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The Power Of Voluntary Work

by Clare Maxwell-Hudson(more info)

listed in massage, originally published in issue 91 - August 2003

One of the most useful ways I suggest to my graduate students that they might help build their massage practice is by doing some voluntary work.

Working as a volunteer without financial recompense has always been a valuable part of human societies all over the world. Now research shows us that doing things for other people is actually good for us too.

In a large study in Michigan, USA, which followed 2,700 people for close to 10 years, it was found that those men who did regular voluntary work had death rates two and half times lower than those who did not.

The added bonus of voluntary work is that it often turns into something more in the long term. In the late 1970s, I was approached by a cardiologist, who wanted me to work in his Harley Street practice, to massage his heart patients.

I wasn't so interested in working in the private sector, as I had my own busy private practice, but I did offer to work as a volunteer on his NHS cardiac ward at Charing Cross Hospital. Firstly just me, and later a team of teachers from my school, massaged the cardiac patients twice a week for five years. We didn't receive any remuneration, but the service became known throughout the hospital and nurses and therapists came from all over the UK to see the work that was being done on Ward 5 South. Those early efforts lead not only to massage being used in hospitals all over the country, but also to our student work placements, which now involve 12 different clinical environments. We have been paid back a thousand times, both in satisfaction and by being able to provide a clinical placement service to our students.

Many of our students have followed that early example, and by putting in sometimes months of effort as volunteers, have ended up with permanent paid positions as massage therapists. It seems that having an expectation of a direct result from any voluntary work doesn't really work. It's more a principle of putting into the pot before you can expect to take anything out!

We teach many Japanese students both here and in Japan, and I am always impressed by the way that the Japanese are very happy to work hard, sometimes for years, before they expect any reward. A Japanese businessman I know told me that he expected to put in at least 7 years of effort before a business began to show returns.

There is an old oriental story, which I think sums things up beautifully:

There were once two brothers who shared a farm left to them by their father. On the boundary of the land there was a barn in which they both stored bags of grain from their respective harvests. The elder brother was married with two young children, while the younger was a bachelor who lived all alone with his dog.

One night the bachelor woke up and lay in the moonlight thinking how lucky he was not having the worry and stress of a family and thinking about his older brother who had so many mouths to feed. "I know", he thought to himself, "I have had a good harvest – I'll go to the barn and put a bag of grain from my pile on to his, he will never know and it will make his life easier." And he did exactly that.

The next night the older brother happened to wake in the middle of the night. As he lay in bed with his plump wife beside him he thought how lucky he was to have her and his dear little children and he felt for his younger brother who had no one to share the burdens of his life. The idea came to him that if he went to the barn and put a bag of his grain onto the young brother's pile he would never know, but when he sold his grain he would benefit from the extra sack.

Now, it happened that both these brothers got into the habit of getting up in the night and transferring sacks from their own pile to the other's – and the extraordinary thing was (and they never could quite work out why) their own pile never grew any less!


Ornstein R & Sobel D. Healthy Pleasures. Addison Wesley. 1989.


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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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