The Massage Therapy Career Focus Workbook

Wellness Area — Understanding Your Options:

Negative feelings and emotions resulting from poor psychosocial wellness can affect a person's biochemical wellness (i.e., worry may cause or exacerbate digestive abnormalities). Digestive abnormalities can in turn affect a person's mental coping abilities in stressful situations. Left long enough, this could lead to reductions in healthy activities, which in turn results in poorer biomechanical wellness. In short, anything that negatively affects one wellness area will eventually have some negative impact upon the other two. Consequently, it stands to reason, anything that improves one wellness area will eventually have a positive influence on the other two.

We wanted to make this point because many therapists are reluctant to commit to a single wellness area focus. They are afraid that to focus in only one wellness area will limit their practice. But, if you agree with our theory of how wellness areas interact, you understand that massage is always global in its effects. Furthermore, success in any trade or art form comes quicker if you can establish your expertise in a specific area. That is not to say, however, that you can't be knowledgeable about other areas of wellness. Having a broad-base of knowledge is always an asset because it helps you to recognize when a form of treatment is either called for or when it may be contraindicated. Then there is the money aspect (money? … massage isn't about money, is it?).

Whom do you think earns more money, the general practitioner medical doctor or the brain surgeon? the house painter or the award-winning portrait artist? the handyman plumber or the high-pressure boiler technician? Obviously, specialization has financial advantages. So why be a massage generalist when the world is full of people with specific problems for which there are specific massage treatment modalities?

Finally, one last caveat about wellness areas. It should be remembered that the only mandate of massage is to produce positive effects in a person's wellness through the manipulation of muscles and soft tissues within an appropriate environment. So choosing a wellness area focus is not an invitation to be counseling, assessing, or treating outside of this definition. You may know lots of useful things about wellness, but if you do not possess recognized expertise in psychology, nutrition, or non-soft tissue care, and you ever feel the urge to give such advice or treatments—STOP!

For example, after assessing an elderly client's diet and posture you suspect that she may benefit from an oral calcium supplement. It is not for you to make this recommendation. Better to refer the client to a physician or nutritionist that is qualified to make such assessments. Even such apparently harmless suggestions as "Go for long walks if you feel mentally stressed," could come back to haunt you if the person dropped dead of a heart attack as a result of following your advice.

If you have a proper wellness area focus you will have developed referral relationships with other certified health care professionals that specialize in these other modalities. Not only will your clients and colleagues respect your professionalism, you will be functioning within, and ensuring the proper use of, the existing health care system. Moreover, you will not be exposing yourself and the massage industry to serious legal and professional repercussions should your advice or actions result in harm coming to a client.

A Lesson From Real Life …

There once was an experienced therapist who was asked to work within a successful Physical Therapy (P.T.) clinic. Over the past few years he had shared many clients with the clinic and was certain of comfortable assimilation into the internal workings of the business. However, within three months, the relationship failed. Now they share very few, if any, clients.

The problem arose because the clinic owner felt the therapist was too "alternative" to work within the P.T. environment. What was discovered through later consultation, however, was that the therapist was actually very clearly focused in the psychosocial wellness area — which is not really "alternative" at all. The clinic owner had just assumed the therapist was focussed in the biomechanical area. He further failed to see how effectively the two approaches to wellness integrated.

How wonderful it would have been for everyone involved, especially the patients, and before all of the good intentions and resources were wasted, if the therapist and clinic owner had possessed a common set of terms by which to define and differentiate their methods.