May is Mental Health Month
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults, approximately 61.5 million Americans, experience mental illness in a given year. Most likely, we all have had at least one massage therapy client that has dealt with mental illness at some point in their lives. As Memorial Day approaches, I am reminded that many of us work with veterans. Those who have served in the armed forces are more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder than other populations. Those symptoms may affect how they react to otherwise benign situations in the treatment room.
Last year, I attended a Yoga for Trauma and Recovery Teacher Training through the Transformation Yoga Project. I received a wealth of knowledge and met some pretty incredible people along the way. During the meditation portion of the training, I reflected on the various ways healing modalities, such as massage and yoga, can affect people living with psychological distress.
As massage therapists, we know that positive, informed touch can be transformative. To learn more about depression and massage therapy, check out my online continuing education course Depression 101.
So I was perusing Facebook (as I normally do when I am procrastinating) and I came across an interesting article on the spinal curves of indigenous peoples vs. those of westerners. Acupuncturist Esther Gokhale, suffered from back pain and spent twenty years trying to figure out why. Ultimately, after spending time with indigenous peoples from various parts of the world, she noticed that they had no back pain. She attributed this to their J-shaped spine, which is a spine that is straight, minus a curve at the sacrum.
As practitioners in an industry where back pain is often a client’s chief complaint, I thought this to be quite eye-opening. I’d like to share the article with you all and get your thoughts:
What does every human that ever lived and ever will live have in common?
Our bodies are the vehicle of our experience… and not just physically. Our emotional, mental, spiritual/religious experiences have an affect on our biology (but I’ll leave that for another blog entry). No matter what our line of work or our social habits, maintaining a healthy body is a key component in having a productive and happy life. We all know that regular massage therapy is excellent in addressing both chronic and acute pain, as well as stress. We have both clinical and anecdotal evidence to back this up.
So with this being said, why is it that therapeutic massage is still “off the radar” for many working class folks? In my own experience, having grown up in a working class household in inner city Philadelphia, who has more stress than someone who works hard for their money day in and day out?
While meeting a friend and colleague over coffee a few weeks ago, we talked briefly about ways we could make massage accessible to those in need while still being able to earn a good living. Later that evening, I decided to reach out to others in our field via a popular Facebook group for massage therapists and get their opinions on the subject. Here are some of the responses:
“Welcome to the struggle that has been plaguing our profession for a long while now (in the states).
[Accepting] Insurance would be ideal, but honestly, most of us are not trained enough in order to really become health care professionals on such a wide scale. This also includes (and I will get blasted for this) dropping reflexology and other energy work from our profession.
Legislation changes would help, by lowering permit/zoning costs to help those who are sole proprietors.
Educating clients and us as professionals really being able to help the client facilitate the changes that they desire.”
“People pay for all sorts of things that are very unnecessary in their lives. I think it is more a matter of education on why massage is so valuable for their health!!!”
“I struggle with this as well. As a sort of “tithing” I give on average one free (non-barter) massage per month. I wish I could afford to offer a sliding scale but am a single mama who works in private practice as well as at two spas. I need dependable income, but feel tugged by all the working poor who desperately need massage for the hard work and heavy stress in their lives.”
Re: People pay for all sorts of things that are very unnecessary in their lives
“I agree, and massage is one of these things. Yes we have a passion for a profession – and may have connection to it, but the bottom line is that people can manage without us.”
“Why does there NEED to be an “industry-wide” solution? Look at hairstylists for instance, high-end stylists don’t worry about people who cannot afford their service; those clients can go to Supercuts, etc. I don’t discount my services to make them affordable. Not to sound cold, but if you can’t afford me, you’re free to go to another therapist that charges less. As we all know, there are plenty of them out there.”
“The challenge is that people (clients) are substantially different – in terms of what they consider essential/important. Additionally the amount they can use for their “important” habits/likes varies as well. It really is difficult to judge broadly whether a certain group need/deserve a break in pricing, and also not sacrifice more than the therapist can.
So the best compromise, as stated by a few folks, is to donate time to a charity/non-profit the MT connects with. Some people can do it- while others will not be able to. Private individuals are also an option on a case-by-case basis. I just am not interested in drilling people’s financial records and spending habits to make a judgment.”
“I live in a middle class to quite poor area which oddly contains way too darn many massage therapists, all competing for clients, which sucks. I’ve been grappling with this question myself because the folks here have myriad medical problems (mostly diabetes…the south, whaddaya gonna do) that could be a valuable addition to their medical care if only their insurance covered it. The poorer folks are, the more likely they will be skeptical of the value and efficacy of massage as more than pampering. So, excluding taking insurance, one suggestion is offering very low cost community massage in a cabal with other therapists in a shared community space or just doing it once a week on your own. Logistically, weeding out those who can afford higher prices but try to take advantage could be tricky.”
“For those who live in cities, many people have clued in to the fact that schools are great options for affordable care. Acupuncture and I believe Tui Na are offered for $5 or so at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine’s clinic in Chicago. And the community acupuncture movement is taking hold, as well. Obviously, we can’t massage for a few minutes and then walk away, but I believe that a creative combination of therapies could allow us to operate similar clinics with big open treatment rooms with stations. Thermo/cryo, massage, aroma, headphones with guided visualization, etc. With four clients treated each hour, an acupuncturist in a busy community clinic makes between $80-160 an hour.”
Let’s keep the conversation going. Is making massage accessible to a wider range of people important to you? If so, what are some creative solutions to make that happen?