No one could have predicted the crisis that crippled the world in early march of this year. Every profession faced the same threat that became known as COVID-19. At the time of this article, the U.S. has 1.5 million confirmed cases taking up one third of the global total. For massage therapists across the country, their clinics, their clients, and in many cases their livelihoods, are all put on hold.
However, as is often with tragedy, something good happens that couldn’t possibly happen without it. The new reality gave way to a coming together in the massage profession. “We are all in this together” is the sentiment shared by so many of the massage therapy profession’s peers and leaders.
At Massage Today we’ve heard some sad stories but also some very uplifting stories from the profession—we’re committed to telling those stories to document a moment in time we are all experiencing as well as showcasing the professionals dedication to resilience during this pandemic.
We’re all connected to this time on a personal level and on a community level. Part of that community outreach is well documented in the coming pages with our feature on the profession’s response found on page 12. Read more about how the professions stakeholders are helping massage therapists and read their stories on how they are each handling the crisis.
One helping hand is Gabriel Antuna-Rivera, LMT, who lives and works as a manager of student clinics for therapeutic massage in Alaska. He has been in quarantine since early March and since been furloughed. “I’ve been reworking my means of communication with other massage therapists, conserving the resources of a four-person household and taking into account the very real possibility that to survive the gradual re-opening of holistic services like therapeutic massage will require additional skillsets and experience in networking and protecting client/patient interests.” He goes on to explain how the time at home has opened a way for him to “seek a personal trainer’s license while I’m cooped up these days.”
“I totally understand the need for the restrictions but nonetheless it is a challenge” says Rick Greely, LMT, of Ohio. Greely faces these challenges as his state enforces its stay at home order. “My hope is that the profession learns and grows from this experience. We see a new appreciation for the benefits we provide and that many of our health care sisters and brothers enjoy our services,” he explains. “Know that many, many, many essential workers will need our help to heal from the stress that they have had to deal with.”
Jeff Montoya, LMT, practices in Wisconsin, where the governor included licensed health professionals in the exemptions from the Safer at Home order. “I find it encouraging that we are included with all other health and allied health professions,” he explains. “However, this has caused confusion and conflict among massage therapists who either do not understand why we were included or who believe we should not have been included as exempt. When we begin to practice again, we will do so with an increased awareness of safety and sanitation. I believe that society will be ‘touch-deprived,’ and we may even see an increase in the demand for massage.”
Tony Karoumi, LMT, of Illinois says, “In my 46 years of life I’ve never been through something like this. Things we’ve counted on and taken for granted have been altered or taken away. But on the other side of that, we have gained another prospective. A perspective that you wouldn’t be privy to without your world changing. The silver lining in this for me is seeing people and families spending time with one another, slowing down, walking/riding bikes more, and eating meals together.”
Becky Ohlson, MEd, ATC, LMT, who practices in Nebraska, looks to the future with hope that the massage therapy profession will come back stronger than ever. “I know that we will be needed once we figure out how we can safely work with our clients again,” she says. “So, I know it will get better, we just don’t know what the picture is going to look like for us yet. We just have to be patient, be educated from reputable resources on the virus, and be ready to make modifications as necessary.”
Marva Wright, LMT, of Illinois, explains how challenging it is to be away from her clients. “I have clients that see me for pain management only, on a routine schedule, who I cannot see as long as we are under the shelter in place order,” she says. “I absolutely agree with the order, as social distancing, along with proper hand-washing, sanitation and covering our coughs and sneezes because they are the best ways not to spread the virus. But, I have clients who are not receiving needed treatment right now and that’s difficult to ponder.”
Wright hopes the massage therapy profession will be better prepared to deal with crisis after the pandemic. “I hope that we follow through with making connections with our leaders and legislators to put forth a plan that will protect us from great financial loss should another pandemic or the likes affect our ability to work in the future,” she adds.
Caren McCarty, LMT, of Kentucky, shared her hope that “my clients are comfortable with the PPE guidelines and understand this too shall pass. It will be a new normal, but I think we can all adjust. I hope when my clients get on the table, they will be able to forget what is going on in the world. I want to be able to hold that space for them where they can relax.”
Massage Therapy Schools
Massage therapy schools have been hit hard, too, by COVID-19. Spring Saldana, Massage therapy program chair at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota, details how their departments and offerings have been affected saying, “all of our classes, with the exception of one (medical terminology), are delivered on campus. A huge challenge was providing a remote learning environment for all of our classes, since this had not been done before. We were also in the middle of our winter term and had to provide a remote environment for our students in about two weeks’ time.” Saldana goes on to explain how a second challenge was to decide what to do with the make-up hands-on requirements from their winter term, explaining how the school plans on completing these make-up hours once campus re-opens.
Saldana noted they’re also trying to make decisions about the summer term that began in early May. “We decided to not offer any hands-on courses and add didactic courses to our summer term that are normally offered in our fall term” she explains.
Saldana, like so many in her field, offers some encouragement in this time as she shares her hope that “we will become stronger and more resilient. We have been forced to think outside the box. Let’s use that.”
Dainah Craft, CEO of the Indiana Wellness College, has been able to weather the storm so far, but with great difficulty. “This would not be possible without the Department of Education’s unilateral approval of moving all programs for every type of school to an online education system,” she says. “We have been using IDL (Interactive Distance Learning) for the last decade already, and were very well prepared to continue providing education at a high level and ensure that student- to-student and student-to-instructor communication has been an ongoing occurrence. Like all massage facilities we were required to close our student clinic opened to the public, which has dramatically reduced our monthly and annual income. It has made paying our bills, and keeping all-star employed without pay cuts very difficult.”
Craft offered words of encouragement, saying, “I would encourage all students, employers and myself to remember that nothing lasts forever. The dark night will come to an end, and the sun will shine again. Focus on the lessons you have learned through this experience and make a commitment to change the things within your power to control, so if this ever happens again, you will have more control.’
For the everyday massage therapist, taking things day-by-day is the only option available at this time. And John Lambert, CMT, who lives and works in California summed it up best, “I miss my clients! My biggest hope is to simply get back to business. I know my clients value my work. I must do my part to create a safer space for them to receive my work.”
Why Stories Matter
Stories are so important to document at this time. Community support and positive stories that help tell the human side of the pandemic within the profession should be celebrated during this difficult time. There will be changes facing all professions in the coming months. From increased regulations to hygiene to operational considerations, the world will take on a different look. But your helping hands will help ease the burden faced by us all.
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