[You can watch the entirety of the session by visiting https://youtu.be/rosT4pNd8Xg.]
As I sat listening to the franchise system representatives discuss the situation with the educators, it became clear to me that the gap is cultural one – these two groups speak different languages.
The Massage Envy representative claimed that the number one reason for therapist attrition is poor body mechanics. As well, the franchises in general have trouble filling open positions with what they call “qualified” therapists, those that make good employees. In effect, they are suggesting that the educators are not preparing therapists for success in these positions.
All the while, educators often hear from their former students who work in these establishments that their schedules are rigorous, having clients back-to-back without breaks, and that they are treated as service employees, not as the licensed professional healthcare practitioner they thought they were trained to be.
Of course, every franchise is different, as they are each independently owned. Some are very well operated and managed by folks who understand the professional needs of the therapist, and some are clearly not. But they are here to stay, and they are the businesses that are truly educating the public about massage therapy.
In a Massage Magazine recap of the event, Cherie Sohnen-Moe was quoted as saying, “’I think franchises have done an incredible benefit to this profession,’ Sohnen-Moe added. ‘People who never would have gotten a massage before, have done so.’” After the conference I asked her to explain. She said that the massage franchises have done such a good job marketing to the public, that they have truly helped massage become more mainstream. She went on to say, however, that the question to ask is, “what are they really teaching the consumer about massage and the massage professional, exactly?”
So, whose job is it to educate the public?
As I see it, if massage franchises continue to be the most prominent consumer educators, the public will continue to grow in their understanding that:
- Massage is affordable.
- Massage is a service you can receive on demand, to accommodate your busy schedule.
- If you have a health concern, you need to go to a healthcare provider, because most spas or salons are not healthcare settings.
- Massage therapists are the technicians who work in massage spas and salons.
And potential students for massage therapy programs may then come to these conclusions:
- If I would like a professional career that fits my lifestyle, and provides a bit more for my family than I’m making now, I might look into a massage education investment.
- If I would like to train as a licensed professional in a healthcare field, I’m not sure massage is right for me.
- If I would like to be my own boss and run my own business, are massage therapists even doing that these days?
Who should be educating the consumers? The massage franchises? The educators? The therapists themselves? What is the role of the membership associations in educating the public?
Professional Education or Vocational Education
When I went to massage school, we were all training to be professionals, experts in our own field. We were trained to be the ones to educate the consumer and the other healthcare providers as well. We were not trained to be employees, or technicians, or service providers. Sure, there were the few resort spa employment opportunities available, but there were no franchise establishments employing thousands of new therapists. We wanted to be independent healthcare providers, complementary to other forms of health care, not subordinate to them. And we are the ones who became the educators. Now the educators are still speaking the language of “professional education,” while they are being regulated by “vocational education” policies and training people for entry-level employment positions. What a mess. No wonder there is a gap… a growing gap.
The real question then becomes, should massage education be a professional program, or should massage education be a vocational program? As it is now, most massage training programs are vocational in nature (and in regulatory affiliations), which demands that the programs train people for the jobs that are available. The available jobs are dictated by consumer demand, and that demand is created by the marketing strategies of companies like the franchise systems.
I’m wondering if, as educators, we shouldn’t pull ourselves out of this vocational trap and pursue the original aim of many massage school founders…toward an educated healthcare professional program comparable to physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture and the like?
First of all that panel was not truthful! Aside from Michele Merhab ( the founder of Elements), the rest were all paid shills for the industry. Franchise locations are NOT run like they said. Maybe few and far between have benefits or even full time hours. MOST are not run by Massage Therapists, and owners have no clue what massage is unless the franchise tells them. The desk staff is largely taught to SELL memberships. Corporate pitches these as turnkey businesses to retired wealthy people with money to invest, ( Elements requires a provable $500,000 liquid net worth minimum to be considered.) I have worked for myself and one of franchises and can verify that my location had many injured and experienced MT’s whose body mechanics was just fine! They also delayed firing unethical therapists who did work out of scope or injured people because they needed bodies to work! MT’s were overloaded with deep tissue massages (clients who want such deep work that it can hurt the therapist!) That’s what got client retention which affected reviews. Franchises locations across the country vary from $39 – 109 per 55 min session. Often they pursue restrictive non competes so that therapists cannot leave to find better work. In many cases they cost more than the affordable price point they claim to offer which is offer. Yet therapists pay per massage is capped, and they must largely rely on tips. What I really despise is that they give a 45 min session and call it one hour with NO time for a proper intake or client follow up. The emphasis is on turning that room, much like a wait staff at a restaurant! The corporate trainer timed us! Is that trained healthcare? No more like trained seals. So why would any young person sign up for an education that pays jso little with no room for growth at a franchise? Risk injury? Work 2 -3 part time jobs with no benefits? Depending on tips when we used to average $26/hour starting out? What they are teaching the public is that massage is at best a cheap commodity that not worth more than $40 hour. How has any of this helped the public or the massage therapist? It has not. It’s gotten the schools fat with Federal money, and the associations lots of money for ads and sponsorships, and given consultants like Mr. Stephenson a job. BTW his training videos are used, and I hurt my shoulder doing his “money move” as taught! HOw is this good for our industry? Even one of panelists said massage is a great part time job on the way to something else. How has any of this helped our industry which used to provide a decent living?
This is a great, thought-provoking post. As an owner of a private practice massage therapy business, I see room for improvement in all areas of education. When I went to massage school 5 years ago at the age of 40, I was surprised by the lack of business education in the curriculum. Most of my classmates did not have the life experience to know how to talk with clients, let alone how to manage finances in this difficult to navigate economy. That said, many went to these franchises looking for work after graduation because the thought of starting their own business was too overwhelming, and these establishments were available to teach them the ropes. In my opinion, however, there is a lack of education for the therapist once they get the job. I am not talking about continuing ed, I am talking about self-care and client education. If the therapist is rushing from one appointment to another, is there time for either? I wonder what the retention rates are for therapists and clients in these franchises. If the therapist has no time for her/himself, then how do they possibly have time to teach the client? The franchises do a wonderful job bringing the idea of affordable massage to the masses, but I don’t see how they can possibly be educating them.
The success of my business has been built on educating my clients, and my retention rates reflect the importance of that education. The time I allow before and after each session for conversation is the key. If massage students are not taught how to have this conversation, if franchises don’t give therapists the opportunity to do this, and if the public doesn’t know to ask for one, no one wins. We all need to do a better job of educating the public.
Yes, yes, yes, Melissa! Thank you!
I have been a “working” business owner for 16 years. I work along side all of my independent contractors in every fashion of our business. From 90 minute deep tissue appointments to corporate chair massage, I am involved with practitioners that got into the business for all the right reasons. Some have been educated the old way…when we were thought of as clinical practitioners. Others have been schooled the new way. Regardless of when they went through their program, all of the independent contractors I get the opportunity to work with know that massage therapy is their career, not a job. That is the biggest difference. And that’s the biggest problem. Schools need to stop this “get rich quick” $75 + per hour crap! And fail students who cannot pass the basics of tests and quizzes. The very first question I ask of any therapist interviewing for my company is so basic…anyone who has the basics of anatomy should know…please point out your tibial is anterior. Do you know how many therapists are passing our national test that cannot answer a basic question of an area they will be working regularly?!?! It’s laughable and sad. I hope we can work together again, as a profession, and teach the schools, pt, dc and md’s that we are a profession to pay attention to! The schools are where we need to start, then move on to the devaluation that franchises have brought upon us. Thanks for letting me rant! 🙂 Stay healthy, smart and happy!
Thank you so much for “ranting,” Casandra. I love hearing from business owner/therapists out there, who “got into the business for the right reasons.” When I was teaching, I used to tell students something similar… that massage is not a “job,” it’s a way of life. And that life changes require hard work, a commitment to continued study, and a commitment to the profession. Keep guiding your fellow therapists in the right direction, and keep pointing to those tibialis anteriors! 🙂