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Nothing New Under The Sun

by Clare Maxwell-Hudson(more info)

listed in massage, originally published in issue 87 - April 2003

Recently someone asked me what qualities I thought made a successful massage therapist. Over the past 25 years hundreds of aspiring therapists have passed through my school. Many have gone on to make very successful careers while some have not. To answer the question, I decided to reread James Mennel's marvellous book on massage which first came out in 1934.[1] Mennel was Head of the Department of Massage at St Thomas' Hospital. Most of his general rules correspond with qualities I notice among my own successful graduates over 50 years later. Here then are some "Rules for successful therapists" in Mennel's own words. His profound common sense and clear writing, though dated, shine forth. I have added my own comments where I have felt it appropriate.

* Mennel: No great power or muscular development is required in the masseur: knack can effect more than force and skill replaces physical strength;

* CMH: I have often noticed with my students that those who try too hard seem to lose that magic quality that comes with the combination of a skill and the relaxed application of it. Recent research on performance pressure published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that putting too much attention to a well-honed skill may ruin a performance;

* Mennel: Patience is essential and that not of the kismet type, but of the ever hopeful and optimistic;

* CMH: I would add perseverance to this point. They go hand in hand;

* Mennel: It is part of the masseur's duty to inspire the hope of getting well; it may be even to instil the desire to do so;

* CMH: In The Human Effect in Medicine, Michael Dixon and Kieran Sweeney think that the key to placebo is hope.[2] In the old days, bedside manner and time was often all doctors had to help their patients;

* Mennel: The masseur should never appear to be in a hurry. While treating a patient the whole world should cease to exist except the patient. Entire concentration should be your aim and anything irrelevant to this one objective should be discouraged;

* CMH: Good massage is like active meditation and self-consciousness disappears;

* Mennel: Human life, its functions and actions, are subdued to a natural rhythm. Our objective in massage being to restore function, it is obvious we must maintain and perhaps assist in the restoration of rhythm. Let us see to it then, that our movements are rhythmical;

* CMH: The massage should be like a dance, using the whole body and not just the hands;

* Mennel: One eminent physician once said that he frequently ordered physical treatment to be carried out by a blind masseur: but then if anyone would introduce him to a dumb masseur he would employ them all the time. It is an old story – the tongue is a small member, but it is capable of inflicting unlimited harm; and a chance word, it may be spoken in jest, will often counterbalance any good that other treatment, but for this word, might have accomplished. As the tongue is a small member, so tact is a small word, and yet it may well be the greatest asset the masseur or masseuse can have – of so great importance is it that it may even outweigh professional skill in value;

* CMH: Our school has put thousands of students into work placements over 15 years. The only complaint we have ever had was over what a student said – never about anything they did;

* Mennel: A smiling face often masks a breaking heart in the masseur, but if it does so the patient should never be conscious of it. It is essential to be consistently the same in manner and behaviour to each individual, as nothing could be more distracting to a patient than to be a victim of moods or petty irritations;

* CMH: Smiling not only cheers up those around us but affects us physiologically. Studies show that smiling deliberately can cause a drop in blood pressure and the output of stress chemicals;

* Mennel: Boasts of your past feats are of no interest. The necessary confidence is instilled into the patient by general demeanour and deportment rather than by the spoken word, and it is dependant on the self-confidence of the masseur, which however, must not be blatant. The disbeliever will be converted by the progress made, and not by the promises.

* CMH: We all think others are confident and it is only we who are nervous and shy. But confidence is a knack or trick. Appear to be confident and surprisingly you will become confident;

* Mennel: Cheerfulness is essential but it must be adapted to the needs of the patient. It may jar horribly to be approached by a beaming smile and a flow of chatter the day after a limb has been broken; whereas a fortnight later these may afford the only break in the tedium of a long and wearisome day;

* CMH: I tell my students that a good therapist is a chameleon, always sensitive to the moods and needs of the client;

* Mennel: Training should have instilled order and system until both are ingrained and natural. Untidiness, hesitancy or lack of system are all inimical to success. Punctuality is a virtue that should be cultivated;

* CMH:Order and system are fundamental to good function. If we do not have this ourselves we cannot serve others;

* Mennel: Observations and the power to draw correct deductions from these observations made, are all important, and the eyes and hands should be constantly on the alert to detect every change, physical and if possible, psychological, in the patient;

* CMH: This is the creative aspect of the work of the therapist. It involves seeing each client as an unique and fascinating challenge and this is why I never tire of being a massage therapist.


1. Mennel J, MA, MD. Physical Treatment by Movement, Manipulation and Massage. J & A Churchill. 1945.
2. Dixon M and Sweeney KG. The Human Effect in Medicine. Radcliffe Press. Oxford, UK. 2000.


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About Clare Maxwell-Hudson

Clare Maxwell-Hudson is considered to be one of the most interesting and practical authorities and writers on massage alive today. She has achieved international recognition for her contribution to the health sciences. Her six best-selling books sell in their millions in 22 countries. Established in 1980 and situated in a quiet location off Baker Street in London's West End, her school The Clare Maxwell-Hudson School of Massage offers a wide range of courses with the best tuition available to prepare the student for a rewarding career in the fast growing field of complementary therapy. She can be contacted on Tel: 020 7724 7198;;

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