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Do You Have Starving Massage Therapist Syndrome?

This week let’s look at something a lot of therapists are suffering from…what I like to call “starving massage therapist syndrome” or as I’ve seen others call it, “starving healer syndrome”. It’s this idea that because you’re doing good for people, somehow it should all be based on charity, or at most a nominal fee so that everyone can afford it, regardless of how much you’re struggling to scrape by and pay your bills and probably will give up the profession before long.

So let’s break down what this is really about and how to fix it. Because if you’re suffering from this, to put it bluntly, unless you change this kind of thought process, you’re screwed. This is going to be one of my tough love videos, so be prepared.

So, maybe you find that you want to give away tons of massages for free because it’s the ‘good thing to do’, or maybe you refuse to charge a fee for your services that will actually pay your bills. It’s kind of like starving artist syndrome…therapists see themselves in the same way as some artists; like the work is payment enough and all that you need to worry about. But hello, Mcfly! There’s reality out here where you kind of need money to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, and something totally crazy, maybe even enough money to have some fun every once in a while! Insane, I know! It’s great to help people, and to have the drive to give. But why do you think that means you should struggle and live in poverty through the process?

You can still give, you can still donate your time and services; in fact, the more money you’re making, the more you can give! Who’d have thought? The average career span, while there’s some variance in the data and a lot of factors that skew it, but the average career of a massage therapist lasts about 5-7 years, give or take. Now we don’t know if this is counting those who complete a massage program or actually go on to be licensed, because there’s often a big gap in those numbers, along with all kinds of other factors. But just from my experience, what I’ve seen other therapists go through and do, burnout is a very real problem. I’ve done videos on that subject before, and it really is a massive issue in our industry. And while there’s all kinds of factors that go into it, burnout can be mental just as much as it is physical; a large portion of those I would dare to say would be related to this starving massage therapist syndrome. They give up not long into the career because they’re not making a decent living and could do far better financially doing something else. But so much of it ties into not charging enough, wanting to do free work for the charity of it, and generally feeling like because you’re helping people you shouldn’t charge much if anything at all. But why?

So much of our society has this warped view of money; that it’s this evil thing. Our society has moved from people working their asses off to not only feed their families, but to gain wealth, to this idea that all wealthy (or even moderately comfortable) people are somehow inherently evil and have surely gotten their money in an unscrupulous way. Like there’s no noble way to make money in this world. Really? You can’t possibly live a comfortable lifestyle AND help people? That’s just somehow impossible? No! It also ties into this idea that in order to want to help people, for it to be truly good, then it must be done voluntarily with no monetary gain. That’s ridiculous! Even charities have to set aside money to pay the people doing the work so they can feed their families and not have to rely on a damn charity! It’s just ridiculous and like many mindsets holds no bearing in the real world.

I actually had someone ask me once why I didn’t just give all my massage stock photos away for free to all massage therapists…how dare I charge for something I offer. So I broke down the cost of what I had spent to get all those photos. The cost of the photographers, the models, the props, and all that good stuff. Thousands, by the way. And I’m supposed to give that away for free? Why? Because someone asked? Because they need it more than I do? Based on who’s frame of reference? So why do you think that way about the money and time you’ve invested in your schooling, experience, business expenses, and continued education?

And people will even often try to quote the Bible in reference, but they misquote it. Not to give you a Bible lesson here, but if you’re one of those people who uses that as an excuse, pay attention. The Bible doesn’t say money is the root of all evil….it says: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” In other words, we shouldn’t covet money…as Christians, we’re not supposed to covet anything. In Biblical terms coveting doesn’t just mean to want, but to want above what is holy. And if you abide by the faith, then no, you shouldn’t put the want of money or anything for that matter above God, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t want money to live a comfortable life. Beyond even the biblical implications for those who don’t follow that anyway, I mean, come on! Can you give me a single logical, realistic reason why you should struggle financially simply because you’re a massage therapist? And if you start to say “because I’m a healer”, just stop right there.

We help people, we make them feel better, we may even “fix” a few issues and help get people out of pain, but let me get this straight…and while I’m not big on comparing our profession to physicians, let’s use that example for a hot second. Do you expect your doctor to work for free? Because that’s a healer. You know, the person who can cut out your appendix to keep you from dying, or give you just the write cocktail of medications to bring you back from the brink of death. That’s a definite healer. Do you think they should all just donate their services and they, nor any of their professors, the people who spent years studying those procedures and those medications, the ones who manufacture those medications…should they all live in poverty because, well it does good for people? That’s kind of insane to think about, right?

And if you’re still in that mindset of doing so much good you need to be poor, give me a number. What income do you consider humble enough? Is it 20k a year, 40k a year, 100k a year? But what about location, because 100k a year here in little old rural East Tennessee is going to be very different than 100k somewhere like LA or New York. 100k is very different to someone who’s single with no kids compared to someone who’s the sole breadwinner for a family of 5. So see, there’s no number to put on it. There’s no reasoning behind this starving massage therapist syndrome.

So let me climb down off my soapbox, because I do get a little fired up about this topic, as you can probably tell, but I how do we address this?

#1 You’ve got to get out of that mindset plain and simple

Stop vilifying money. Stop vilifying those who make a decent amount of money. Stop vilifying yourself for wanting to live comfortably, or maybe even more elaborately.

#2 Learn some business skills

You’ve got to be able to market and yes, sell your services. You’ve got to know how to run a profitable business so you can take home a check each week. So get serious about what you do and start running your business like a business. Again, even a charity has to pull in money to pay the bills!

Hey there! I'm a massage therapist, educator, writer, and business pro helping massage therapists around the world build successful businesses. My goal is to give you everything you need to start, run, and grow a profitable massage practice that supports a life you love, all without the headaches I went through learning how to do it myself.

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