Tuesday, January 5, 2010

About Working in France

I get a lot of inquiries about working as a Massage Therapist in France from other bodyworkers.
This entry should answer most of your questions. Please feel free to contact me if it doesn't!

A lot has changed in the massage profession since I first came here with my French fiancé in 1992. While it is still a complicated project, the climate is much more favorable than before.
I recommend that you adopt the principle, "Where there is a will, there is a way"....

What you need to know, briefly.

*France is 20 Years Behind North America in Massage.
Massage, as a profession has grown exponentially in the last eighteen years. Yet the French public is just now catching on. There are an increasing number of spas and day spas here and a real shortage of good massage professionals. (That's the good news.)
If you plan on coming here to work, one of these establishments would be a good place to start looking for work. The pay will be low due to crippling tax and social charges incurred by employers, but you might find an arrangement that keeps you going and doesn't exclude you from seeing people outside of the spa.

*Getting hired will require a work visa or a passport from an EU member country.
This is potentially your biggest obstacle. Visa laws change from time to time. Some student visas allow for limited employment. Your consulate will have all the information you need. I don't have the details. My situation was facilitated by the fact that I am married to a French woman.

*If you wish to set up a practice on your own, you will need to rent a space.
There are some spaces available in Paris that can be rented on a short term basis without the usual six to twelve month deposit require for a commercial lease. Renting a space will require that you are insured. There are a few private companies that are just now starting to offer reasonable rates for a product that will serve your needs. I will have more information about this in the coming weeks... You will still need a visa that allows you to earn money in France.

*Working on your own, you will be required to create a structure for tax purposes.
There are Anglophone accountants working in France who can facilitate this. France is all about taxes, but there are some new possibilities now that didn't exist in the mid 1990's, when I first declared my practice. If you manage to bring all of these things together, you can expect a period of eight to twelve months before you can live off of your massages, if you are good .
My advice if you really want to work here, is that you find some other activity that you can live on while developing your practice. I would never suggest here that you massage undeclared for cash. (Just where there is a will there is a way.)

*Speaking at least some French is very very helpful.
The more the better. But there is an enormous anglophone expat community here starving for good professional massage. Especially if you are able to make outcalls.

I am currently developing my professional training program and will have details available about my new structure very soon. My goal is to also create a professional placement structure for good massage professionals with valid working papers. If you are interested to know more, please let me hear from you. Details will be available by April of this year.

My Story
When I arrived, I was very surprised to learn that France was not the Massage Utopia I imagined it would be. Massage is a French word. France produces the finest essential oils in the world. According to sources I read before coming, massage is covered by the state medical coverage program, Securité Social. There are hundreds of listings for massages in the Paris Yellow Pages alone.
What I quickly found out was there is a difference in what North Americans consider massage and what the term actually means in France.
In France, MASSAGE is a strictly medical term used to describe manual physical therapy, or reeducation. Only state licensed physical therapists, called kinésitherapeuts have the legal right to practice massage or, until recently, use the word massage to describe their activity. A masseur is a masseur kinésitherapeut. Also, the French as a culture, have not yet discovered the benefits of getting massage. At the time I arrived, there was only one small American equivalent massage school in the whole country and it was reserved for medical professionals
So, basically, I learned that I had moved to a country where I didn't speak the language, my diplomas were worthless, and the people were not into massage!
According to the law, it would be illegal for me to practice my chosen profession without first completing the diploma requirements to become a kiné. That would mean first taking an exam to prove that I had at least a high school level of education, or the BAC.
Taking an exam that requires reading and writing in French on subjects like Chemistry, Biology, Math and Literature was not an option since my command of the language was limited to saying "please", "thank you" and "where is the toilette?"...... Besides, I felt like I should have spent enough years in school already. Thirteen from kindergarten through high school, six more in a university and another in a professional massage training program makes twenty years of school. If I couldn't make a living with that, then I needed to reconsider my line of work!
Shockingly, I began my career in France as a criminal, working for cash, undeclared. My first clients were friends and family. I was painfully hauling my massage table all over Paris in the Metro. I was charging so little that there was no margin for taxis. Looking around I found that there were a few other people in my same situation. Some of these people were practicing out of their homes. They were mostly doing Shiatsu and what they called "Massage Californian". All of them had some other part time job or source of income to cover their tax purposes. I also learned that there were several American trained Chiropractors in Paris. They were organized into an association and had strong practices, but were constantly being sued by the Kiné trade union as they were considered to be practicing medicine without a license. It turns out that France, being a supreme bloated bureaucracy, has a slow and self-contradictory legal system, especially in terms of it's medical services. I befriended a couple of these Chiropractors and soon started getting referrals. Damn the torpedos...

After about six months in France, I stumbled on an interesting opportunity. A family friend was a member at the exclusive Ritz Health Club. RHC is the spa at the original Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendome in Paris. It seems that this "spa" was regularly searching for staff that could do massage as well as other spa treatments. One didn't necessarily have to be a Kiné to do massages in the spa???? At the time, spas in the modern sense were a rather new concept here.
France has a long history of seaside health resorts called "Centres de Thalassotherapie". Since the late 1800's there have been hotels featuring heated sea water pools and mud and seaweed treatments. These establishments employ Kinés to administer massage. I learned that not all of the staff practicing massage in these thalassos are licensed kinés. The team is headed by a medical doctor and the staff follow his orders. The Ritz also has a doctor on staff, but he doesn't actively supervise the administration of treatments like in traditional thalasso.
I managed to arrange an interview with the Ritz and was hired on the spot. I was told that what was offered at the Ritz was not considered medical, so the diploma was not an issue. I was not called a "massage therapist" or a "masseur", but an "agent de soins".
Aaahhh! So if we call massage something else... something different than re-education or therapy, if we don't claim to cure anything or offer medical benefits, and more importantly, we don't ask the Securité Social to pay for it, then it's OK!
Over the following sixteen months, I was an agent de soins at the Ritz Health Club. It was there that I learned that I could actually be a massage therapist in France, if I called it something else.
I wouldn't trade my experience at the Ritz for anything. It was all very glamorous massaging wealthy people including celebrities and diplomats. But soon the long hours working three stories underground in an environment stiffled by Ritz internal politics began to wear me down physically and spiritually. And the ultimate reality was that the job was extremely low paying.
When me wife became pregnant, I made the decision to strike out on my own. I had made a lot of great contacts and continued to develop my private clientele outside the Ritz. After doing the math, I saw that if I did one massage a day on my own, I would make more money than working five or six days a week all day long under the weight of that hotel!
When one of my chiropractor friends offered me space in his central Paris office I jumped at the opportunity. Setting up shop required that I declare my activities with the French Services Fiscaux, the tax man. An accountant helped me with the paperwork. This required describing my activity in such a way that it didn't describe it too much. The country seemed to be teaming with people who have nothing better to do than to denounce others. I certainly didn't need any problems with the kiné unions. (Even though, by this time I counted several kinés and a few medical doctors among my clients.) What the accountant came up with as my activity title was
"Professeur de Relaxation et Soins Corporells". This put me in the category of teachers. I was a Teacher of Relaxation and Body Treatments... So I wasn't really giving massages, I was giving relaxation lessons. The word massage was used nowhere in the description of my activity. I never advertised, relying on word of mouth. For my business cards, I used the term
"Integrated Bodywork". I have always liked the word "bodywork". "Integrated" fits nicely because I integrate many different techniques in my work with the hope of integrating all the different aspects of the body. After the declaration went into effect, I was ready to commit all of my energy into developing my practice, and the startling world of paying French taxes.
Eventually, I started to notice more and more people advertising "massage". Openly violating the taboo surrounding the word massage. However, they were always careful to use and adjective such as massage energetique or massage relaxation or massage anti-stress or massage bien-etre. This had the effect of separating the word massage from it's medical context. In my case, since I was declared, I could talk about "Soins Nonreglementes" or nonreglemented treatments. It seemed that the country was starting to relax it's reservation of massage done only by Kinésitherapeuts. I chose to continue not using the word except verbally in speaking to describe what I do..
The situation and ambiguity surrounding the status of massage came to a head in 2001 when Joel Savatovsky was taken to court by the Kiné unions. Joel, a kineé himself, is also the founder of the nation's only real massage training program in Dijon, France. With a group of his students, he was giving free chair massages to weary motorists during a busy vacation travel period. The kinés charged that his students were practicing medicine without a license.
Thus started an escalation on the part of Sovetovsky and others to take a stand. His supporters and others who recognize the benefits of massage organized into what has become our professional association, The Federation Francaise de Massage Bien Etre, or FFMBE.
The kiné union's argument was that massage is a potentially dangerous thing for the public if administered by anyone other than a physical therapist. This very exaggerated statement was doubly sad because kinés generally don't even DO massage. They are obliged to see dozens of people a day, thus the average time with each person is about twenty minutes. They have found it necessary over the years to almost rely heavily on electrotherapy, hot/cold treatments, exercise prescription and even UVA lamps to treat most things their patients suffer from. Manuel work takes time and a kiné needs to see too many people a day. Some kinés massage a specific are for a short time, but it is not very cost effective for them.
(Note: Not all Kinésitherapeut's are in agreement with their union. Some of my close friends and clients are kinés. They send people to me who just need a good massage. I don't want to make their profession seem diabolic. Unions are sometimes another story...)
Stress related issues have never been addressed by kinés, and no one goes to the kiné to simply relax.... The court case was very long with much deliberation over a period of years. During this time, supporters of Joel Savatoysky and other people who recognize the many benifits of our art have organized into a professional association.
The creation Federation Française de Massage Bien Etre has been the best thing to ever happen for massage in France. Not only has it been crucial in overturning the case against, Mr. Savatotsky, it has increased public awareness about massage and given a much needed boost of credibility to our profession.
The FFMBE also requires a certain amount of training to become a member, but foreign study programs are considered and foreign applicants can be admitted after successfully completing an evaluation process. The main advantage in becoming a member, besides the reassurance it provides potential clients, is that membership includes professional insurance. This insurance is necessary for renting a commercial space. It also gives peace of mind in the eventual, yet increasingly unlikely event that one is attacked by the kiné unions. Late in 2009, the courts declared not only that Savatotsky was within his rights and dropped all charges, but also ordered the Kiné union to pay a huge fine for an abusive suit.
It's hard to overstate the positive impact this will have for massage in France.
As it is now, massage practitioners must still make the distinction between massage for well being an medical massage, but the threat is no longer hovering over our heads.
There are still a lot of issues to address for the future, but I believe that France is now on a good path for developing it's potential as the Massage Utopia I once imagined it to be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Most Important Thing

  It's now been twenty years since my encounter with Gene, the massage therapist who helped me to recover from my injuries and realize that I was on the path to becoming a bodyworker, myself.  
  At the time I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, home to, 
Atlanta School of Massage, one of the best massage schools in the United States.  Enrolling in their program was the natural first step.  It's hard to describe how perfect the ASM program was for me. I was a very happy fish swimming in the Sea of Massage! My principal instructors were Laurie Craig and the late Don Scheuman, two of the greatest massage teachers of all time. The program at the time covered many different styles of bodywork with emphasis on Swedish Massage and Deep Tissue Therapy, (a LOT of Deep Tissue). 
  One thing that I really appreciated was the importance Don placed on being "present" and focused on each moment during the massage.  Farrah Allen, an ASM founder was leading the school at the time and he gave weekly classes that also stressed the importance of being completely present in the "moment" and developing intuition while working. One series of classes was even called "Being verses Doing". The idea being that  if the person giving the massage is really listening to the person receiving the massage, there is a very pure exchange that makes for very powerful work.    At the end of my time in ASM, it was easy sometimes to feel  overwhelmed by all the different "techniques" and styles of working, not to mention all of the anatomy and physiology involved.  So, I was very, very relieved one day when the instructors started saying, 
  "O.K., we now want you to FORGET everything we've taught you and just WORK.  Listen to your INTUITION and let your work HAPPEN.  Make it your own work."
That had such a nice and familiar sound to it.  I remembered Granny saying, "Just open your heart and listen". (see story 1.)
  For me, almost twenty years and over 20,000 massages later, this very basic idea remains the foundation for every single encounter in my practice.  It is what I attribute most to my success, 
my lack of "burnout".... and the reason that my clients are so happy.  

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Life Changing Massage from Gene

  I called Gene because some of my coworkers said that he was incredible**. 
  The pain and anger that I was experiencing since my adventure in the hospital, didn't seem like it was ever going to disappear on it's own.  I was sinking into a swamp of despondency and frustration. The pain I felt had become the structure to which everything else had become oriented.  I needed help.
  Gene lived and worked near my job and sounded friendly and enthusiastic on the phone.
I arrived at his place for our appointment with no idea what so ever about what to expect.  
He led me through a maze of clutter and disorder, to a room that he used as his office.  
In the room, was a massage table surrounded by piles of magazines and books.  Boxes full of miscellaneous junk were piled nearly to the ceiling.  The walls were covered with hand-drawn posters and charts illustrating muscle groups, energy meridians, and trigger points.  I had to be careful not to step on the hairbrush or the diverse toys and bits of plastic on the floor.  Gene was very excited to see me and talked fast.  He asked lots of questions, not only about my accident and injuries, but also about my diet, my favorite color and my birthday.  Between the mess everywhere and his strange manner, I was a little apprehensive.  But I never considered leaving.  My friends at work swore that he could work miracles and a miracle seemed like the only thing that might make me feel better.  
  Gene left me alone to undress and get on the table, face down, under a towel.  He returned after a few minutes and began to press his thumbs and finger tips into my back and neck.  It felt like there were rocks and ropes and knots all through my back.  The pain was so excruciating, but surprisingly, it was WELCOME.  It was terrible, but my body was also loving it.  His touch was like drinking water after a year in the desert , without.
  Gene was still talking nonstop, but I wasn't hearing a word he said.  Occasionally the phone would ring and he would stop to answer it, to my irritation, leaving me alone for what seemed like an eternity before returning to the exquisite pain.  When he started to work on my left arm that had been shattered, I saw stars...  and then, images.  Images of my father, then of my grandfather, and then other men who I had never seen but recognized as my great grandfathers.  There was fire and whiskey and broken glass and and cold anger. I realized that I was caught up in a cycle of pain and destruction.  That I had the power to interrupt the cycle and the power to create a new cycle.  
  The session lasted almost three hours.  When I left Gene's place, I felt like I was floating three feet above the ground. I felt full of oxygen and purified. But I was also mad as hell.  Gene said that this was emotion that had been stored in my muscles that was being released. I wasn't so sure.  I was still reeling from the anger that rose up like the tide when he had the audacity to say that my "accident" wasn't an "accident".  He said that the violent drunk smashing into me and all the complications in the hospital was something that I had created and that I should stop feeling sorry for myself and do something about my life.   
In spite of the anger, I felt so grateful to Gene.  Also, I knew three things that were certain:
*That I was free from the past. 
*That I had the power to control the direction of my life.
*That I wanted to be a massage therapist.  
Thanks Gene!
**(Later, I learned that word of mouth is the best way to find a bodyworker!)

In the Beginning, A Bad Wreck, Trauma, Pain and Victimization....

  Midnight, Friday, April 13th, 1989, Riding my motorcycle home after a class at Georgia State University, I was hit broadside by a car.  The driver didn't stop until he was chased down by the police.  He made a U-turn, returned to the scene, ran over to where I was splayed out on the pavement. He then began screaming curses and proceeded to kick me several times in the ribs before being pulled away by police and bystanders. He was obviously drunk and on drugs.  It turned out that he was wanted by the police in three states for armed robbery.... I was grateful to be alive and happy not to be paralyzed, but the euphoria and adrenaline wore off long before the ambulance came.  My thirty minute wait was the beginning of a two month hospital ordeal that inflicted almost as much trauma as the accident itself.   I had multiple fractures and a pneumothorax (collapsed lung).  X rays showed that I had broken my seventh cervical vertebra years earlier.  Doctors were amazed that I had not been paralyzed. I said that explained why my neck hurt so bad for such a long time after a bad tackle playing high school football.  
  I should have been allowed to return home within a week, but my lung would re-collapse each time the doctor took me off the suction equipment.  It took six weeks before an intern pointed out that the tube in my lung was pushed into the interior wall, perhaps causing an irritation that prevented the lung from healing.  The poor intern was scolded by my doctor for questioning the wisdom of inserting a second tube.  That doctor was an idiot.  Of course, the intern was right and I was able to be discharged four days after the doctor grudgingly agreed to try pulling the tube out  a little.  In the time I spent in the hospital, I was given someone else's medication by mistake... for four days.  I was unplugged from the equipment that allowed me to breath in order to be taken to the X-Ray room, then abandoned in a hallway when I stopped breathing so the orderly could run faster for help.  I regained consciousness in my room an hour later.  I suffered from the side effects of taking coedine and dimerol as often as I requested it, which was about every four hours.
But my complaints are slim compared to the 34 year old man who died in the Emergency Room, waiting to be treated for a broken leg.  Workmen breaking the floor above with jackhammers freed a 3'x3' piece of concrete that fell through the ceiling and crushed him, killing him instantly...
  The point of sharing all this is to illustrate why, after a long and difficult experience, that I had little respect for modern medicine and hospitals.  I went home and back to work with lots of pain and an addiction to pain killers.  There was not a single part of me that did not hurt.  
In addition, I felt a boiling rage.  I was burning with anger at the idiot who had run me over and the idiots at the hospital.  Perhaps even worse was a feeling of powerlessness and impotence in face of the circumstance and suffering I found myself in.  My life was pain and rage.
Then I met Gene.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In the Beginning, Granny's Hands....

  Massage and Bodywork changed my life.  I often wonder who I would have become if I had not had the good fortune to have been introduced to this ancient and wonderful dimension of being human.  
  When I was little boy in rural Mississippi, my mother frequently left me and my brother in the care of "Granny", an African American woman who was over one hundred years old, (really)! She was full of warmth, love and vitality.  She lived alone on a neighboring farm and was always as happy to see us as we were to see her.   I was an energetic and nervous child, and would inevitably end up with some kind complaint, a head ache, a stomach ache, or a bo-bo from falling off the porch or out of her fig tree.  To treat this, Granny had something much better than the bottle of baby aspirin or Peptol-Bismol that my parents usually took out for these complaints.  Granny used her hands!
  She would have me lie on the floor or on the day bed and then settle down beside me.  She would ask me to close my eyes before she said a prayer. She then she placed the palms of her beautiful old hands on the area that hurt.  
Granny's hands were always so warm the instant she touched me, and soon they got very, very warm.
Then her hands got big.  I never peeked, but it felt like her hands became a blanket that covered all of me.  It was hard to know where I ended and her hands began as they got bigger and bigger.  It was like being in a house and then a church that was her hands.  I would feel like I was expanding outward with her hands.  All was calm and warmth and peace.  No pain.  No complaint.  Sometimes Granny would sing or hum a song while she gave me her hands. Sometimes we would just listen to the wind blowing  or the breeze ringing the homemade wind chimes on her porch.  I would eventually feel "normal" again after a few minutes.  I became just me and her hands became her hands again.  I would get up, completely renewed and feeling clear and alive...
  I loved these times with "Granny" so much, that I'm sure I was looking for any pretext for her to give me "hands".  One day she told me that she knew that there wasn't really anything wrong with me, that I should give her "hands".  I said that I didn't know how.  She said that that was nonsense, that everybody knew how. They just had to remember how.  It was just like breathing.... That it was just a matter of breathing and listening.  
  Granny sat down in a chair and I got down on the floor in front of her.  Her left knee was hurting. She told me to ask "The Good Lord " to bless us and I did.  She then told me to put my palms on her knee and to breathe and let my spirit do the work..  She closed her eyes and smiled peacefully. I didn't know if I was doing well but since she was smiling, I guessed it was alright.  She must have sensed my doubt, because right then, she told me I had "such good hands".  That was all I needed.  I just sat there with my palms on her knee, proud and happy.
After a while, she said she felt so much better, and thanked me for my "wonderful hands".
I learned that day, that giving "hands" is as wonderful as receiving them.
......That it's all just a matter of breathing and listening.