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Mentoring Models

Six massage therapists share their mentoring journeys, and offer guidance for making the process fun and effective

I was extremely encouraged to discover the number of massage therapists taking an active, if mainly informal, part in mentoring. I interviewed many therapists who have been mentors, but only one who was a mentee. Perhaps this is an extension of care givers not easily receiving support.

Many people have role models, but few have benefited from a mentoring relationship. Part of the problem with finding mentors in this field is that until recently, the turnover in this profession was so high that it was rare to find therapists who had been in practice for more than a decade. Thankfully, this is changing.

This column contains the interviews of six massage therapists. I hope their stories inspire you to develop two mentoring relationships: one in which you are the mentor and share your knowledge, experience, resources, contacts, and enthusiasm with a less-experienced therapist; and one in which you are the mentee. After all, we can all use support, guidance, and encouragement from time to time.

Tim Starkey

Tim Starkey comes from a background of working in nursing, education, and human services. For many years he ran Staff Development departments. He established and ran mentor programs for those companies to complement the orientation training and on-the-job training for new employees. According to Starkey, "Mentoring was the best! New employees felt like they had someone to help them through the learning, and the mentors felt valued for their knowledge, attitude, and expertise."

He is currently the massage department head of the Polarity Realization Institute, a bodywork school with locations in Massachusetts and Maine. Although the school has not implemented an official mentoring program, he invites students to call him if they need guidance after graduation, "This has been important to me, so that students do not feel like the relationship with the school ends after they get their certificate," says Starkey. Students are also encouraged to establish peer "mentor" programs with classmates to ease the isolation that so many can experience after graduation.

The school structure promotes unofficial mentoring: Upon completion of the basic level classes, students of various levels can end up in the same classes. Starkey believes this helps the newer students improve their technique while allowing the senior ones to see how far their work has progressed.

Starkey states, "Napoleon Hill, who studied what it takes to be successful, was a strong advocate for mentoring. When I look at mentoring, I always try to think of him. One thing that he felt was critical is to make certain was that both parties are getting something out of the deal. It cannot just be a one-sided relationship; there must be give and take."

Carol R. Brown

Carol Brown is not in a formal mentoring program of any kind, yet she often takes on that role with students. She teaches Swedish and Spa Therapies at Healthbuilders School of Therapeutic Massage in Florida. She enjoys guiding those who are following a path of healing similar to her own.

One of her students brings his massage chair to her stand at the farmer's market every Friday. Brimming with pride, he tells the people to whom he gives a complimentary chair massage, "'This is my teacher. If you think I'm good, well, she is the one who taught me all I know.' I want to cry every time he says that. I help him and he looks up to me." Brown says.

Brown also gives advice to someone close in her life. Her husband, Steve Taton, is currently enrolled in massage school. "He has the benefit of using my clients for his practice clients," she says. "These clients are more apt to receive his work in a manner in which they can discuss with him what his strong points are, and help him to see where he could use more instruction or practice in certain skills. He has me to ask questions of and help him study. Believe me, my brain has been properly picked."

Brown strongly believes that mentoring is essential in the healing arts. "It is up to the more experienced ones to teach the ones coming into our flock to be the best of their ability, to teach ethics, business mastery, professionalism and a depth of love and respect for the work that they won't learn in many of the schools. I have never agreed to be a mentor for someone but have just assumed the role for any student who wishes to learn. It's one of the reasons I am here on this rock," she adds.

Carolyn Mudgette

The mentoring philosophy runs deep at Healthbuilders School of Therapeutic Massage. Not only do the teachers embody this conviction, so do the students. Carolyn Mudgette was mentored by Lydia Williams. Williams was her deep tissue instructor in school, and also guided her in utilizing sound business practices and especially creating good boundaries with clients. "Oftentimes, I still run things by her to make sure I'm on the right track in my business decisions, Mudgette says. "One of the things that I've tried to do in my practice that Lydia has always done is to help up-and-coming massage therapists. Whether it's discussing a boundary issue, helping to manifest clients or dealing with an insurance company, I think it's important to help newer therapists find their way."

Whitney Lowe

Whitney Lowe has had an informal mentoring relationship for more than a decade with Benny Vaughn. This was primarily with Vaughn mentoring Lowe, but it has also extended into other avenues of working and contributing to the profession.

According to Lowe, "The relationship developed as a result of us working together on a major project in Atlanta. We were designing a new curriculum program for the Atlanta School of Massage. Benny was in Florida, and I was on staff at the school in Atlanta. The school helped facilitate a number of meetings between Benny and I, and then we were in regular communication with each other to go over various aspects of the project. Benny's consultation was not only on the curriculum content, but he did a great deal of teacher training with me. Some of this was formal training, but a great deal of it was just watching him and paying attention to him in the classroom."

In the beginning, they would talk on the phone every couple of weeks just to go over the latest changes and to swap ideas. Once the program was running, Vaughn came to Atlanta monthly for a week at a time so they could have ample time to discuss program content, teaching strategies, new curriculum development, student difficulties, administrative issues and creative brainstorming about where things were going in the future.

"I would say the major benefits were having a relationship with someone that I respected immensely who was a very prominent educator in the field," comments Lowe. "He had carved a path for so many people, and I knew that he had a wealth of information and experience to share. He was not hoarding that knowledge or experience either; he really wanted to share it with as many people as possible. As a result, I think I became a far better teacher and a much more well-rounded practitioner and educator. Not only did I get better at what I was doing in my own classroom, but Benny really helped me develop a much more comprehensive vision of the big picture of massage education all over the country. Since he had been around for such a long time, he has a good historical view of how things had developed and where they are likely to be going."

The biggest challenges they faced were finding ways to get enough time to work together. Due to logistical reasons, they don't get to see each other very often anymore. Yet the mentoring relationship is still alive for Lowe, "I still feel like there is a great deal for me to learn from him, and we stay in touch quite a bit. This is the kind of learning that you can't get in a formal educational program, and there is really no other way to replace it. People like Benny are so rare to find, so when you do [find such a mentor], it is quite a gift to spend time working with and learning from them."

In terms of tips on how to make a mentoring relationship more effective, Lowe's suggestions parallel those that many others expressed: There must be a mutual understanding of the benefits and demands that both parties are going to experience in this process. Regularly check in with each other to see if the goals are being met and the relationship is still mutually beneficial.

Nancy Castro, LMT, NCTMB

Nancy Castro emphatically states that mentoring is one of her favorite things! She was informally mentored, beginning with her decision to become a massage therapist, throughout her schooling and upon opening her private practice. "My mentor was a wonderful man who is now my business partner," she says. "He's one of the big reasons I got into this career. And he was a wonderful mentor - someone to practice on, get honest feedback, answer questions and emulate."

Larry Warnock

Although he is only 62 years "young," Larry Warnock prefers to view his mentoring as being an elder--one who takes responsibility for nurturing the young. He does a lot of work with young athletes, several who have become mentees. "It is an amazing experience for me to interact with these young men," he says. "The experience has given my life additional meaning. I see mentoring as offering support--to listen; to challenge; to tell my stories, good and bad; to prod a little; to help the person look at all sides of a situation before acting; and to learn compassion, humility, spirituality, and industry. The hardest part is supporting a decision made that would not be my choice, but then it is not me doing it, so I need to support that decision."

In addition to his son, he has 4 very special "kids" in his life. Two have chosen to enter the massage profession, and he is involved in their progress.

Warnock thinks that mentoring is a privilege, and it is also a life-altering experience. The following story demonstrates this.

Eight years ago he collapsed with a major exacerbation of bronchial asthma. (It was bound to happen.) He was running a major rehabilitation agency, teaching graduate level courses, running a massage clinic, and functioning as national president of two different organizations. He spent three weeks in the hospital and was sustained with oxygen 24/7 for several months.

During his stay in the hospital, each night he was visited--just after visiting hours ended--by one or two young people from the local high school (athletes whom he had worked with as a volunteer massage therapist). After he was discharged, he discovered that these young people had formed a group. Two members were dispatched each day to find out how he was progressing. To get in after hours, they bribed the nursing staff with pizza and fast food. The next morning, a progress notice was posted in the locker room.

"Can you imagine how that made me feel," Warnock asks. "For the next few weeks my lawn was cut almost daily, and I was cared by these young people in so many ways.

"About a month after my discharge, a young man came to visit me. He was a sophomore, and one of the athletes I had helped. We had become somewhat close during this time. In tears, he told me that I just had to get well; that he had come to rely on me for advice and support; that he really wanted me to be his friend. How could I not get well?"

The two have formed an amazing bond; Warnock is his mentor. At his college graduation party, the student arose to thank his parents and family for their support and then said (pointing to Warnock) "And without you I could never have achieved what I did." He told the group that each time he came to Warnock with a problem or issue, Warnock would never tell him what to do. Yet, each time he left, he knew just what had to be done.

Warnock cherishes his role as an elder. "For me, as an elder, my availability to young men in our community has enhanced my life more than theirs," he says. "I get twice as much back as I give. I look forward to sitting in my comfortable office chatting with a young man about his dreams, fears, future, and ideas. My peers think I am nuts. They cannot understand why I would devote any time to these 'kids.' They have no idea about how it feels to tell one's stories--successes, failures, attempts, triumphs, and tragedies. Each time one of these young people asks me to tell a story, it honors my life. My walls are covered, not with degrees and licenses, but plaques from sports teams, pictures from my kids, and heart-wrenching thank-you notes. My relationships with these young men keeps me young."

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Last updated: April 25, 2011
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