I guess sooner or later that phone call was going to happen. You know the phone call that they warned us about throughout our professional development training in massage therapy school? The phone call where the person on the other end of the line innocently asks what kind of massage you offer and not so innocently anticipates your answer. We have been trained for that moment. We have been trained to ask the right kind of questions on that phone call but no matter the training or how well prepared we are to answer that call, we are never really ready for that call- the first time anyway. For it takes us by surprise and before we know it we have hung up and booked an appointment with someone who is most likely going to leave our office disappointed… their body will feel great yet they will leave disappointed. This is my cautionary tale.
I was preparing for my next patient when my phone rang. “I am interested in a 90 minute massage. Do you have any availability this weekend?” Ok, I think to myself and peruse my phone’s calendar. (Ok! Get their information and ask how they heard about me.) These are the simple questions we have been trained to ask. I asked the right questions and received a vague answer, “I found you online.” I should have asked if he had read customer reviews or viewed my professional website but the clock was ticking and I let the “online” answer hang in the air without a follow up. Instead, he asked the follow-up question, “What does the 90 minute massage entail?” That question also hung in the air… (It entails exactly what it states explicitly on my website.) In hindsight, that particular question could have been answered with the rote response that we had been taught in professional development from day one and hammered into our heads that by the time we had graduated it had become one salacious joke. I mean who says to a complete stranger, “I practice Swedish therapeutic non-sexual massage.”? But I didn’t. I may have stammered maybe not. I really don’t remember. I do remember answering the question professionally and competently though and letting my good nature rule the moment as I asked if he could make x time on x day. I had the presence of mind to ask him to again access my website (you have seen my website right?) and fill out my Intake Form before our visit. Perhaps there was already an undercurrent to our conversation for I explicitly stated the importance of him accessing that form before the session. That undercurrent meant to imply that the massage I was providing was legitimate and therapeutic and of course was not sexual. I hung up and I am ashamed that it hit me like a brick only then. Did that phone call just occur and did I just confirm a meeting? Later that day I received the online form. Under primary reason for visit was “Deep tissue massage (relaxation)” Why the parenthesis? Should I cancel? I was conflicted. In the end, I decided to show up and make this meeting as professional if not medical as possible and be prepared to end the session at any time. After all, I had the power in this dynamic. I knew what to do and was completely confident in execution. It was strange because I have never gone into a massage with the thought that this could end awkwardly and not as my “patient” had hoped. I put my best foot forward and proceeded. There were some weird moments maybe even some creepy ones but in the end, the patient received an excellent deep tissue massage and that was it.
I tell my tale because I realize we all have had or will have this tale at one time or another. It will play out a thousand different ways for each of us but since we are legitimate licensed/certified massage therapists, each and every single time, the tale will end with us ahead. Whether we have to re-drape our patient and ask him or her to leave or state on the initial phone call that we practice Swedish therapeutic non sexual massage, we win this tale. In the non-stop effort to legitimize our profession and gain the respect from the medical community, we win the tale. We are always going to have to win the battles against the The Client Lists of the world and against the communities that deem it necessary to have our practices licensed by local law enforcement in addition to the State Office of Professions. Against back room snickers from the boorish! Against improper requests from the depraved! Against all odds, we win because we are legitimate. We win because we put in the hours of work to earn the license that states our legitimacy. We win because we showed up and educated the unaware and silenced the ignorant.
Author’s Note: My particular tale is not as depraved as some other tales I have heard from colleagues. It is simply my own tale and yet a tale we all share.
Kip Yates, LMT was trained at the Swedish Institute in New York City and is New York State and Texas State licensed. He is owner and operator of Massage Refresh in New York City where he provides Swedish wellness and recuperative Deep Tissue massage that encompasses myofascial release and trigger point therapy. Kip lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children and also practices at Physiofitness Physical Therapy in Soho.