Don’t Let Ego Influence Your Massage Therapy Practice
“We can’t work with other people if we’ve put up walls. We can’t improve the world if we don’t understand it ourselves. We can’t take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or uninterested in hearing outside sources. We can’t recognize opportunities – or create them – if instead of seeing what is in front of us, we live inside our own fantasy.” – Ryan Holiday
I’m sure we’ve all been on courses with them.
They’re the ones who show up hungover, sit at the back of the room with their sunglasses on and have to make regular breaks outside, disrupting the class.
Then at the end, they fill out the feedback form and where it asks why the took the course, they just put “because I needed the credits.”
Okay, yes, I’ve been hungover at a course, but I really did want to be there!
I always wonder why this happens, and if the college didn’t require us to take CEC’s would these therapists even bother to take a course? What got someone to the point, where they didn’t think they needed to learn anymore, or really just didn’t give a shit!?
More importantly, how does it reflect on them as therapists, and on our profession as a whole?
Preventing Ego-Based Feedback
It can be looked at as both a positive and a negative that we are a somewhat self-regulated profession.
Yes, we may have a regulatory body, college, or some other organization that says we have to take “X” number of continuing education each year and they may even give guidance on what courses are appropriate to take. However, the real onus is on each practitioner to decide which courses to take, and which direction they would like to push their career.
While taking continuing education is a pathway of learning, it is also a means of feedback. These courses can confirm or deny certain biases you may have, and then, of course, you can allow those biases to shape your thinking and even your approach to practice.
One literature review shows that seeking feedback is a valuable resource to promote adaptation, learning, and performance. It also shows that we can discover opportunities for skill improvement and higher goal attainment compared to individuals who don’t seek feedback. But there are factors that influence feedback seeking behaviour:
- Learning goal orientation: the person sees that certain abilities can be improved over time and see task failure as a way to increase effort without any threat to their ego, so they seek feedback frequently.
- Public vs private context: in other words, they will seek feedback less in a public setting as they are nervous about losing face in front of others.
- Leadership style: essentially if the clinic you work in has good leadership, you are more likely to ask for feedback from colleagues or the clinic owner.
The same literature review (although it points out more research is needed here) highlights three motivations for feedback seeking:
- Instrumental motive: seeking feedback to meet goals and regulate behaviour.
- Ego-based motive: to seek feedback in order to bolster the ego and avoid feedback that may threaten it.
- Image-based motive: to protect and enhance their public image.
One of the cases in which they say more research is needed is with regard to the ego-based motive. The old belief was that feedback can contain unfavourable information which could hurt self-esteem, however, they point out newer studies had both positive and negative results in this regard. Of course, all of this information depends on how the person receives the feedback. If they automatically dismiss any negative feedback and only take the positive, there isn’t much of a chance for growth and change.
So herein lies one of the challenges for each of us professionally.
Do we allow ego to get in the way when we take courses, and only actively participate in the ones which promote our own bias? Or do we take some courses that challenge our bias, regardless of how it may affect our ego?
I would like to think that if you have been following this blog for a while, or are just new to it, you’d choose the latter. The only way we can grow personally and professionally is to challenge our own bias or old thoughts and welcome new ideas and research to allow our practice to change accordingly.
Becoming The Expert
Who of us wouldn’t like to be called an expert in our field? Okay, maybe there’s some ego there too.
When we look around our therapy world there are certainly those who boast about what they do and put on continuing ed courses claiming their technique is “the only thing that works,” and some have put themselves on some sort of pedestal as being an expert. The reality in those cases…you guessed it…ego.
What we’re talking about is working to grow as a therapist, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
It takes time, but there is a bit of a framework we can look at in developing yourself and your practice to become what could be considered an expert. Think about the difference in how you practice today, compared to the year you graduated college. Is there a difference in your decision making? Do you treat differently? How about communication with patients, is that different?
One study showed that experts in a variety of fields had many of the same characteristics. They included:
- Differences in content, self, and procedural knowledge.
- Differences in personal qualities, characteristics, technical skills, interpersonal skills, motivation, and commitment.
- Experts are highly self-regulated and skilled in directing their attention to things that matter.
- They possess clinical knowledge that allows them to use the most critical and relevant information.
Now, this part is pretty cool. The same study found that as expertise increased, therapists adopted more of a supportive, educational, functional, strengths-based approach which included; realistic self-expectations, heightened humility, and increased self-confidence. When a therapist implemented these things, something else happened. They were able to use customizing strategies to create a better therapeutic relationship with the patient!
When that relationship is improved it created a better environment of change for the patient. The study points out that for all of this to happen, the therapist had to have some other qualities like open-mindedness, a non-judgemental stance, and wait for it…the ability to listen.
One other benefit of this line of thinking is a therapist will actually benefit by seeking out and accepting more feedback from managers, peers, clients, and mentors. So, not only does having less ego mean a better relationship with patients, it does with fellow practitioners as well. When we look at these traits, doesn’t that seem like someone we could look to as an expert in our field?
In Leadership Roles
When I got my first chance to work with a national team in sports, I was required to sit in on a conference call with the other therapists, trainers, and coaches before actually getting to camp.
On the call, we were told that we were invited to camp because we had an ego, and were good at what we did in our own careers.
Then came the next comment: “leave your ego’s at the door!” We were told how we each had a specific role to fill with its own job description. Those were the roles we were to fill regardless of what our roles were with our individual teams or sport at home.
On the leadership side, this did two things.
- It set us up for success as a team.
- It set the parameters of what you were to do before you even got there, so there would be no misunderstandings.
That is good leadership.
Another example of great leadership that happened in this experience was when I reached out to a couple of individuals. One was the Athletic Therapist who gave me my first chance to work in sport. I called him to say thanks for that opportunity and giving me my start, as it led to this opportunity on the national level. The other was the call to say thanks to the person who hired me for that position. In both cases, they turned it around to put the focus on me. When thanking them, both came back with comments like “you got yourself there, no need for thanks,” and “it was your resume and the work you put in that got you there.”
Great leaders empower others, they don’t make it about themselves.
Think of how this is applicable to us as therapists. We don’t just have people in positions as leaders because they are a clinic owner. Others may sit on the board at the college, or association level. They are massage college teachers, event planners, practice group chairs, or CEC providers. In any case, the ones who will be good in those positions are the ones who look at their job descriptions and realize it’s not about them. It’s about empowering their group, their class, their profession, it’s about advancing collectively, not individually. The practitioners who will be good leaders, become experts, and develop therapeutic relationships will be the ones who leave their ego at the door. Although there still might be times when they’re hungover at a CEC.
- Podcast Episode #29: Dealing With Burnout - April 11, 2023
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Great article Jamie – always good to be reminded of how egos can be both a help and a hinderence and to try and realize the difference. Thanks!
Thanks, Tiffany, glad you enjoyed the article and take it as a reminder to help improve your practice.
NiceBlog! don’t let ego influence your massage therapy practice.. lt help me more to understand about massage therapy…