What Is More Professional?

Lots of therapists like to say they are not salespeople, that they didn’t get into massage to sell anything and they don’t like to “sell” anything to a client. I never understood that. A therapist is always selling their skills and benefits of massage to clients.

When I was doing training for a large day spa, some therapists would bristle at the idea that they could or should sell anything. Selling was sleazy and unethical – not something a professional would do. A high position, easily defended with high ethics.

Conveniently, as it turns out, they had a built-in excuse for not taking their training seriously or making an effort to educate clients. They scoffed at learning about add-on spa treatments or products as some sort of foo-foo fluff. I wanted to know why, if we had treatments for jet lag or gels for neck pain why it was more “professional” to keep them a secret from the clients.

Is it sleazy or unprofessional to sell products to clients? What about selling your services to clients? What about tips? Is it okay to accept more than the quoted price for a service? What would a professional do?

When trying to figure out what a professional should do, should I ask a plumber, a surgeon or a doctor of philosophy? What about the owner of a day spa or a server at a good restaurant?

I don’t presume to have the answers to these questions, but I do know a little something from experience that I think has helped me negotiate through the minefields of being a therapist.

When I worked for a gynecologist, I occasionally had the option of accepting a tip. My pay was based on the time spent with clients, many of whom had severe chronic pain syndromes. Some were very happy to be out of pain and offered tips. I asked the doctor what he thought about tips.

The doctor’s wife was from Hong Kong, and he had visited often with the family. In that part of the world, he said, it is expected that families would tip their surgeons. Tips came in the form of gold, usually. It was considered the polite, respectful thing to do for a job well done. Hmmmm. Some customs are pretty interesting.

On vacation in Oregon I stopped in to a small, very well-presented day spa and looked at the brochure. On the back, the owner had printed that their workers were not allowed to solicit or accept tips because the owner has always considered tipping “unprofessional.” It didn’t say the estheticians and massage therapists had gotten together and decided that, it said the owner didn’t allow it.

I spoke to a client in the parking lot who told me she always tipped, secretly, to avoid getting her therapist fired. “Imagine expecting people who work for a living to refuse tips!” she said.

Perhaps deciding for others what is professional and what isn’t just isn’t professional?

2 thoughts on “What Is More Professional?

  1. Paul Brown

    I used to struggle with this question, too, until I realized that turning down a gift in the form of a tip is the same breach of etiquette that refusing someone’s hospitality is – very, very rude.

    If someone thinks well enough of me to give me a gift of cash, who am I to say no?

    I don’t think of myself when accepting a tip, but rather think of the client’s kindness.

  2. Anonymous

    From Sue P. to Paul: Cool shoes. I love tips, and they love me, too. Now, how about one I ran into a while back — trainers signing folks up for home delivered, cutomized diet meals — without telling the clients they were getting a kick on each week of meals plus free food…how would you handle that?


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