Do you ever wonder why local, independent businesses go out of business? It isn’t always because they’re unsuccessful, uncommitted, or not good enough. Sometimes they’re caught in the red tape, politics, and unrealistic requirements.
I grew up in the traditional medical environment of the 1970’s. My mother, along with many other women in my family worked for internal medicine, orthopedic, oncology, endocrinology, and pediatric practitioners. I went to college for music and business, both my passions. However, I always had a calling for naturopathic healing. I always strived to find natural, alternative ways to heal than what I grew up following. To my surprise, there most always was an alternative way to heal the body’s ailments. After college, I had entry level success at a production company, which satisfied my interest in the arts. From there, still at the early age of 25, I went on to director of operations for an architect firm, which satisfied my interest in business.
I married and had my daughter. At this time, I knew I needed a more flexible, part time income. Being a regular patron of massage therapy and volunteering as a prenatal client at a local school, I decided to research this field deeper. In the fall of 2004, I became a massage therapy student. The first night of orientation, I had the most unusual experience. As I was listening to how I would be massaging three people weekly for the next year, something dawned on me. I was going from client liaison and business logistics to manipulating fascia, tissue, and muscles…on Naked people?! I don’t share this with many, but I freaked. I thought, “I need to get out of here now!” For three months, I had been applying, gathering financial aid, and anxiously telling friends and family of my new journey. It felt as if I woke from a dream in this orientation. My left brain said, “Get up and walk out, save yourself!” My logical right brain reasoned, “What harm is there from sitting through an orientation? Tomorrow, we’ll call the office and drop out, no harm, no foul.” Surprisingly, the next day I worked on my spouse, mother in law, and my then two year old daughter. I could not believe how energizing giving the healing gift of massage therapy was. I felt invigorated and alive. I could not wait to learn every aspect in this natural health area and I did: neuromuscular modalities, reflexology, craniosacral, Reiki, aromatherapy, herbology, homeopathies, polarity, pranic healing, yoga, chair massage, theta healing and so, so much more.
Shortly after I passed the national certification board of therapeutic massage and bodywork, I approached our local community center. I partnered with them to provide affordable and quality massage therapy to the community. I went on to assist a local chiropractor in the same community and all my clients followed. During this time, our state passed the first massage therapy licensing. I even applied to serve on this board to write the law, but was denied. Feeling empowered with this new license and hopeful to witness massage therapy recognized as credible as physical therapy and chiropractic operations, I opened a private practice to grow massage therapy and reach more of the community. It was really well received. My business was growing quite rapidly. I was making excellent connections that catapulted me to grow even more with my colleagues. The only real marketing I did was chair massage at the local farmer’s market. The majority of my business was current client referrals.
After two years, I was offered to partner with a local yoga studio. This would have been an excellent working relationship and I could foresee us as the only massage therapy and yoga dynamic duo in the area. It was during our research, that I realized that I needed a certificate of occupancy in the city in order to have other services such as yoga, reiki, or a nutritionist, and only a licensed professional could operate in an office district per our municipal zoning ordinance. As a local business owner, I spent three months in communication with the city zoning department to recognize me as a state licensed massage therapy professional. I will not even get into the six different discriminating reasons that zoning gave me as to why I couldn’t be a license health care professional in an office district but they were misogynistic and humiliating. I will also not get into the municipality’s massage therapy ordinance from 1987; which violates my civil and human rights under the current HIPPA law. I took my concern to a city council meeting and was met with a harassment letter the following week from the zoning department threatening $1,000 a day fines if I didn’t apply for my COO. It took a city councilman and city attorney acknowledging and representing me in this capacity to be granted a temporary certificate of occupancy. The business then had to pass an inspection of six city personnel to which four had to come back: fire, plumbing, electrical, building. The updates are not my responsibility but that of the landlord and quite costly. It has been three additional months and only some updates have been completed.
In the interim, I took notice of three other massage therapy businesses in our area. I was dumbfounded to think they have gone through some of the same humiliation, discrimination, and harassment I have been through. I decided to call and visit these businesses to further my research and outreach within the community. I was appalled to encounter that not only did these businesses Not pass any proper city requirements, they spoke very little English, and none would answer my question to whether their massage therapists were licensed. In addition, I did more research into these businesses at home. I discovered that none had websites, some had incognito facebook pages with very, very young looking girls with pictures in their black bras and side pictures in a white shirt with no pants on. The comments were disturbing. There were also several different area codes associated with the businesses, some local, some national. I googled one phone number and the first three sites that were listed were pornographic. I reached out to the mayor and police chief to bring this to their attention. As of today, these businesses are still open. I also reached out LARA (licensing and regulatory affairs). Since the implementation of our state licensing, we are required to take a human trafficking credit, to be aware and report where needed. It was confirmed I did the right thing by calling and was instructed to file a complaint against the businesses I suspected of not being licensed massage therapists and human trafficking. About a month later, I received determination letters from the state board of public health code stating they have decided not to open an investigation into these businesses. I immediately phoned LARA and asked, “Why am I licensed? Why do I pay to be licensed, to take CEU’s, and do what’s expected of me if there’s no recourse in these situations?” I was told, “LARA only regulates massage therapists, NOT massage therapy facilities, unless you have the massage therapists’ first and last name, there’s nothing we can do and if you suspect human trafficking, go to your local authorities.” I was less than impressed with their response. How can they enforce massage therapists if there is a language barrier and you’re not able to obtain a first and last name? I sat with this for some time. It took me a few days to process how exactly to proceed as a Massage Therapist in this environment. Not only was I met with disparagement from the city but in how the state operates towards our licensing as well.
In the meantime, I received another threatening letter from the city. It had been over 60 days since my application for a certificate of occupancy was received. I was ordered to reapply and pay another $500, or face $1,000 per day fines. The landlord and city attorney were able to keep them at bay with a phone call but they refused to send anything in writing to disregard the previous threatening letter. Later that week, I was speaking with a friend, who is a local teacher. She mentioned that teachers pay $175 to recertify every five years. Did you catch that? Under our state licensing, teachers pay $175 to renew their teaching certificate every five (5) years. Now, if you’re sitting down, I’ll tell you massage therapists are required to pay $225-250 ever y THREE (3) years! Let’s think about this for a moment. An individual massage therapist at a standard rate, seeing 10-20 clients per week, respectively, can make a decent $20-35K per year (more or less). We generally do not receive health benefits, pensions, or 401k as independent contractors, nor do we receive holiday or sick leave. It is not realistic for me to think in this environment, I’ll have a therapist walk into my practice and say, “I want a long-term, permanent contract and can live comfortably on $25K per year without any benefits.” Currently, we are still not permitted to be direct contract providers with any health insurance company in our state. The only massage services allowed to bill are those associated with Chiropractors, MDs, DOs, Physical and Occupational Therapy.
I had to do some serious soul searching and reflection on this career I’ve come to love so much. I have grown with my clients that have followed me around this same town over 10+ years. It has been an absolute honor and the best job reward anyone could ask for. However, I am looking at $300 to continue my liability insurance and another $225 to renew state licensing; this does NOT include the 24 CEUs I need to pay for. I have to ask myself, am I getting the return on this and unfortunately I am not, not in a private practice. It is also unfortunate that this is something not discussed while in massage therapy school or during required business classes. I also have a big ethical dilemma with the illicit businesses that are operating down the street. If you’re a massage therapist reading this, you know the emphasis put on ethics in this business. I ethically, will not operate a legitimate business when the out of date, sexual connotation is still permitted to exist. As a mother and citizen, I am appalled that the original board that wrote the law failed our profession in this regard. It made me realize that I’m being used as the state’s pawn to make money off of, and not to legitimize and professionalize the field of massage therapy.
I am retiring from my practice and as a massage therapist and bodyworker. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my name and work out of my basement. If they can’t find me, they can’t fine me right and remember they need my first and last name. I am going to concentrate on continuing to make a difference in people’s lives wherever that leads me. I’m also focusing on teaching holistic classes and workshops that will continue to educate and hopefully inspire others. While this was an extremely trying year and a difficult decision, I am looking forward to my next adventures. I am grateful for my experiences these past 14 years and look forward to cheering on my colleagues. I love my clients and will miss them with all my heart. I will also be hoping for some much needed changes to the practices and acceptance of massage therapy as a licensed health care profession. I hope anyone wishing to pursue their passion of massage therapy carefully researches all the tiers of education, licensing, and projected career placement.
Blessings! Love and light!