North Shore Massage and Bodywork by Milica 
Human Remodeling: massage that works!


What spas can be all about and why private practice is where the best massages are to be found


I happily left the hotel/resort spa business in Hawai'i, after trying it out for almost a year. I concluded that it's not for everyone, and certainly not for me. Quote from a client: "You don't go there for treatment, only for experience." Quote from a colleague: "They keep all the money." 

Spa job is good as "the first job" - for therapists who are fresh out of school and inexperienced, or those who are cannot do therapeutic massage enough to have private practice or people like me, who just moved to the area. In private practice, one has to be able to produce results - if the client has pain and is paying cash to be there, they want to feel better when they leave. In the spa business, there are basically no desired outcomes but only relaxation, and thus spa therapists can just be nice and not care about honing their skills. Some spa customers come in with certain aches and pains and want them relieved, but those are minority and certainly not a major determining factor. If they do not get what they were looking for and never come back, there is definitely no consequences, even if they don't come back - there will be always some new tourists looking for a plush pampering for one hour. In a spa, you usually never see your clients again. Maybe next year, when they come back.

Going to a spa is typically a "thing to do." It has nothing to do with making one's body truly feeling better permanently.

Some clients say that they go to a spa while on vacation because "they don't know where else to go." Maybe. When there is a will, there is a way. What I do not like is that a client like that will easily pay $170 for a 50-min so-so massage to a spa, but will not pay well to a private therapist for an excellent massage, and will not even leave a tip for a 65$ massage even if they get extra time to get all the kinks out. Obviously, the quality of massage is not the most important thing, but the plush corporate environment. In my practice, I avoid clients like that. I can give an excellent massage, and I expect to be rewarded for my time, knowledge, and effort. 

This is what I observed:

1. Most people who go to spas have no idea that what makes a treatment effective is not the spa or the type of massage, but the THERAPIST. In other words, people don't understand anymore the value of personal expression as an art form. They think everything is cookie cutter stuff that can be bought in a store. This way of thinking goes through most things we do today. It is plain dangerous for Earth and anything alive.

As if all spa therapists are equal. No, they are not. Even though everyone is wearing the same uniform and work for the same corporate entity, massage is still an art form as well as technical expertise. Each therapists knows different stuff. Healing is such a vast subject. Don't expect your spa therapist to know as much as someone in private practice. They won't. If they did, they WOULD be in private practice. A private practice person knows more about injuries, accidents, pain, emotional issues, and all that stuff.

2.  Most spas pay very little to the therapists - yes! although they charge an arm and a leg - so of course they won't get any terrific therapists. Most spas also do not provide benefits and insurance.

The danger with (few) spas that pay more is getting too comfortable and never honing one's professional skills. If you notice, a "good" spa therapist is someone who is nice, well groomed, and rather quiet. They ask no questions, they give no comments, they just do a neutral easy "rub the lotion in" routine, and that's it. If the therapist is not really burning to know more, they won't challenge this cushy situation and will always stay mediocre. 

Even if the spa pays more, a therapist might not get a lot, because: the spa might not be busy (therapists get bulk of their pay on commission), and/or the therapist is not booked frequently. Some spas book based on seniority, so if you are person #5 in seniority, then persons 1,2,3 and 4 have to be busy before you get a client. Needless to say, that can mean waiting around a lot...

Also, in a spa setting, you can always BS your way around the customer, most people will not cause trouble and complain to the management, even if they are not happy, because they know they will never come back anyways and who cares? In a spa, you just have to make sure to kiss ass of the spa director and/or the front desk. Once you are "in" then you can do no wrong. Also, read on booking based on politics and how much products the therapist sells. 

3. I have not seen much healing in hotel spas, and from what I heard of my friends all over the word, many spas fall in this category. They are popular as luxury consumption items but most likely not effective therapeutically. Basically, for one hour you get to play rich, walk around in a robe and chat with other spa guests. Something akin to golf. 

Resort spas are typically corporate establishments where a massage is 50 minutes, including the time to get into the room. Most are not about therapeutic massage, but pampering. 

Some spas are putting some effort to train therapists in therapeutic massage, but do not count on that. Ask first if they have someone who does therapeutic work. If you are lucky, there will be someone competent there, you never know. Sometimes good therapists leave private practice because for some reason they could not handle it - for example, could not handle the paperwork / clients of opposite gender / advertising / etc., and/or had triplets and needed insurance asap / lost office space and needed a job asap/ etc. or wanted to see what spas are all about, or ... whatever reason drove them to seek to work for a corporate entity and a paycheck. I myself went to work for a spa because I needed to accumulate some cash quickly for down payment on real estate, and I just arrived to Hawai'i. If you are lucky, one of those will be your therapist. And not for long, though, because they will leave as soon as they can, unless the spa is one of the few that pay well their therapists. Most spas pay lousy and thus will not keep good people for too long. 

Also, many spas ask therapists to sell retail products - so  massage therapists work on someone and establish the trust and this personable, intimate report through touch, and keep on sweetly mentioning "And now I am using XYZ lotion..."  in order to walk the client back to front desk, sell them $70+ bottle of some lotion, and walk back and put new sheets on the massage table for the next client, all within 10 minutes. And, therapists are booked based on how much they sell - so an awful therapist who sells a lot, is booked first. Those who don't sell much do not get clients. Those who sell nothing are typically required to come to work but are not given any clients, as punishment. I will not mention any spa names here, but anyone on O'ahu knows which spas do this kind of abusive treatment. Unfortunately, it is most of them.

Also, there is politics, since the front desk books the therapists, so they can book their favorites first. And they do, trust me on that one. I was never hot with the front girls, and I saw how nasty and vicious they can be. And, they make mistakes (often - because they are very underpaid) and then blame it on therapists. There is nothing worse that the front desk person getting the customer irritated and handing them off to you.... To be fair, the front desk also takes the brunt of customer bitching when it is time to pay.


And, many spas charge 3$ per treatment TO THE THERAPIST for using the spa massage lotion and sheets. Although a 50min treatment costs 105$ plus tax - so how come a spa cannot make any money off that? Their rent is cheap if they belong to a hotel, they usually pay minimum wage to the cleaning people, and massage therapists get paid minimal wage per hour and some commission when they have clients. Clients leave tips, sometimes only 5-10$, which is nothing.  On O'ahu, spas pay so amazingly low - about 30$ per treatment which costs the client 150$. That is such bad karma and definitely not a healing place where workers are exploited. It's an amazing case of greed. Other Hawai'ian islands pay more. Kauai and Maui pay 60$ at the same hotel chains that pay 35$ on Oahu. 
What this means for people in private practice is that we have to EDUCATE. Most people who walk into a spa have never had a massage before and they cannot tell what a good massage is. Also, some cannot tell the quality of the touch. That is unfortunate as good massage is a fabulous way to keep oneself healthy and kink-free, pain-free. It is a wonderful way to maintain sense of ease and comfort in one's body. 

The worst is when someone hears how little spas pay and then wants to pay me that little per hour. I just look at them as if they went insane. Precisely such people is what drives this slave-driven industry. People who think they can get something for nothing.

The whole hotel industry is like that. The hotels pay very little to their employees. A hotel director was boasting that the profit is 75%. That is a lot. It is possible only because the employees are quite underpaid. They are underqualified, too, most likely, otherwise they would go work somewhere else. On O'ahu, a cleaning lady in private practice makes $25 per hour and is super busy all the time, and working for a hotel is about $8-10 per hour. Maybe she will get benefits too, but hey, medical insurance is only $300 per month here in Hawai'i, a busy cleaning lady will make that in 2 days of work. So - where do you think competent cleaning ladies work? 

In Hawai'i, hotels employ a lot of workers from Philippines, who barely speak English and who think that $8/hr is a good pay. Yes, it is - for Philippines, not for the USA. It is too bad, hotels and resorts have the POTENTIAL to be nice healing places, but unfortunately they might resemble slave-like plantations. 

Once upon a time, I worked as a massage therapist for a spa that was paying quite all right, comparable to private practice. I knew I was heading towards private practice, many of my spa clients called back for my number, but I was too lazy, the pay was good and I wanted to save a little more and remodel... and travel... and take classes... And I did, luckily, I didn't fall asleep but stayed current and invested my money into my business. I traveled to take some expensive cranio-sacral therapy classes (4 days for $800) and extremely expensive tracking classes. Then the spa cut down the pay for everyone to 35$ per hour take-home (and in a very nasty way, they got turned into the National Labor Relations Board multiple times), and I was promptly out of there, to make more money, and on my own terms in my own private practice. I told this to some people, and some asked me if they can pay me that low too.... Such is human nature, some cannot help it but be greedy, immature and short-sighted. I promptly got rid of them.

Such simple person doesn't understand, the therapist is the person who is PUTTING THEIR HANDS ON THE CLIENT. If the therapist is not happy, then the client is not going to be happy. The only way one is going to have a nice successful massage is if the therapist is a happy, satisfied person, and feels appreciated by the customer. The way to show appreciation, in my book, in money.

Also, if I am paid well as a therapist, then I will be rested enough, my hands and body will be in good shape, I will be energetic, and then I can give it all to you, the client.

If the therapist gets paid lousy and feels overworked and under appreciated, if the therapist is paid lousy and never has money for classes and continuing education, then - what??? This is a not a good situation, isn't it.

The last thing anyone would want is to have someone tired and grumpy touch them, and/or someone who has no experience and no good feeling in their hands.

If you are paying money and investing your time, you would want to have a massage that will have positive and lasting effects. It is an investment into your own health and well being, into your own future. A good massage irons out all the kinks and makes a person function better, stay healthier, and feel happier. There is nothing like feeling good inside one's body, no aches and pains, just ease and comfort. IT DOES NOT COME OUT OF BLUE SKY. THE THERAPIST HAS TO BE WELL TRAINED AND COMPETENT, AS WELL AS RESTED AND HAPPY. That is possible only if the therapist is paid well and keeps up with continuing education.

In a spa, you are most likely to get someone well groomed, who pretends to be nice, to rub lotion over you. Well, if you don't mind being in such a fake situation, go for it. Personally, I find it very Wallmartish, no elegance, charm, and true art form in it. One won't remember it on one's deathbed, and that's my measure of how much something is a success. A spa is a corporate environment that provides a fake glazed look without any real substance. And I want my experiences to transform me and make me grow. 

In a nutshell :)