can you insert the word male to make it harder. Face it, hard is hard. No matter where you live, what gender you are or the industry you are entering it's tough to start a new career. Tough is hard but not impossible or impractical. What is impractical is telling a very talented therapist, "you will have it harder because you're a guy."

This is for the guys. As you plan your future, don't limit yourself by thinking this is strictly a woman's world. You're strong. You're in an industry where skills and knowledge will set you apart. Always strive to add to your tool box. Look for continuing education that will improve your practice and not just quick and easy. You can make it guys, even when someone thinks this is a woman's world. Just a quick note to the massage educators - empower your male therapists instead of discouraging them. The massage industry is no longer a woman's world. A male therapist can make it whether looking to enter into the areas of spa, wellness, rehabilitation or medical. Good luck guys – you are in an awesome industry.

Terry Russell has been involved in the massage community since 1999. His previous career includes being a full time therapist at Spa Palazzo in the Boca Raton Resort & Club, as well as owning a successful private practice. As the Director of Sales – Schools, Distributors & Franchises Division at Universal Companies, his efforts are now focused on bringing schools, distributors and franchises the best of equipment and supplies with outstanding customer service. For more information, visit


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