Marketing for male massage therapists is one of those interesting topics to be written by a female – me! But I have seen too many men shoot themselves in the foot. Men don’t want to get massaged by men. Women don’t want to get massaged by men. So who is left for men in the profession to massage?
Well I actually think we need more men in the profession who are willing to take a risk in their marketing of massage.
First off I have heard so many men ask “Do you want a female massage therapist” when someone calls for a massage appointment (right foot wounded!). If a male or female is calling and they are feeling uncomfortable the best thing is to address the issue right up front. Ask the person questions about why they are seeking massage. Get them talking about the pain they are in or the stress they are in and talk to them about it. Talk to them about what you know about the condition and talk about the solutions. Let them know you are an authority on the issue. Tell them you have an opening -whenever it is- and just be straight forward about it. Being hesitant makes the potential client hesitant.
So men seeking massage may be fearful about getting a massage from a man for many reasons. They don’t want people to think that they are gay. Gay men might go for other reasons thinking it will be more of a sensual experience. Women may be fearful about getting massage from men because of past abuse issues or issues with their own fathers or male role models. Being touched by men will bring up many deep psychological issues for men so it is important that you work out your own issues or be working on them so you can keep your boundaries clear. It is in that itself that I think male massage therapists have a case for promoting themselves – to help men heal their issues around touch and around their own sexuality. Getting regular massage and building a relationship with a nurturing male can help sooth the inner fears of both men and women.
The reason why all centers around the therapeutic relationship and how many people when they receive massage often have conscious and unconscious patterns that resemble early relationships with caregivers/parents. Touch in infancy is how we learn about who we are and where we begin and others end. It is how we get a sense of ourselves.
Eyal Lederman in his book The Science & Practice of Manual Therapy: Physiology, Neurology and Psychology,
has a great section on the psychological and psychophysiological processes in manual therapy. He uses the latest research to explain how massage can help people in learning to self-regulate in the emotional and psychophysiological dimensions. Touch is an instinctive need as demonstrated by Harlow and his research on monkeys. In humans it is found to be the same. We use touch or contact with something to sooth. We have all seen the many studies at the Touch Research Institute on touch in premature infants and how they grow faster and are healthier overall. We also have a lot of research that shows that massage is best for treating anxiety and depression. Lederman also says:
Even in more complex psychological conditions where women had experiences of ‘negative touch’ through sexual or physical abuse, and would therefore find any touch difficult, positive touch in the form of massage therapy has been shown to reduce aversion to touch and decrease anxiety and depression. (See the study : Effects of Sexual Abuse lessened by Massage Therapy. See also article on Massage Therapy Canada)
Pamala Fitch, a massage therapist in Canada, says this about what happens between clients and massage therapists (from an article called “ Nurturance, Intimacy and Attachment“:
During a massage therapy session, a client is encouraged to lie still while her soft tissue is moved, kneaded and stroked. She is also encouraged to breathe and let go, allowing her muscles and connective tissue to soften at the behest of the therapist’s ministrations. This letting go and letting another “do” to one is an essential element of massage therapy and may, at times, be reminiscent of parental care for an infant.
As infants we develop our abilities to sooth ourselves (or not!) in the face of fear and stress. The way we learn is through becoming securely attached to our caregivers. When infants do not learn to securely attach, they have little trust in getting their needs met and feeling safe. As an adult people with insecure attachments will need more help in learning to soothe themselves. This can be learned within the safe container of a massage room and getting massage from massage therapists that they learn to trust over time and getting massage sessions that are nurturing from the opposite or same sex.
Fitch goes on to say in her article that:
This experience of deep release in the presence of a trusted therapist has the potential for great healing. Some clients have suggested that these releases can be deeply intimate, powerful and life changing….
Massage therapy is always more than just a physical manipulation because it invokes implicit memory.
Working with clients in this way will require that you always have the client’s best interest in mind. This whole process can happen without any acknowledgment of it even going on. It requires that male massage therapists (and any female massage therapists too!) understand their role in the helping process and set clear boundaries in all aspects of the massage relationship. This will include even taking payments, cancellation policies and such. Even though they may seem so frivolous in some ways -it is these exact boundaries that can allow a person to feel safe and know where you are at.
When a therapist reflects outwardly what she feel inwardly, her behaviour may be described as congruent. If the congruent behaviour reflects honesty, integrity, respect and compassion, then the therapist will not harm her clients and her clients will sense that she is safe and can be trusted.
It is behaving congruently that creates trust! The way to build trust starts with your website. Huh? I bet you didn’t expect that! But, Yes building trust with potential clients begins with your website. That requires that you start writing articles or stories on various topics around massage- what it does, how it works, you philosophy on massage and healing. You can start with the physical effects to keep it safer. Write about how massage helps pain and various injuries like muscle strains, knots, carpal tunnel and all of the things you have worked with or are interested in working with. Write about fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety. Write about 20-30 articles or more. The most important thing though is not to get hung up on the idea that you can’t write. Heck I can’t write! I just write down everything I would be saying to a client and to you here. It is more about finding your own unique voice and putting your words down on paper -well uhm the computer. Write about how touch can be healing for issues around men. Read as much as you can on the topic before writing. I have resources throughout this article and at the end. Just read and try to put it all together into your own words. Tell stories from what you have seen happen in your practice with clients – of course not using names due to privacy issues. You can even get clients to write testimonials for you and they can write their own story. Starting this from your website will make it easy. People will get a sense of who you are and will think that you know what you are talking about. One of the biggest questions people have in their head when looking for a massage therapist is will this person be able to help me with whatever condition or issue I have that I really need a solution for.
So guys I think have an amazing opportunity to present people with this opportunity to heal old relationships with father figures. While I don’t think you would actually want to say that outright to people because it can also conjure up so many other things, providing a safe place for people to start getting in touch with themselves can happen on the massage table.
One way to actually approach this all is from a strictly therapeutic/medial approach. Learning medical massage or any of the orthopedic methods or other things that focus on the obvious physical aspect of our work can be a good way to lead into getting regular clients. Promoting yourself in this way can get people on your table to give them a chance to experience the male massage therapists touch and energy. While it starts as mainly a method of healing physical injuries such as strains and sprains and things like which start out having an end in mind – pain relief and return to normal activity, clients will often find themselves not wanting to end treatment. While I am sure that won’t happen with everyone, just taking one person at a time is one of those giant leaps for the massage profession!
I also have been to many spas where men are working as massage therapists. This is also a good way to get people more aware of the issues. Most front desk people are hopefully trained in how to deal with this and just give the first available appointments even if it is with a male. The key really is in getting the front desk people to know how to overcome objections of women or men who are not wanting to get a massage by a man. (Of course, I don’t want someone who was just raped or beat up by a man to have to get a massage from a male if they don’t want to.) I have had many nurturing massages by men at spas!
I also think that part of being successful as a male massage therapist is also about your own beliefs of what is possible for men in this profession. I have so many questions through my website on massage careers just asking “Will I be able to make it as a male massage therapist?” The simple answer is yes if you think you will.
What do you think guys? Am I crazy? What challenges do you have as a male?
Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions – Corey and Corey. Geared toward psychologists but very insightful for massage therapists
Becoming a Helper Corey and Corey. Geared toward psychologists but very insightful for massage therapists
A short article on male massage therapists by Ryan Hoyme – aka massagenerd.com I asked Ryan to write this early on in the creation of my site.
Resources on other male massage therapists in the profession on my site www.thebodyworker.com