Impatience

A prospective client called to ask about my services, specifically about trigger point massage. How long does treatment take? she asked me.

I explained that this really depended on several factors, such as the client’s activity level and general stress level. Typically, I told her, within 5 treatments she’d feel a huge difference, and by 8 to 10 treatments the trigger points (and pain) would be gone.

Despite the fact that every session and every person and every treatment plan is different, I’ve learned to be more confident about the specific benefits of my massages. It’s part marketing, part psychology, but mostly me realizing that people don’t want to hear about caveats or limitations – they just want a straightforward answer.

So that’s what I gave the woman on the phone, as clear of an answer as I could without knowing the specifics of why she hurt or where or for how long, and without actually palpating the muscles.

But she wasn’t satisfied. After considering my response for a moment, she asked me if she would feel any better after just one session.

I knew what she was getting at. I come across this sort of mentality every once in a while in new clients. Impatience. Because if there’s one thing that Western medicine has “taught” us, it’s that we shouldn’t have to wait for results. Pain medication works instantly, so any sort of natural healing should work just as fast. As a society, we’ve grown to expect quick fixes and immediate results.

But let me stress this, and I don’t think I could say it enough: Pain medication only takes care of the symptoms. It does not take care of the underlying problems. If the problem is muscular (and indeed, lots and lots and lots of everyday pain is muscular), then the muscles need to go through the processes of loosening, relaxing, stretching, healing. That takes time.

I knew what the woman on the phone wanted to hear, but I had to be honest with her. I told her that immediately following the first appointment, she’d feel great. In all likelihood, she’d be nearly pain-free for a number of days. But then the pain would return, and it would return for a very simple reason: The problem wasn’t yet solved. That, as I had said before, would probably take 8 to 10 sessions.

She thanked me for my answer, told me she’d think about coming to see me, and hung up. I knew immediately that I had lost a potential client. But her expectations were out of sync with what the reality of the treatment would be, and it didn’t sound like there was anything I could do about that.

Thinking through this situation, I wondered what this reluctance meant for the woman (and for the various clients who stop coming to see me because their muscles haven’t been “fixed” fast enough). Would she just continue to live with the pain? Maybe she would take medication to help, and over time the pain would become just another ignorable factor of life. On the flip side, working with me for two months would force her to focus on the pain. It would also make her more aware of the difference between being pain free and living in pain, which might be more than she could handle.

It takes the right mindset to heal, I suppose. You can’t just be a passive player when it comes to non-Western medicine, but some people would rather have a quick, temporary fix than gradual, although much more permanent, relief. It’s an unfortunate thing when someone considers physical wellness not worth the effort, but there are enough people who do realize the benefits of massage to make my job more than worthwhile.

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