Burnout in your Massage Therapy Career

By Rainbough Phillips, LMT, Owner of Breath & Balance Bodyworks

When you first get out of massage school the concept of “burnout” is almost unfathomable. How could anyone get “burnt out” of making other people feel better?! You have this miraculous and exciting new skill at your fingertips, not to mention an overflowing excitement and enthusiasm for your new profession. How could anything go wrong?

Quantity Versus Quality

The cause of burnout is actually an age old problem that can be described with three words: “quantity versus quality.” If you get employed in massage therapy you will encounter this issue sooner or later. Unfortunately, there are employers out there that would happily turn your new-found massage skills into a one-size-fits-all routine that can be done for six to eight hours straight.

However, this problem does not arise from an abundance of bad employers. Few employers want low quality massage nor unhappy massage therapists. Rather, the push for quantity over quality in massage employment occurs because there are so many therapists that simply do not insist that their quality needs be met. “Quality needs” are the requirements that each therapist has in order to be able to do the optimal quality of work they want to practice.

In many different industries increasing the quantity of a product or service past a certain point means decreasing the quality of that product or service. This is very much the case in massage. That means that to maintain the quality of your work you need to know how much is too much, both in frequency and number of sessions.

Personally, I discovered that the quality of my massage decreased after about three hours of work if I did not have a break. Later, as my skills and experience progressed, I realized I needed breaks between every session in order to have enough interview and followup time with the client. I found that a thorough interview and a thoughtful follow up dramatically increased the quality of my work, and so that extra time became one of my job requirements. I also limited my sessions by number per day and per week.

Be Your Own Advocate

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find an employer who will respect the quality needs of massage therapists. Some employers will promise to limit the number of consecutive sessions for a therapist, but will start trying to expand these limits as soon as they become inconvenient.

That is why you have to be your own advocate. Sometimes “standing your ground” will mean turning down a client in person who was scheduled past your limit for the day. It may mean saying “no thank you” when you interview for a job that is looking for therapists who will do eight sessions a day.

It will also mean being inflexible when it comes to your maximum quantity of sessions. Seriously, if you are working for someone else then you should always be inflexible when it comes to your maximum quantity of sessions (even if someone called in sick, double booked, or threw their back out).

You will find yourself on a very slippery slope the moment your scheduler realizes your limits can be moved when convenient.

Subverting the quality of your work to the quantity demanded by others will lead inevitably to burnout no matter how much you love the profession. Learn what your quality needs are in massage and insist upon them. Do this and you will not only be pushing back the tide of burnout, but you will also be preserving the quality of your own work. Your clients will thank you for it.

Rainbough Phillips is a semester II graduate of Lauterstein-Conway Massage School and has been practicing massage therapy for five years. She has worked in an amazing variety of environments including several physical therapy and chiropractic offices. She now runs Breath & Balance Bodyworks, a small yoga and massage business in Cedar Park, Texas. As the mother of a very active toddler, Rainbough passionately believes that everyone should know how to give a good massage.