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Self-Care Corner

By Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT

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The Joys of Volunteer Work

As I walk inside the memory care unit at a local assisted living center, I set aside the concerns I am shouldering and prepare to administer massage to the residents inside, hoping to bring them comfort through massage.

The time I spend here reminds me that this act of service is a small price to pay for the space I occupy on this earth. While my daily work as a geriatric massage therapist allows me to interact with and serve seniors, I have realized the importance of volunteering my time and skills with those who may not have the opportunity to seek this out on their own.

Even beyond the altruistic motivation to volunteer, it is difficult to make a case against the benefits of volunteering. Those who volunteer report higher levels of happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction and lower rates of depression.1 Volunteering does not just boost your mental and emotional well-being; volunteers tend to be healthier and even have a lower risk of mortality.2  It also connects us to our community. When we have invested our own time and resources into the place we live and people around us, we cannot help but root ourselves in our community and contribute to its long-term success.

This community connection is one reason for massage therapists to employ their skills in the volunteer setting. Aside from the benefits to your personal well-being, it is also an effective means to network and build your practice. Providing massage on a volunteer basis can introduce massage to those who are not aware of how they could benefit from it or for whom it is not always financially possible. The goodwill created by serving those who otherwise would or could not seek out massage therapy will very likely lead to new opportunities for your practice.

Creating Your Specialty Through Volunteer Work

eldery massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Geriatric massage in particular is a great specialty to build through volunteer work. Older individuals may be less inclined to recognize how they could benefit from massage, but experiencing it once or twice at their local senior center can change their minds. It did for some of my most loyal clients.

I have also had great success at using volunteer work to introduce myself at a local long term care facility. Once I have proven the benefits of massage to the residents, we discuss how massage could fit into their budget now that other things like mortgage or vehicle expenses are less of a burden. Additionally, their family members often purchase gift certificates for them when they see how much better their loved one feels after a massage session.

While the opportunities for volunteering with our aging population abound, this is certainly not the only way to contribute to our communities using our profession. What areas are you passionate about? For those specializing in prenatal massage, many hospitals hold fairs for expecting mothers and nearly every community has social service agencies that serve low-income expecting mothers.

If you enjoy working with active clients, offer your services in the recovery tent at a 5K or marathon that raises money for a cause you care about. If you want to give back to those who devote their lives to the well-being of your community, visit your local fire station and provide massages to our first responders. There are even growing opportunities for animal massage therapy and shelters would love for you to apply your skills to their four-legged friends. For every passion and skill set, there is a way to serve others with it.

As I wrap up my morning at the memory care unit, I welcome the peace that settles over me. Focusing on something other than my business and personal life for a few hours gives me perspective and my concerns are lighter than before. I feel a sense of satisfaction at having brought some small comfort to others, and I can't wait to come back.


  1. Thoits PA, Hewitt LN. Volunteer work and well-being. The Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2001; 42(2): 115.
  2. Wilson J. Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 2000; p. 215.
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