Written January 2021
As with so many industries and professions, Covid hit those in what came to be know as close contact services particularly hard. Long periods of lockdown and being unable to work led to much soul searching amongst therapists. As The Massage Collective we tried to do what we could to help fellow therapists navigate this difficult period.
The below blog started as me trying to order my thoughts in preparation for our Massage Matters Podcast and ended up as a blog which I was honoured to have published on the SIF Website . Whilst written for therapists I believe this may resonate with so many who found their work suspended during Covid Lockdowns....
It’s hard to be told you’re non-essential, but Non-essential does not equal of no value.
Of all the emotions and challenges that Covid has thrown up, one of the stranger situations we have found ourselves in is having our jobs classified, by the government no less, as being either essential to the basic functioning of society or not. And surely it is only natural to feel affronted if you fall into that category of non-essential, to feel that your very purpose and value is being questioned. That is especially the case if you happen to find yourself, as we do, outside mainstream healthcare yet providing a service and treatments which, undoubtedly, enhance the health and quality of life of our clients.
Personally this hit me particularly hard during the initial stages of the first lockdown, I found myself deeply questioning my choice of career change, having gone from being a Control Officer in the ambulance service to a Soft Tissue Therapist. For me there was no doubt that my previous career came with an intrinsic sense of value. Even before Covid, there was a certain reassurance that came from driving to work on Christmas morning knowing that while the majority of the rest of the country could rest up and enjoy their turkey, your job was far too vital for you to do the same! So as March 2020 unfolded I was left, not only with an awful feeling of guilt for not being there to fight this with my old colleagues and friends, but also a new and really quite dreadful experience of being told that it’s ok you can stay at home, the world will carry on just fine! You are not essential.
My, admittedly not always completely rational, brain took that to mean I don’t matter, I have no value to society and the work I do with my clients, which I see on a daily basis help them to live an active, fulfilling life was completely diminished. I was angry that a clear distinction was drawn between what I do and what an allied healthcare professional does when I know that I have a skill set that allows me to so effectively help clients in pain. I felt my training and all the hard work that had gone into achieving a qualification that was respected within the profession was being insulted and undermined. This ran far deeper than a concern that I could no longer financially earn a living, this rocked my very being. I spent a good number of weeks soul searching and wondering if what I had chosen to commit my professional life to was really of any importance what-so-ever.
In the end, and bear with me this is a tenuous leap at best, it was the slow return of professional sport that made me see things in a different light. Trivial to some, sport truly is the most important of the unimportant things in my life! As I settled down, excited to watch the England test team open the batting at an otherwise abandoned Ageas bowl I realised being non-essential does not equal being of no value. Watching sport is far from essential to survival (hard as it may be for me to admit that!) but it’s something that makes me thrive as a person. It brings me joy, it’s something I share with my friends and family which brings us closer together, it’s given me experiences that I will never forget and it is an inherent part of what makes me who I am. We’ve all lost things in the last 12 months that, whilst not vital to our existence, give our lives meaning. Whether it’s theatre, art galleries, live music, the pub, your weekly gym class or rugby on a Saturday afternoon these are all the things that make life meaningful to us.
And this brings me to my point, honestly there is one. Whilst I am not comparing what we do to me watching a game of cricket, this realisation helped me make sense of the situation I was in with being able to practice (or not) as a soft tissue therapist. In these times of severe public health crisis we can do only the things which allow us to survive and those things which make us thrive must wait for now. Of course what we do is different to someone going to the pub or watching football, we are an important component of musculoskeletal care. It has been heartening during Covid that all the physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors I have had contact with have reinforced my view on this, I have heard overwhelming support from our allied healthcare professional colleagues for the value of what we do. To borrow a phase from Dianne Jacobs, what we offer our clients may not be essential but it can be optimal for them. And, unfortunately, right now no-one is able to provide what they may consider to be optimal care, including those who have been deemed essential. Our scope of practice means that we are not dealing with emergency or critical situations, the nature of our hands-on work with clients is currently too much of a risk and the immensely helpful things we do without being hands on; screening for red flags, pain education, rehab advice etc… can all be done through online or telephone consultations. As such we cannot see clients face-to-face at the moment. However, crucially, none of this means that our treatments are not effective or that we are not respected by the medical profession. It does not undermine our education and training. It in no way diminishes what we do in helping our clients manage their pain, recover from injury, perform in sport and live active, fulfilling lives. In short our value is not being questioned, it's just that right now we all just have to survive and not necessarily thrive.
So on reflection do I wish I was still in an essential job, where I was certain of how vital what I was doing was? Absolutely not, this has made me see that in the ambulance service I was preserving life, as a soft tissue therapist I am enhancing it. I have the utmost respect and admiration for my friends doing the former but it so happens that for me I find the later far more fulfilling.