Meet Sarah Hampton, my personal Massage Therapist. You can find her at Balance Massage in Ann Arbor, MI 3-4 days per week. I first began seeing Sarah when she was working in Northville 3 years ago. We became friends and through our weekly sessions, she has eased my Fibromyalgia (FMS) pain. She is the married mother of 2 great kids, Corey and Summer, and is actively involved in Scouting. We recently had the opportunity to sit down and discuss what it’s like being a Massage Therapist.
How long have you been in this line of work? 10 years.
What makes your job satisfying? Where I am able to get with clients. It can be difficult, because not everyone gives you feedback. But, if they come back every week that tells me they like what I am doing.
What is the typical gratuity you receive? 10-20%.
What is the largest tip you’ve received? I have a few clients that give me around 35-45% ($20-25) for 60 or 90 minutes.
Is there anything the big tippers have in common? For example, are they service workers themselves? No, not really.
Is there anything in common with the people who don’t tip or give smaller amounts? Yes, they seem a bit off…quirky, weird. I think they can’t afford it. They say things like they are on a pension.
Are any of the no tippers regulars? Yes
Do you think most therapists are motivated by the fact they are helping people, like you are? Yes, if they are serious about their career.
How did you get started in massage therapy? I fell into it. After I got out of the Navy, I couldn’t find a job. I ended up working at Starbucks. I saw a television commercial about massage school one day. I thought it sounded interesting. I gave them a call and I was in class the following week.
How long was the class? What did you study? School was 9 months long and it was every day. We had homework. We studied medical terminology, medication conditions, skin conditions; things you can’t do massage for. We also studied anatomy, massage techniques.and how to market yourself.
How long before you started practicing on each other? 4 months.
Were you nervous? No. Having the other students work on you could be horrible though. Some of them just didn’t have the touch. You can tell right away. You can’t fake it until you make it since it’s so hands on. Everyone feels different when they touch someone, but having the touch isn’t something you can learn. You either have it or you don’t.
Did you always plan to work for someone? Yes, it’s a huge liability having your own business.
Is Massage Therapy a good career for a working mom? Yes, it has very flexible hours; especially if you can find a place that’s busy during the day. Now that massage is much more known than it was 5 years ago, it’s easier to stay busy during the week. People understand that massage can fix problems they are having. It isn’t seen as just a luxury anymore. More studies have come out showing how massage can help mentally and with stress reduction. It is good for many different things.
To achieve these benefits, do you need to visit your therapist on a regular schedule? Yes, how often you go depends on the person. Some need once a week, others can go 2-3 weeks; however, at 4 weeks everyone should be coming back. Your body’s muscles have memory and your stress will come back.
How do you get past the “yuk” factor with some of your clients? Well- if they have a lot of hair you need to use more oil so you can glide easier (Sarah laughs). However, before my shift I mentally prepare so I am clear headed and in a good mood. When I look at someone’s body I see muscles, I don’t see the person’s personality or appearance. I am feeling their body and focusing on what I am doing. It makes it easy to work on different kinds of people.
Have you ever had to turn someone away because they were too heavy for the massage table? No, the tables can handle up to 500 pounds.
Have you ever worked on someone you thought was anorexic? I had someone who was thin like that, but I knew she had medical problems. It is more difficult to massage someone who is really thin. They have no muscle tone, so you feel like you are massaging bone. However, I can tell it feels good to them.
What do you wish your clients knew? How hard it is to do the work. It can literally be back-breaking. People don’t think about that. It’s not a 9-5 you can do every day. I need to constantly do home-work like stretching, icing, everything we tell our clients to do. We also have some tools we can use on our hands at work that help. We practice what we preach to our clients. I would never tell someone to go run 2 miles, because I wouldn’t do that myself.
What age do people drop out of the business? I have seen some pretty old therapists. They don’t do a lot of deep pressure due to arthritis or tendonitis. You are helping people so it’s hard to walk away from that and go to a desk job.
Have you ever thought of expanding your education and moving towards a Physical Therapy Degree (PT)? PT is so much more impersonal. You only see people for a set period of time and you are telling them what exercises to do on their own. I like the personal nature of my job.
Any shocking confessions from clients? One woman would come in 1-2 times a week, her husband came in once before too, so I knew who he was. She told me she didn’t want to be with him anymore. I felt what she was telling me was too personal, but I knew she was just venting and trying to feel better. I let people do that. It was awkward when her husband came in again. Knowing all that stuff about him “was crazy”.
People tell me a lot of stuff actually, but I am okay with it. People relax that way, it takes their mind somewhere else so they aren’t paying attention to the work I am doing. Their muscles let go and it’s better that way. But, we’re encouraged to make it a Zen experience and are told to remain quiet during our sessions. Some days I am quiet and do not feel like talking myself.
Have any clients ask you something overly personal or sexual? No one has asked me anything that was too personal. I only had an issue one time, when I just graduated and started my first job. I was working at a vitamin shop with a massage room in back. I was so stupid; I didn’t know enough. I told the lady (that owned the shop) I could do massage for her. She called me one night to come over. After I finished massaging this guy he said, “That’s it?” I asked him to repeat himself and he said the same thing, so I asked what he meant. He started to say, “so there’s no…” and then got angry, so I walked out of the room. I don’t remember if I got paid or if I cared if I got paid. I just walked out. The company I work for now books appointments and makes reminder calls in a way that lets people know we’re professional. I’ve had people grab me before to show me what’s wrong or needs work. They are not supposed to do that and it’s an indication there could be an issue.
Anything anyone else people should know about their Massage Therapist? People can always communicate with their therapist. Therapists sometimes don’t say enough during the sessions either; we’re guilty of it too. If someone says “Ow that hurts” or “it’s too deep, ease up”, I am glad they told me.
Have you worked on kids before? Yes, I have worked with a few kids with autism, sports injuries, or dancers. Kids are more sensitive and ticklish so you have to work around that. I wouldn’t use deep pressure. One kid I worked on broke his spine but kept playing water polo. Another had back issues from rowing.
You can read more about the benefits massage therapy can provide autistic kids here: http://qsti.org/.
I started visiting Sarah at the urging of my doctor, who is a Physiatrist or PM&R. This is a branch of medicine that focuses on the treatment of disorders relating to the nervous system, muscles and bones. Physiatrist uses an integrated approach when treating patients. Not all studies prove long-term benefit from massage in FMS patients, but there are many doctors, patients and studies that support this is the case. An article supporting long term therapy for FMS patients can be found here: http://www.fmcpaware.org/massage-for-fibromyalgia-a-therapist-s-point-of-view.html
The legal stuff, since I am going big one day.
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