One of the most common reasons massage therapists leave the field is burnout. Working closely with people takes a lot out of you mentally, emotionally, and physically. When massage therapists burn out, it can be hard to bounce back. However, once you understand it, you can come back from it. If you’re proactive, you can avoid it altogether.
Burnout is a psychological response to prolonged worked-related stress. It’s not the result of a bad week at work. It’s caused by dealing with too much over a long period of time.
According to research on the experience of burnout, there are 3 primary symptoms.
It’s important to note that burnout is not caused directly by physical stress. When massage therapists think about burnout, they often think about the physical strain of the job. While workload is a big factor, burnout is typically the result of interpersonal stressors.
Researchers determined there are 6 risk factors for burnout: workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values. When these things aren’t in line with what a person needs or desires, the chance of burnout increases.
Burnout is very common in workers who provide therapeutic services, aka massage therapists. Helping people recover from injury or facilitating stress relief is rewarding work. It’s also stressful.
Spending your day listening to people’s problems is mentally and emotionally taxing. Massage therapists burn out when they take on too many clients and/or don't have ample time to recover.
Aside from managing client relationships, massage therapists have many other tasks to attend to. They have to write SOAP notes, keep up with bookkeeping, marketing, billing insurance for massage therapy, clean the clinic, do the laundry…the list goes on.
When your day is spent caring for others, it’s difficult to be mindful of yourself. Couple that with the fact that therapists only get paid for time spent with clients, and the pressure is on.
When you have bills to pay, it seems logical to squeeze in as many clients as possible. That results in staying late to catch up on admin tasks or doing them on “your day off.”
That doesn’t leave much time for self-care, and self-care for massage therapists is vital.
Burnout is not inevitable. Massage therapist burnout is the result of too much work stress and not enough “me time.” If you can change those two factors, you can avoid burnout altogether.
According to the 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, the vast majority of people thought their mental health would improve if their employer:
Here are some ways to keep you and your staff happy, healthy, and engaged.
It’s easy to work through lunch to see one more client, but that’s a costly decision long term. Massage therapists need time to rest and recharge between clients. Taking a time-out allows the therapist to refuel and prevent injury.
If you’re in charge of your own schedule, block out time for a break mid-shift. If you have massage therapists working for you, encourage a midday recharge. They’ll perform better and last longer if they get some time to rest during the work day.
Be honest about how many clients you can comfortably see in a day or week. This number should NOT be based solely on finances. The key to a long-lasting massage career is respecting your limitations. Keep that in mind when determining your availability.
Schedule a buffer between appointments so you don’t feel rushed. Some therapists only need 15 minutes. Others may need 30 minutes. The buffer should allow time to do more than change the sheets. It should provide time to write SOAP Notes and take a moment for yourself so that you can be present for the next client.
The majority of massage therapists are self-employed. Paid time off isn’t always available, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time off anyway. Taking vacation time and mental health days are vital to avoiding burnout.
If you work for yourself, charge enough to afford the opportunity to take time off. If you pay massage therapists a commission, pay them a fair fee. Therapists won’t stick around long if they can’t make ends meet and enjoy their life.
This should go without saying, but so many therapists don’t do this often enough. There’s nothing worse than giving someone a massage and wishing you were the one on the table. Massage therapists know all the reasons they need regular massages. However, prioritizing themselves is not always a therapist's strong suit.
If you own a clinic with multiple therapists working in it, encourage staff to trade services. If you’re an independent therapist, set up a regular massage appointment for yourself. Make this a priority, not a treat.
It’s not always clients that stress massage therapists out. It’s all the other time-consuming stuff they have to do. Eliminate unnecessary tasks, and find ways to automate everything you can.
Use clinic management software to cut down on your workload. With ClinicSense, you can automate scheduling, intake forms, bookkeeping, marketing and more. Tasks that take up hours of your time can be done for you with just a click of a button.
When you leave the clinic for the day, be done working. That means no checking email, answering client calls, or carrying a client's troubles with you. Staying engaged at work requires disengaging when you leave.
Massage therapists are experts at setting boundaries in the treatment room. Those skills need to be exercised outside of the treatment as well. Other people will respect your time if you respect it yourself.
Set up online scheduling, so clients can book appointments without you. Answer common questions on your website. State your business hours on your voicemail. Doing little things like this can free you from needing to be available 24/7. You don’t.
When you feel good, you’re able to do more and give more. Massage therapists are givers, and sometimes they forget to give to themselves first. Prioritizing self-care is not optional for therapists who want a long career.
Regular exercise, meditation, routine physicals, and proper nutrition are things everyone needs. These aren’t things to skip because you have to work. Therapists need to practice what they preach and take the advice they give their clients.