Michelle graduated in 2009 from The Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy with 1,150 hours of education and is certified in IANMT, sports, hot stone, prenatal, trigger point, deep tissue, and Swedish. In August of 2016 she added another credentialed service for her clients, completing her Lymphatic Drainage studies through the Chikly Health Institute. Before beginning her massage therapy career, Michelle was a certified personal trainer, a yoga and mat Pilates instructor, and was the fitness coordinator at a retirement community.
What exactly does a massage therapist do?
A massage therapist does many things: listens a lot to others, creates comfort and warmth, stays quiet unless spoken to, creates a relaxing environment, does laundry on a daily basis, folds many sheets, if they have their own business all of the scheduling and book keeping, shares self-care items with the client and shows them stretches their body needs. The main focus of a massage therapist is to feel what the muscles are doing in the body, where there are problem areas, and then use the different techniques they have learned to release the problem areas.
What inspired you to become a massage therapist, and what path did you follow to get where you are now?
I worked as a personal trainer, yoga instructor, and mat pilates instructor for 8 years and wanted to learn more about the muscles, so I pursued massage therapy. I went to an orientation at a massage school to get a taste of what it would be like in this career field. I decided I wanted to pursue it and enrolled in the massage school after saving some money. Then, after completing the rigorous 11.5 months, I graduated with 1,150 hours of education and a Neuromuscular Certification. A few months later I took a test to become Nationally Certified and passed, so I can now work in any state in the U.S. Every state has a different requirement on how many hours of education a massage therapist needs to be certified. Many people drop out of massage school because the program is much harder and more intense than they expect it to be.
What are the key differences between massage therapy and physical therapy, and why did you choose one over the other?
I think one key difference is the setting you work in with the client (massage therapy) or patient (physical therapy). If you are a physical therapist you can choose to work with more than one person at a time in a social setting. A massage therapist is more isolated from socialization at work, unless their client likes to talk. Also, because physical therapy doesn’t require continuous “hands-on the body”, it’s gentler on the practitioner's body. I did a lot of observing at different physical therapy facilities when I was considering which field to pursue. To become a physical therapy assistant, the program takes 2 years. To become a physical therapist, you have to do a 4 year program. I had been working for myself on and off in the fitness field and I wanted to own my own business as well as continue personal training and teaching yoga and mat pilates. Being a massage therapist gave me more flexibility to do that. There was also the financial side: it was less expensive to pursue massage therapy, and I was already entering my 40’s when I was going back to school.
What was your first appointment with a client like?
I was required to give massages all the time while I was in school, out of my home, at marketing events, sports events, things like that. I had probably done three or four-hundred massages before I even graduated. So honestly, I’d had so much practice by the time I was working for myself as a professional, that I was confident and my ‘first’ appointment wasn’t really the first.
Has working a job that involves close, physical contact with other people made you think differently about your body in any ways?
It has probably helped me to feel more respect for my body and not to take it for granted, but really that is due to how physically hard this career is. I think part of what makes one a successful massage therapist is to be unafraid of physical labor and to work hard to keep your own body in shape and do all the things you recommend to your clients, in terms of self-care. I am grateful that I have not had many of the very common injuries that take people out of this field of work, such as thumb, wrist, shoulder, or back injuries. I once did have an injury that kept me from working for 6 weeks, and again it reminded me that I have to take care of myself first before I can care for others in this physically demanding career. It also showed me how quickly I may have to find another career if I become injured again as I age.
What’s the most awkward thing that’s happened while you were giving someone a massage?
There have been a few awkward things. Once, with a person who was new to massage, after talking about his health history, I told him I would wash up and be back in a few minutes. When I knocked to come back into the room, he was still sitting in the chair. He had no idea that was the time for him to undress, and get under the sheets on the table. That was my fault, because you should always ask if it is someone’s first massage. During one of my first hot stone massages, the person wanted the stones really hot, too hot for my hands, and I must have dropped 4 stones on the floor during the massage and had to keep getting new stones out of the warmer. Now, I always have extra washcloths to protect my hands from the heat of the stones when they first come out of the warmer. Then, there was a woman who was very fidgety and would not relax and, instead of her allowing me to move her arms, she kept wanting to do all the work... that ended up with the sheet slipping off of her chest.
What are the pros and cons of running your own business, vs. “clocking in” as a massage therapist for a company?
I work as an independent contractor at two locations, as well as having my own office. The biggest advantages of working as an independent contractor is that they do all the scheduling of your clients for you and, after you write up notes on what you found during the massage, you are done (unless you have to provide your own sheets, then you still have laundry to do). When you have your own business, the day often does not end until much later, because you have to return calls, e-mails, texts, to schedule people and work to stay on top of your book-keeping, write up any notes on what you found going on with the client’s body, and there are quarterly taxes to be done, and then sheets to be washed and folded.
How long have you been a massage therapist, and is it still as rewarding to you now as it was when you started?
I have just entered my seventh year as a massage therapist. I have had many different careers, and personally, I think they always feel more rewarding in the beginning, but one has to find ways to continue to feel fulfilled. As long as I keep taking classes, learning, and reviewing what I have learned, it does help keep things interesting. Recently, when I was feeling “a bit burned-out” I got three heartfelt compliments from clients about my work (so that was a gift); maybe they were picking up on my burn-out.
What were the costs involved with launching your career?
The schooling itself is around $10,000- $13,000 a year, a massage table can range from $300-$1,000, and then there is the cost of books for classes. Sometimes you need two massage tables (a lighter weight one to do mobile massages). If you do chair massage, you need that equipment, which is around $350. Then, of course, several sets of sheets with pillowcases. Blankets, pillows, face cradle cover (5 for about $12), a bolster, massage lotion, and cream or oil (on average one gallon runs about $55). Some type of music system with relaxing music (pretty reasonable cost, nowadays). Massage tools for when you have a particularly difficult area to work on or your hands need a break ($10-$30), and a holster for your lotion bottle ($15). Lots of laundry detergent, some type of bleaching agent (if you do not use bleach), a great hot water heater because sheets should be washed in hot water, and a fantastic, reliable washer and dryer!
What would you recommend to someone who is interested in massage therapy?
See if you can attend an orientation at a massage school, where you can get a taste of what the schooling will entail and then get to see someone doing some massages, and you may even get to try out some basic massage techniques yourself. If you decide you want to attend massage school, start strengthening your shoulders, hands, and forearms right away and make sure to have ice at home because most likely, when you start massage in school, you will be sore and tired.
Why should I get a professional massage?
A professional massage can do many things for the body. It helps to release toxins and metabolic waste from the muscles, boosts the immune system, improves mood by releasing endorphins, decreases anxiety, helps muscle recovery occur faster after a workout, and helps injuries heal more quickly. And these are only some of the benefits of massage!
Registered, Licensed Massage Therapist