The COVID diaries – a practitioner’s journey back to work

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The Covid-19 Diaries

Coronavirus has changed everything for complementary therapists – we follow Anne-Marie’s story as she navigates the stresses of lockdown, gets to grips with new rules and prepares to return to practice

To say it’s been a tough time for therapists would be an understatement. We’ve had our professional and personal lives turned upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic – everything we do has changed, from where and when we work, to how we interact with our clients. Whether you’re an established business or just carving out your career, the chances are you’ve had some tough decisions to make, a mountain of information to sift through and are sitting on the edge of your seat ready for new changes that could rock the boat at any point. 

We understand that this has been an incredibly difficult period for many and want to offer PPH as a place to find support, reassurance and guidance. Over the coming weeks we are following massage and reflexology therapist Anne-Marie’s journey, as she navigates the tricky terrain COVID-19 has created for us all. By telling her story we aim to start a conversation everyone can be part of – we are all facing similar problems and, while the solutions can seem unclear at points, by supporting each other we can get through these unusual times. We’ll be putting together resources to help everyone adjust to the ‘new normal’ and want to offer our support every step of the way. 

Anne-Marie’s Story

Hello PPH community, my name is Anne-Marie and this is my COVID-19 story, so far. PPH asked me to share my personal thoughts and experiences as a therapist going through lockdown and planning on returning to work in September. I am a complementary therapist, providing restorative holistic massage and reflexology to women and carers in Bath, enabling them to feel nurtured and relaxed. Alongside running a busy clinic, I work as a freelance Virtual Assistant, providing admin and business support to other practitioners, businesses and colleges in the complementary therapy sector. 

Like many of you reading, my life changed in mid-March. I had watched the news unfold since the beginning of January that there was some new and unknown virus spreading in China. Initially, it felt like it was so far away that I didn’t for one moment think that we would be following in the footsteps of other countries – watching them cope with the spread of the virus that was rapidly devastating communities, lives and businesses. So, when the time came in mid-March to close my business, and lockdown rules were enforced, it was a huge shock. This is my diary during this uncertain and life-changing period, documenting my efforts to return to work and obstacles I have encountered and I hope you will feel inspired to share your stories, too.

March 16th

I make the difficult decision to close my therapy business not long after I have just seen my last massage client. The COVID situation has escalated dramatically; social distancing has just been enforced and despite putting in enhanced cleaning procedures and protocols, there has been no further guidance from the government. As I see many elderly or vulnerable clients, I decide to temporarily close my business. My client, due tomorrow, is an elderly carer – this cements my decision that I’m doing the responsible thing, despite not knowing what the future holds. My clients are not surprised to get an email from me explaining my closure. They reply, saying that it is the best thing to do. 

March 20th

The government has announced that massage businesses must close. Shortly after, we all go into lockdown. I spend this week emailing my clients to cancel their future sessions, giving refunds to those that have pre-paid for their sessions, and closing my online booking system; I put an announcement on my website and social media saying that I have temporarily paused my business. Doing all of this, whilst not knowing when or if I would be re-opening, feels incredibly emotional. Clients reply to my emails with messages of support and concern about how I am coping, rather than being upset about their cancelled sessions.

April-June

I contact some of my regular clients by email and phone to check how they are doing. I ask if there is anything I can do to help them if they aren’t able to get out, do they need any supplies, and just to see if they are all ok. We are still in lockdown and vulnerable clients are shielding.

This is an incredibly stressful time – the uncertainty of not having a return to work date is constantly on my mind. I have no idea when I will be able to return to my clinic to see my clients and what changes will need to be made. From the moment I wake up, all I can think about is the pandemic. I am finding it hard to sleep, and each waking hour is spent thinking about how and when my practice can reopen, if at all. 

July 9th

Months pass before the government announces that close contact services, including massage therapists, can return to work from the 13th July with restrictions. I let my clients know that I plan to re-open around September and ask them if they would like to make provisional bookings or if they plan to return for a session later in the year. 

One of my regulars immediately books in for the first appointment back, which is great. As she is in the clinically vulnerable category and at higher risk from coronavirus, I need to ask her to get medical clearance to go ahead with the session, as per the conditions of my Professional Association (PA).  I also need to make myself familiar with who is at higher risk from coronavirus. There are two levels of higher risk: high risk (clinically extremely vulnerable) and moderate risk (clinically vulnerable). I do have a few clients that are in the clinically vulnerable category, as they are over 70 years old. I decide that I won’t be treating any clients that fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable group at this stage.

Another regular client also books in, so, with place holders set, I now need to ensure that all the measures I need to follow to return to practice safely are put in place. I start researching what needs to be done. 

The main guidance that I must follow is the government guidance for England, Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19).  I also check and follow my professional association’s guidance and updates, so I spend time reading the FHT’s information that they have on their website with relation to COVID-19 and also check my insurance policy. 

I also found the information on the GCMT website really helpful, so spend time reading the information provided on their website, to include a very useful Resource Pack for therapists. I need to understand as much as I can about COVID-19 if I am to reopen my practice safely, and found the World Health Organisation have a good Q&A section on their site, covering how the virus is spread, how can I protect myself, how long the virus lasts on surfaces etc. (the virus can last for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 24 hours on cardboard and up to 4 hours on copper!). It is good to read that surfaces can easily be cleaned with common disinfectants that kill the virus too, so as part of my Risk Assessment I will ensure a good selection of appropriate cleaning products are available and have a cleaning checklist to follow.

As the new government guidance states that therapists must wear face visors when performing treatments, I immediately place an order for three reusable visors in readiness for re-opening.  

July 18th

I order a box of IIR medical grade face masks (I was under the impression from attending one of many webinars they had to be medical grade) and a box of XS nitrile gloves (as recommended by my PA for using with oils for massage). I bought a close contact thermometer which I tested out on myself (all good!) – it was so easy to use and should a client have a high temperature an alert will sound. I also invest in a wipe clean pillow, a PVC couch protector and some hospital grade hand gel. It all arrives within a few days and I put it aside ready for the big day I was going to be open again.

July 25th & 26th

I spend the weekend focusing on the COVID Screening & Consent Form, which is what I will need to ensure the client completes before each appointment – how complicated and time consuming this is! The end form is a combination of my PA screening questions, the GCMT information, client confirmation that they agree to Test & Trace, plus a further question asking clients if they have been abroad. Travel advice for those returning from Spain just changed at short notice – anyone holidaying in Spain must now self-isolate for 14 days on their return. Fortunately, my clinic is closed so this didn’t affect current bookings, but I can imagine that many practitioners would be impacted by this sudden change.

July 28th

I sign up to the Government webinar on close contact services – there is lots of information to absorb as the guidance is changing all the time.

July 31st

Today the government announces that face coverings are mandatory and must be worn by clients and therapists in massage clinics from August 8th. I will need to ensure that my clients are made aware of this before they come for their session and, ideally, to bring their own face covering with them. I’ll also check that they consent to wearing one and add this extra requirement to the COVID Screening & Consent Form which they complete prior to arrival at the clinic. I can also offer one of the IIR masks if they forget their own. I plan to have reusable ones available after these are used up, rather than using disposable masks. There are some exemptions to wearing a face mask, so this is something that I need to take into consideration and decide how to handle should the situation arise.

The FHT email an overview of the important updates – this includes that face treatments are now not allowed in England until August 15th at the earliest and that shielding will pause in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from August 1st, unless local restrictions state otherwise. It is sad to see therapists that were ready to open their clinics offering facial treatments being closed down before even having the chance to open again, however, hopefully in a few weeks they can return to work safely. Frustratingly, the government is still calling us ‘massage parlours’, despite being advised by various PAs to change this old fashioned and misleading wording.

As we follow Anne-Marie’s journey over the coming weeks, we would love to hear your stories, too. Can you relate to Anne-Marie’s experience? How did you navigate the early days of lockdown? Feel free to share in the comments and please sign up to become a member of PPH to receive industry news and updates.

We would like to stress that all information given in our COVID series is not exhaustive and while we have tried to ensure that the information provided in this document is accurate, PPH cannot be held liable for any errors or omissions. The COVID situation is constantly evolving and the information is changing on a daily basis. We urge you to closely follow your government, professional association and insurance company’s latest guidelines and updates, taking precedence over any recommendations communicated by PPH.