Avoiding Massage Therapy Burnout

Burnout is the #1 reason for ending a massage therapy career, followed closely by injury.  The work of massage therapy is physically demanding.  In some ways the physical challenge is more manageable than the emotional challenge.  The emotional cost can be difficult to see and even harder to deal with.

Burnout was a word once used for the condition of a strung out street addict.  It is now used to describe the condition of the stress filled final decades of this century.

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger , who claims credit for this term, has described burnout as a condition of fatigue and being overwhelmed by others problems. This is an experience, which includes lack of motivation, frustration and even boredom when you find your self in a situation you would normally enjoy.  Burnout is not simply being tired or over-stressed, it is possible to be over-stressed and still feel motivated. Burnout is that feeling of dread when facing another day of work.

This is a topic that goes a little beyond the general self care techniques.  The symptoms of burnout can mask something more serious as well.

Each person has a certain level of compassion and empathy that they rely on every day.  As massage therapists we use more of our reserves than the average person based on the requirements of our field.  When our reserves are low we can become fatigued, irritable, unable to fight illness and each corresponding task becomes more and more difficult.

Taking care of ourselves involves learning all we can about our own inner workings.  This involves a little self therapy on our part.  We can start by examining our beliefs in areas like spirituality, physical health, political views, and emotional well being in order to determine how these beliefs play a role in our every day life.

Do your beliefs create defense mechanisms?  Do your beliefs cause you to make judgments in areas you really don’t wish to?  Do they create stress and conflict in your life?

When we know why we respond to life the way we do, we can then set out on a path that will ultimately allow us to choose how we respond to any given situation rather than allowing our defense mechanisms to act on our behalf. Accomplishing this goal is not easy, it requires each individual to stop and look at their own response from an objective point of view. Then we can adjust our responses in a way that brings balance and harmony.

Once we have determined how our beliefs play a role in our lives we can then create a structured plan for ourselves and our care.  Having a long term and a short term goal will help on this slow path of discovery.  Our long term goal being the way our beliefs impact our lives and how we can balance those beliefs.  The short term goal can be the step by step journey in ultimate self care.

Ultimate self care is simple and extremely difficult at the same time.  We are empathetic creatures who thrive on the ability to help others.  For most of us it is difficult to turn that care toward ourselves.  We all know the importance of the common self care practices like,

  • Healthy Diet
  • Plenty of Water
  • Regular Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

These are very important habits to have as a massage therapist.  It is also important to continually search for and implement tools that will help us maintain balance for emotional, physical and spiritual health.  The best tool I can recommend to you is You.  You will need to set aside therapeutic time for yourself.   You can use this time for anything except massage and all topics relating to massage.  You can receive a massage but you must remain the client for the entire session.  Take a walk in nature, go out with friends or loved ones, play in the yard, build a sand castle.  It is your time to spend rejuvenating yourself.  This time away from performing or learning about massage can last hours, days or maybe even months.  This is a time table you must determine for yourself.   As I mentioned at the beginning of the article,  the symptoms of burnout can mask something more serious.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is now being seen in massage therapists and other related fields that require empathetic care.  The symptoms are similar to that of burnout but most certainly more severe.  If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms more severe than common burnout you can visit The National Center for PTSD where you  will find a list of symptoms and resources for help in the treatment of PTSD.

Author
Punkie Spelts is a Massage Therapist living in Southern California. She is also a Web Publisher and writes extensively for multiple web sites like HealthPositive!, cureyourbody.com and many other research sites including her own massage therapy site at www.punkiespelts.com.

2 Responses to Avoiding Massage Therapy Burnout

  1. Kathryn Seelye says:

    Thank you for this timely article. Not only does it contain great information, it validates what many massage therapists go through. Often, those around us see us as being balanced and having an easy job that we love. Typically it is only other massage therapists who understand the continual study and the constant thought about how we can offer more to our clients to assist them in their health goals. Time is short and massage therapists all too often take care of themselves last. Again, thank you for this article.

  2. Julie Onofrio says:

    What evidence do you have that burnout is leading to PTSD in massage therapists and other helping professions?

    Burnout is a serious issue for massage therapists. I doubt that you can really not ever get it if you stay in the profession long enough.

    There are many components to burnout and I think the biggest one is that massage therapists have a view of making money that is self defeating and can lead to burnout. It shows up in undercharging for services, not charging for cancellations or last minute no shows, working longer on clients than the allotted time and not charging more, coming in for clients on your day off or working during your lunch break.

    Massage therapists also have a tendency to always want to be giving advice. This often shows just how needy the massage therapist is. When you are giving advice you are not listening. Giving advice is often a symptom of needing to be needed. We of course all need that but when you try to get it met through your work with clients it will backfire and lead to burnout.

    Supervision is one of the most recent developments in the massage profession that I wish were required for all massage therapists as a part of CE or even licensing. Through the process of supervision you can get your needs met through other sources than your clients which will allow you to deepen your work with clients and amazingly enough will help you get clear about what you want. That in itself will make the process of getting and keeping clients go easier.

    Julie Onofrio