Massage & Bodywork

NOVEMBER | DECEMBER 2018

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From the outside looking in, the massage and bodywork profession seems like a social profession that would fulfill a therapist's needs for connection and support—we see clients all day long, right? The reality, however, is that this profession can sometimes leave therapists feeling isolated and disconnected if we let it. What those on the outside don't realize is that even though we may see many different clients throughout the day, we're not interacting with them in a way that feeds our need for connection; we're purposefully engaging with clients in the way that meets their needs. And while our work fulfills us in many meaningful and wonderful ways, it's an intentionally one-sided relationship: clients identify their needs and we try our best to meet them. Not vice versa. Most therapists I've spoken to about this topic—whether they're in a private practice or an employee setting—have emphatically agreed that massage therapy can be a lonely profession. But here's the danger: since we didn't talk about it in school, or with each other, we may not have the tools to cope with it. We feel resigned to it and stuck in it. I've felt the impact of this professional loneliness to different degrees since I began practicing in 2001, but my most significant and difficult experience, by far, was in January 2008. A month earlier, the massage school where I worked full-time as an instructor and administrator (in addition to maintaining a part-time practice) closed. I immediately went on a three-week healing arts trip led by a close friend and colleague to learn Thai massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with 14 other massage therapists. I found myself at a loss a few days after we returned. When the jet lag wore off, the loneliness came flooding in. I had gone from being immersed daily in a close-knit group of colleagues to sitting alone in my massage home office wondering, "Now what?" EFFECTS OF WORKING SOLO The number of US employees working remotely is on the rise, and these new work-from-homers are being introduced to challenges massage therapists working in a private practice have known about for decades: working alone, in whatever your setting, can have a negative impact on your health and wellness. Studies show that people who work from home report increased stress, anxiety, and incidences of depression. It's not necessarily surprising data, but it's data we shouldn't ignore. It's a flashing warning sign telling us to take a close look at our own lifestyle and identify steps we can take to enhance our immediate and long-term health and wellness. There are many similarities between a therapist with a private practice—especially with a home office—and an office worker working remotely. Both experience limited opportunities for social interaction, face- to-face brainstorming for shared problem solving, and connection with peers. Maybe more importantly, there's a diminished sense of belonging and contributing to something bigger than the individual. Sure, there are also differences between an office worker who sits alone on his laptop in their home office all day and a massage therapist who sees four clients in their home office in a day. The massage therapist has a reason to shower and change out of their pajamas and will physically see those four people throughout their workday. But that interaction with clients doesn't— and shouldn't—fulfill the need to share, to be heard, and to belong. To connect. In a Forbes magazine article, author Alice Walton cites a meta-analysis in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review that looked at 58 studies that included 19,000 people in 15 countries. The participants worked in a wide variety of fields—including health—and were asked questions about their work life, their feelings about their colleagues and companies, and various aspects of their mental and physical health. Participants who identified more strongly with colleagues had greater psychological well-being and also better physical health. Walton quotes psychologist Suzanne Roff-Wexler: "For freelancers or people without social connections at work, it is in their best interest in terms of mental well-being to connect in other ways. Social isolation is not good for our health." In fact, in a Psychology Today article, Stephen Ilardi writes, "Social isolation is a huge risk factor for the onset of major depression, which has more than doubled in prevalence over the past decade." 66 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k n o v e m b e r / d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 8 Massage therapy is a sometimes lonely profession. It's an unspoken truth that isn't addressed in massage schools, and is not often discussed among therapists. But understanding this lonely dynamic might be just as important to the well-being of an MT as good body mechanics.

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