It may be strange, but in my head, I reduced people to muscles…

massage

Vendula Fischerova has had two professions. The first one was psychology and the other one is being a masseur. She moved to Finland from The Czech Republic a little bit more than 10 years ago. In the first part of our interview, we mostly cover the topic of how her search for a meaningful work-life looked like during this period of time. It wasn’t easy, I can say so much… But nowadays she is happy with the choices she has made and enjoying her new profession. And she absolutely is a great masseur! I know it because I am one of her clients 🙂

As Vendy previously described, she had made a decision not to continue doing cleaning jobs after the maternity leave. Consulting her situation with the counsellor at the unemployment office, she made a decision to go back to school and to start a completely new career in Finland in a completely new area of expertise. She studied at the vocational school to become a masseur. She likes to see the human body in the holistic way in which physical and mental parts are inevitably connected. 

“I chose to study a very practical field. I wanted to do something manually, with my hands… They pushed us a lot to practical training, where we could gain some professional experience. Education was very dynamic, teachers were motivated… Maybe if I was a Finn, it would have been more intensive, but being a foreigner… I was a bit confused from the beginning because I had to deal with the language barrier. I didn’t have great Finnish when I applied. I was learning Finnish while studying… And it pushed me a little out of the group.” 

The hierarchy between teachers and students almost doesn’t exist in Finland. The group was small and teachers had a close relationship with students. They tried to see them as individuals: “My teacher was really happy when she found out that she had a psychologist in the group, but I couldn’t express my opinions so well in Finnish… of course I could, but I didn’t want to communicate in English at school at all. I decided that I will use only Finnish.  I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and speed up the process of learning the Finnish language. But maybe if the language barrier wasn’t there, they would have used my experience from psychology much more…”

Vendula went back to the school being the main guardian of her 2 small children. It is not an easy task to combine care for children and studying responsibilities. 

“I told myself that I have to finish the studies, no matter what, and I did. I felt like there was no other choice for me at that point. I succeeded also because I have a very good relationship with my ex-husband. Whenever I needed to stay longer at school, he had no problem picking up kids. Also, our daycare is open from 6:15 in the morning till 17:00 in the evening…It was rough for kids, to wake up sometimes at 5:30, and stay there some days until the very end. But thanks to this possibility, I could study.” 

I think psychology and massage are two different approaches to help us in the area of well-being. Focusing on different aspects but still keeping in mind our health. I can see this connection and I was curious whether Vendy has a similar opinion?  

“For sure! I had very supportive teachers, and they probably saw some potential in me, because they were very strict on me. Especially during final exams, I got a lot of feedback on what to improve. And that was kinda tough to listen to. But I understand that they just wanted me to be even better. The thing is that they always complimented me on my communication skills and the way I interacted with the customers. They would always highlight how safe and comfortable the environment I create is. How nice it is to be in the room with me. Once I  even heard that I am so good at interacting with the client, that it is quite ok, if I make mistakes or I do not massage all that well, people will keep coming. (laughter) It was presented as a huge compliment, but I was always thinking, damn, of course, I have good communication skills with the master degree in psychology… (laughing). Of course, I use my previous education, but it is most possibly also my personality. I can connect with people easily. Even with Finnish people. (laughing) When somebody comes, I can feel immediately if they are nervous, shy, stressed, or distracted… After all, getting a massage is quite an intimate thing. People have to take off their clothes, they are observed, touched,…bottom, pecs or inner thighs are considered an intimate area, but there are muscles there too, to be handled. So, it is very handy, when you know how to make the client feel safe and more relaxed.” 

Every masseur is somehow different from the others. Even if they came through the same education, the massage is always different. 

“Even if the anatomy is the same, and so in theory all the clients should feel the same, of course, they are not. Life moulds us. There are also standard ways and techniques, how to treat the muscles and the soft tissue. And those are everywhere the same. However, in the end, as the practice goes on and as you massage more and learn more, your technique changes and shifts into your own style. You will start picking your favourite moves, some of them will become almost automatic. You will also dislike some of the moves, as they might not feel good to your body or as they might not correlate with your opinions on how the body works. At the beginning of my studies, I understood one important thing. Massage therapists not only use their hands, but as they work, they shift and move their whole body, and that is how they get enough strength and good angle to approach the client and how they are able to keep up their work for long years. That’s why every massage therapist works a little bit differently because each of us is a unique person. We have our likes, dislikes, body structure, habits, favourite positions, limitations… All this and much more is reflected in the way we massage.” 

From my perspective massage can be seen as a routine and routine is often perceived as a negative thing. But Vendy explained to me, why routine is on the contrary a very good thing when it comes to a massage. She stated that she wants to have her job being interesting and she studies additionally. 

“Massage, like any other work,  will become eventually a routine. And it is actually a good thing. Because then you do things faster and more efficiently. During my studies, I would spend 40 min on the treatment I am doing now for half the time. It may be strange, but in my head, I reduced people to muscles… When the client comes (and also during the massage) I try to interview them as much as possible. I look at them. Sometimes I do several tests. Even though the time is quite limited and people are usually very anxious to just lie down on the table and get better. I ask them about their work, hobbies, old injuries and pains, sleeping routines… anything that pops in my mind, that could be related to the problem they are coming with. I want to understand where the problem came from, how it might have built up in time… to be able to tackle it better and help people get rid of it, with their own effort by exercise, change of workspace, etc. Later when the same person lies down on the table, I focus on what is under their skin, on muscles, joints, fascias,… I am a visual person, so I tend to visualise the anatomy, as I go. And this is where the routine comes handy. The longer you massage, the better you know how to touch a particular muscle and how to treat it as quickly and as effectively as possible.”    

Vendy 1

Sometimes when I check the offer in different massage salons, I might not know what to choose. There are different styles of massage and certainly different methods. During the years of visiting a masseur more or less frequently, I have realised that I like the best just a classic massage. But also, I luckily don’t have any serious health-related problems. Is it an advantage to have more techniques and methods in a portfolio?

“I think it’s better to know more techniques. On the other hand, if you do too much of everything, it can become chaotic. It is good to focus and learn really well several methods that speak to you. Anyway, you have to continuously educate yourself. There are new trends coming up all the time, new research, new approaches to the body and wellbeing. You don’t have to incorporate all of them, but it is definitely good to get informed and inspired. I like to use taping, as we learnt it at school, and I have good results with it. I also use dry cups and methods of passive stretching, active release and mobilisation. And I am happy that I know those techniques, because sometimes they help me, where classical massage might fall short. There might come a client sensitive towards pain or tickly, or very very tight and then I have to find different ways to tackle the problem. What you learn at school is really only a base you build up on.”

I also have different perspectives when it comes to a massage. Is it more a well-being activity or a treatment? For example in my home country, it can be recognized as a treatment and in certain situations also covered from one’s health insurance. On the other hand, the majority of us e.g. have just occasionally mild pain in our backs or we visit masseur more as a well-being activity. How is it then?

“This is an interesting question and it also depends on the personality of the masseur. I like both of the ways. But I think that because of the fact that I come from a doctor family, I think I see it more as a medical procedure. However, my goal is to one day connect this with my previous studies and gain some sort of holistic approach and treat both body and soul.” 

Vendula said that masseur’s possibilities are limited and it pushes her towards further studies. Masseur is at the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to the care of a body. 

As massage is just at the bottom of the healthcare system and the studies are rather short and very basic, I sometimes feel very limited with what I can do for the client, but I am trying to learn as much as possible with every single case. Sometimes a client has a stiff neck. I massage them and they come in a couple of weeks or months with exactly the same situation. It is quite frustrating for me. Even though it is nice to have regular clients who come twice a month, I would like to help people to solve their problems and be able to continuously work on their health and wellbeing by themselves. Not only by my treatment. That’s why I try to think about the source of the problem and how else to prevent or fix it – exercise, change of routines, or different ergonomy at their workplaces… I can help with that. And sometimes I cannot and I have to send them to the doctor or to the better-educated colleague – osteopath, physiotherapist… It is very important to understand where your limits are and to know when you have to send your clients to some other professionals.”  

In the future, Vendula would like to become a chiropractor, as this professional has more tools on how to help and also has possibilities on how to work with clients in their environments. But this is a long journey, as it’s not possible to study for a chiropractor in Finland: “For me, the best option would be to study in English in the UK, but this is not realistic at the moment.” 

But Vendy wishes that when kids are older and her Finnish even better, she would like to study physiotherapy and after that some specialisation in the field. 

She joined the team of Kehokulma in Tuusula, where are 4 more professionals available at our service: “Three of us are doing massages, two are osteopaths, two colleagues offer acupuncture and purentahoito which is the massage of the muscles on the neck, facial muscles, jaw muscles, tongue muscles….”

But still, being an entrepreneur is not easy: “I was lucky enough to join Kehokulma, because they have been running a business for 3 years. I was there during my practical training during the summer and because they were looking for somebody who could join them, they offered me the job. I know that my co-students started their own businesses, but maybe also because of the Covid restrictions, they don’t really have enough clients. It is difficult. Everyone says that the first 1-2 years can be very unstable. And I can also see it on my calendar. It’s stressful. For example, I don’t have any reservations for next week. But it was like that also 14 days ago, when I only had 3 clients at the beginning of the week and I ended up with 18. So people are slowly coming,…” 

In the previous pages, we discussed how every massage is different and how much it depends on the person of a masseur. I naturally asked Vendula what she thinks is her speciality?

I think it’s my communicativeness. That I am a foreigner and maybe I don’t give some much space to my clients for complete silence. (laughing) I ask them a lot. I really try to find out what is the source of their problem. When the client comes for the first time it rarely happens that I would be completely silent the whole time. If the regular client comes, who visits every two weeks, we only clarify what we are going to do this time… But the first 1-2 sessions while I am doing massage I ask about the client’s work, about hobbies and if I assume, that maybe the problems are caused by something they mentioned, I try to examine it further. I ask more about their typical work position, how they sit on their couch … (laughing) I try to picture their environment and how it can be reflected in their body. And then I talk about it with them. So my speciality would probably be psychology, because I see people as a part of their environment, not only as a unit. 

Vendula’s story is not like that of the fairy tale. But that’s why I like it. It’s much more realistic and many of us can relate to what she had gone through. The story of disappointment, disillusion, new beginnings and new happiness…

And if you need a massage, you can always check Vendula’s calendar.

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