When I finished massage school in Chicago in 2002, I had the opportunity to start working at an integrative medicine clinic. I worked the front desk part time while I was filling my schedule. The established massage therapist let me shadow her and offered tips and tricks. Everything was beautiful.
Then I had to move out of state. My partner had to relocate for work. Now, I had to start all over again in Ann Arbor, in a state with NO licensing for massage and I had NO colleagues to network with. I found a chair massage job with very poor management and questionable business ethics, but that was all I could find. After a few months, I had to take a desk job doing something I hated to pay the bills. I eventually got some private clients that I saw on the weekends, but that basically paid for my continuing education classes and gave me some fun money.
Who was I supposed to talk to about all this craziness? I just spent thousands of dollars and I couldn’t make a living. Eventually, I found MI-AMTA, but they were focused on getting state licensure at the time. Nobody was there to listen to my concerns about this chair massage place. Maybe that wasn’t their job, but there must be someone, somewhere?
I had this crazy idea that massage therapists should make an adequate living doing massage therapy. Over the last ten years, though, I’m regularly finding that many massage therapists are "subsidized" by other employment or a partner's income to make ends meet. I don't know if this has to do with our level of training or our skills at business, but we seem to be pretty far down the totem pole in terms of salary as compared to other healthcare professions.
The other thing I found lacking in the bodywork community was a safe place to discuss my problems. In olden times (you know, 30 years ago ;-) therapists would apprentice with a more experienced bodyworker and get some real-world knowledge. After completing the apprenticeship, you would have a connection to a mentor for help with the tough questions. That doesn't happen anymore in primary massage training.
Massage students are not required to shadow a professional therapist to see how they work in "real life". I am a rare exception to this rule. The Soma Institute in Chicago did require students to follow professional bodyworkers. Some schools do not even require a student to ever have received a professional massage before applying. (IKR??) They are limited to training in student clinic, where they can observe other practitioners with no experience. These clinics are always supervised and cases are discussed with a proctor who has completed training. But this is not the same as seeing a seasoned therapist in action. Meanwhile, it is a standard requisite of training in all other medical fields to follow someone in active practice as part of the learning experience.
Further, most massage therapists do not have the opportunity to interface with other medical practitioners. The profession is a bit marginalized in that regard, most likely because we came to being licensed later than other medical professionals. The synergy between massage therapy and other medical treatments can be phenomenal, but how do we tell that to the other medical specialties? How do we share clients with them in a way that benefits the patient and informs the treatment? Wouldn't this be a powerful, holistic and healing mechanism? How can I help other therapists who feel alone?