How can I help? Stories and Reflections on Service” Is the title of a book by Ram Dass written about the helping professions. I was first introduced to this book in massage school in 1987 and read it through briefly and didn’t really think much of it.
It is now the center of what is really some of the core issues in the massage profession and is the most tattered book on my shelf.
The main theory of the book is that there is a deeper reason as to why people help or feel a need to help. We need to boost our self esteem, we need approval and appreciation, we need to feel needed. But helping for the purpose of getting our needs met often leads to burnout and in the massage profession – a failing practice.
Because we work in a profession that works very closely with people, it is important to begin to always be working on ourselves to become more aware of our issues and blindspots.
It feels good to be working in a profession where we can ‘help’ others. But helping is different from being of service. Ram Dass says in the book
“Can we see that to be of most service to others we must face our own doubts, needs, and resistances?
What do you get out of helping? What purpose does it serve for you?
When you can begin to unlock the deeper meaning of ‘helping’ you can begin to uncover the unconscious beliefs that are usually the cause of our need to help others. When we come from a place of ‘needing’ to help others it gets in the way of the therapeutic relationship. It starts to become a massage session that is all about us and not the client. We are less likely to be able to really listen to a clients needs and concerns. We are more likely to bend our boundaries to accommodate clients thinking we are giving when in reality it is about much more than that. We give so we can get. We give up ourselves so that clients will stay clients because we fear not being able to make a living. We don’t have cancellation policies that support us – we let clients come and go as they please while our income suffers.
When we work to become more aware of our own issues and work through them with a counselor or in peer supervision/supervision our work changes.
As Ram Dass puts it:
“Our service then, is less a function of personal motive and more an expression of spontaneous, appropriate caring”
We get caught up in doing for others thinking it is what they need. We get caught up in giving advice or sermons thinking it is for their own good. When people don’t get better, we say we did all we could do and told them everything we knew. We forget to really listen and witness the process of healing.
We get caught up in thinking that all of our training, all of the extra hours of learning new techniques, all that you know is what makes you a ‘good helper’.
When you help from a place like this it becomes an addiction – like eating candy or drinking alcohol. You get your high from helping and like to think you are being useful. But when does that ‘helping’ begin to hurt more than it helps?
The more you can look at this act of helping and all of the needs and feelings associated with it, the easier it will be to fill your practice with the kind of clients who are nurturing and respectful of you and value your time and efforts to pay you what you are worth.
Questionnaire to further explore helping issues in the massage profession.