An Inspiring Win Over Adversity, Maria Sellars Caught the Massage Bug at 11; Reflects on Her Journey, Career & Enterpreneurship

maria-sellars1. Tell us a bit more about you and your practice as it is today? i.e. are you a solo practitioner or a business owner? If solo, what kind of an establishment do you work for, how large is it, what is the clientele like, what is the specialty offered? If it is a business that you own, kindly include the same time of relevant information that will give the reader a good idea about your establishment/practice. Please also include where you live and work?

I am a solo practitioner in Altamonte Springs, Florida. I have been in the same location since 2010, but I have been practicing in the area since 2008. My office space is within a beautiful professional center that has a reception area.

My regular clientele ranges in age from 25-72 and I see most people on a bi-weekly or monthly schedule. My clients have varying backgrounds, ranging from teachers, to nurses, to television advertising salespeople and professional athletes. The majority of my business for the last 3 years has been repeat or referral based business.

2. Tell us why you chose to go into massage and at what point in your life did you decide to do so? What were you doing at the time? Where did you first hear about the massage career? What factors influenced your decision? What were you looking to get out of this decision?

Remembering back to childhood, I have always enjoyed massaging people. I worked on my first trigger point at 11 years old for my uncle who had a bad back. After that session I had to work on him at every family gathering. I always enjoyed doing massage but it was never something that I thought I would make a career of.

When I was 18 I moved to Florida from Michigan to attend the NPTI and become a Personal Trainer. They also offered a massage therapy program at the school, and I thought “No way could I never do that.” The thought of touching strangers did not appeal to me.

I moved to Florida with no car, with the economy was tanking, and Personal Trainers were not in demand. I wound up getting a job at the gas station and subway closest to my house so I could afford my bills. The idea of attending Massage school kept popping up in my head for some reason, but with no car I knew I could not afford it.

Then on Labor Day, 2007 I went in to work for my 6:00 am shift at the gas station, but it was unlike any shift I had ever experienced. Ten minutes after I arrived 2 men with t-shirts over their faces came rushing in to the gas station and robbed the store. One man had a gun and started to run after the other employees and the other came to me at the cashier stand and busted a bottle in my face and demanded the money.

I was able to remain calm, give them the money and get them out of the store with no one getting hurt. That day I registered for the massage program starting at NPTI in two weeks and vowed to make it work.

3. What were some of your questions and concerns before further pursuing your massage therapy goals? Talk about concerns with school and the profession itself.

When I started massage school I was only 19 years old, which is a pretty young age to get in to the industry. During that time I was most concerned with having to massage “creepy” people who were looking for more than a massage.

In my almost 7 years as an LMT, I have had maybe 5 inappropriate clients, and it is not something that I find myself having to worry about. Always represent yourself as a professional, always work for respectable establishments and never be afraid to call someone out and end a session for them being inappropriate.

Since I already knew what school I was going to (the same one I did Personal Training at), I really did not give that much consideration. However, I think schooling plays a big role in your career and I recommend looking at several massage schools before making your decision.

4. What is your specialty and what are the top three contributing factors to your success today?

I specialize in Deep Tissue massage and helping people to manage chronic pain. When it comes to my success in the industry I would say these 3 things are major contributors.

1) Communication – I make sure that my clients know clear and open communication between us is key to getting results. If you need more or less pressure, speak up. If you need more time spent in an area, say so. Many times people are afraid to speak up for whatever reason, so I clear the air before we even get started so they know the session is about them, not me, so do not be afraid to speak up. At the same time, it is also very important for me to communicate with the client for how they are feeling and what their goals are for each specific session.

2) Education – By constantly furthering my education I am able to bring people up to date information in regards to wellness as whole. Most of my clients have no idea when it comes to muscles, fascia, or their bodies in general. I have them watch a short video on fascia, I show them trigger point pain referral diagrams, teach them stretches that can aid in their healing process, recommend essential oils and information on how their nutrition affects their body. All of this helps them to get a better understanding of what it is we are working towards and how crucial their at home care is as well.

3) Reiteration – I follow up on how people are doing with their stretches, what inflammation causing foods have they cut from their diets, how much they have upped their water intake, etc. By reiterating these things, and holding them accountable, it is easier to get results that last because I don’t just say it once and never bring it up again.

5. What do you like about your specialty? What do you like about what you do in general as a career? Why?

With my specialty, I help people to get their quality of life back and there is no greater feeling in the world than that. I have people whose husbands have basically had to carry them in to my office, and they leave with a smile on their face. Few careers give you the ability to do that, and I feel so blessed that I am in one of those.

6. What do you not like about what you do? Why?

I do not like that in our modern Western society many people still view massage therapy as a luxury treatment. Massage therapy is far more than just a luxury treatment. It is one of the few medical treatments that can help people physically, mentally, and neurologically. Can you get results in one session, yes, but in many cases you need multiple treatments to get lasting results.

Since many people still view massage as a luxury, you really have to convince and educate them on the benefits so they realize that in the beginning of their treatment plan they will need to come in two times a week or at least one time a week to get results and benefits that last.

7. If there were three things you could change about your work or the industry as a whole what would they be? Why would you change them? What would you change them to?

1) I would like to see massage therapy coverage added to more major insurance plans. It is such a great preventative service that benefits people’s physical and emotional well being.

2) Higher pay from chiropractic and medical clinics. I have many friends who have been over worked and underpaid at some of these places which can end a career very quickly. We need to stand up for the value of our services and the worth of our only pair of hands.

3) Consistent licensing requirements throughout the states so that it is less of a hassle if you intend to move. I know this is a problem for many different industries and it can really create a hindrance if you have to move and go back to school.

8. How long do you plan to practice and what do you plan to do after?

I see myself being a massage therapist for at least 25 more years and I have been practicing for almost 7 already! Eventually, I would love to have my own Massage school and care clinic that emphasizes on wellness as a whole.

9. Do you currently have another job or business whether full time or part time? Tell us a bit more about it and how you are able to juggle that with your massage career?

Yes, I have several other titles besides Massage Therapist. I am a Personal Trainer, Esthetician, Yoga Instructor and Wellness Coach. I love doing Massage Therapy, but being able to get income from other services helps to save my hands. Since everything I do ties together, I am able to create well-rounded treatment plans based on my understanding of body mechanics, nutrition, etc.

Recently I launched AllStudioSubs.com, which helps to connect Fitness studio owners with back-up Instructors when they are in need (yes Massage Therapists can sign up too). Being a self-employed massage therapist means I do not have to work as many hours and I can focus on projects that I am inspired by.

10. What are some mistakes you made in your career pursuit that you’d like to warn other students about so they can learn from your experience and avoid it?

Early on in my career I was not as aware of my body mechanics and I was holding really bad posture as I massaged. It had really started to take a toll on me and I could easily see why many MT’s have only a 5-7 year career length. Be mindful of your body mechanics early on and take the same advice that you give to your clients, that is the only way you can have a long and joyful career.

Another mistake that I made is accepting the time a client would ask to get in at the last minute, even if it meant over 9 massages in a day. I could be completely booked and someone would ask if they could get in that day and I would somehow find an hour to squeeze them in. When you are booked, you are booked.

Offer them a time for the next day and things that they can do in the meantime to get relief. Chances are they will take that option without a problem. It also encourages people to stay on your schedule and be consistent with their appointments because they don’t want that to happen to them again. I know we want to help people, but we have to take our own bodies in to consideration too!

11. What would you advice someone who is looking at massage therapy schools? What do you recommend they look for and how? How do you recommend they determine whether the school is the right one for them?

Some schools focus more on spa modalities and some schools focus more on clinical modalities, then there are some schools that equally cover both. Consider what your goals are after finishing massage school. What setting do you see yourself working in? I started out at a chiropractors, a spa, and renting space in a gym right out of massage school because I was not sure which area I wanted to focus on.

The length of the program is also very important, some schools are accelerated, which can be good, but if you have problems retaining information an accelerated program is not for you. Whether you take a 5, 8, 12, or 24 month program everyone takes the same test to get their license. Seriously consider the way you retain information and your test taking skills when choosing the program length that’s right for you.

12. What do you recommend for someone who wants to go to massage school but cannot afford it?

When I went to massage school, it really was something that I could not afford. I was able to get a $500 scholarship, my grandmother gave me $500, and the rest of it was up to me. I went to a full-time school, worked a full-time serving job, and worked 2-3 shifts a week at the gas station so I could make ends meet.

Honestly, it was one of the toughest periods in my life, but the end results have been so worth it. If you wait for the right time to have the money, you may be waiting a really long time. Have faith in yourself to do what needs to be done, maybe work an extra job, explore scholarship options, and you will get through it!

13. What are your three biggest points of advice for an aspiring massage therapist today? What should they do/not do? What should they think about and consider?

1) There are a lot of different directions you can go with your massage career. Your first year consider trying various settings like spa, clinical, chair, corporate massages or maybe even renting space and having your own clients to see which environment resonates best with you. This can help you to decide which direction you really want to go with your career early on.

2) Do not sell yourself short. If someone offers you $12-15 dollars for a massage, show them your one pair of hands and say this is it. This is all I have for my entire career, how many massages a day would I have to do to be able to make a real living and support myself and my family off of that and how long would I really be able to sustain massaging like that.

3) Do not get stuck in massaging everyone the same way. I have had quite a few clients mention that is why they quit going to past massage therapists because although it was a good massage, it was always the same massage- regardless of the person’s symptoms and requests for that session. Listen to the person and clearly communicate your plans for that session before you begin.

14. Any open thoughts / comments – anything else that you’d like to share about yourself, the massage industry, profession, future, etc? If nothing, make one prediction for the future of massage?

I know a lot of massage therapists who have not had a massage in over 6 months and I just can’t get over that. How can we be a part of this industry and tell people they need to get massages and not get them ourselves.

What we do is very physical labor, and it is essential to your career to get massages regularly. I do not go any longer than two weeks without a massage and even that is a long stretch for me. By taking care of myself, I am better prepared to take care of other people.

15. What is your passion outside of massage? What are your hobbies and interests which you pursue when you are not working? Tell us why you enjoy what you enjoy.

Luckily for me my passions and my work go hand in hand. Being able to inspire other people around me to reach their goals and enjoy their life is a wonderful feeling. On top of that, I love to spend time outdoors in the fresh air, whether it is kayaking, hiking, being at the beach, doing yoga at the park or just sitting outside reading a good book. Spending time outside allows me to disconnect with all of the external distractions in my life and to keep myself grounded.

Maria Sellars a LMT, a CPT and CYT. Find out more about Maria on her website here or by visiting this website.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

Posted in Interviews with Professionals

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