Adam Sell Says You Must Specialize in a Massage Modality for Maximum Success

Adam Sell1) 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?

Currently I am a consultant for Spa’s/Clinics. I like massage and have spent thousands of hours working on clients with chronic pain issues. At least that is why they came to see me, of course the chronic condition was always the mask of a deeper story of suffering.

I found great purpose in helping these people but it does not pay the bills, so I now focus more on helping others to fulfill their vision of prosperity and contribution. We live in NJ temporarily but are moving back west to Oregon in the Summer. What I’ll do there, I have no idea yet!

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?

I chose massage school at 39-years of age because I saw other massage therapists over the year follow the apparent peaceful healing path. I had taught martial arts for years and understood that healing was the path that my students were essentially on instead of some fictitious goal of being ready or prepared to fight someone in a dark alley. They were already in a dark alley.

Healing, in this case martial arts, helped them find their way out. When I made the decision I was stepping off the martial way and needed an income. When I did the equation it seemed that I could have a good rewarding peaceful life by attending massage school and getting out into the world.

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.

There weren’t any concerns. I had massage many times before and so was already sold on the concept. My wife and I decided to move from NJ to Denver so I could pursue massage and she could finish her masters in psychology. Our goal at the time, was to open an office where we could practice together.

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

It is great to have a specialty at least in the beginning as it helps to differentiate yourself to rise above the droves of CMT’s that get their licenses everyday. However, the only specialty that counts, that really exists, is the capacity or awareness that you the therapist have to change, grow and heal along with your clients.

Why? Because healing is a spiritual path (not religious) it can’t be anything else because when you heal you let go of the past suffering and the need for a future happiness. You shift into a deeper sense of life that is free from the egoic self. All chronic conditions have their roots in trauma, the universal story of suffering that started in womb.

When someone lies on your table and says “I have migraine headaches” or “I have TMJ” etc That condition is their leverage into the truth of their life. Because all healing requires acceptance as the first stage of the undoing process. Whether you are Rolfer or CST it does not matter you are all dealing with same riddle the same challenge that is the universal story of suffering.

The factors:-

Confidence. Don’t mess around with light pressure get into the muscles! Get into the healing zone!

Patience. If you need to sit with a client for 10-minutes in silence and listen to the body, do it. Direct touch is only part of the healing story.

Belief. You need to belief that you can help with any condition at any time. Human touch is the most power form of healing. Don’t let anyone undermine you because they have a degree in something else.

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

Massage Therapy is not a career. It is in a way, as far as you get trained, get hired and earn money from your client or clients. Its not like physical therapy, psychotherapy, chiropractic being an MD or any other “medical based system” career.

Massage therapists, very good ones, although can work circles around the most mainstream allopathic Cartesian pain treatment practitioners, are in a vocation. In massage you can’t sit back and let the insurance biller collect your money for you. You as a massage therapist have to be on top of your game at all times. If you are not, you are not going get paid because most people see massage as a medical issue and therefore there insurance should pay.

Right? You have to understand business, networking and setting goals. Now there are many exceptions out there and people do make money in massage, some make a good living but you have to be a great manager and a great people person, talent is never enough.

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

Being a male massage therapist is hard. You have to be very good just to keep up with mediocre women practitioners. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women who just got qualified in one form of training or another and they never looked back. Part of their success is they tend to be more organized and detail orientated than men. Another factor is that they are natural healers, listens and empathizers. A lot of massage therapists, all-due-respect, are part-timers with husbands with good jobs as this is the most successful least stressful model for therapist.

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?

I feel that a lot of people going into massage nowadays or fairly recently went in because they got either seduced or subsidized. They were enticed by easy payments and inflated promises of income as their expectations of a living had been systematically down graded. Or, they were part of a population that had a choice:- be a waiter, house-cleaner, construction worker or a massage therapist. They did not think their choices through and end up in the same place no matter what they chose. Under paid and in debt.

Most of these new massage therapists are essentially technicians and not healers. This doesn’t mean that some of them wont eventually reach this level. But they themselves most likely did not have an inner realization, like many of those who went to massage school in the past. When I went to massage school most of us in the classrooms went into massage with the knowledge that we would make less then we could in other industries. We knew that we would not make the same money as a physical therapist for instance. We were practicing massage to help ourselves and to help others. Our trade-off would be purpose, inner gratitude and freedom of a simpler life. Back then massage school was $7000 or less.

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

I will practice as long as people call me up and ask me for a massage.

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?


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?

Don’t work for anyone who promises you, particularly chiropractic offices, a percentage of future clients to build a practice. 40%, 50% and 60% of nothing is nothing. Get compensation in the form of a weekly pay check on an agreed day. I did the former twice and you will go broke faster then it takes the ink in the doctor’s Mont Blanc ink to dry on your small commission check. Value yourself and get paid. Ask for what you need. When it’s thriving practice you can talk about percentages. Don’t think chair massage and Enya on your iPod is going to pay your rent. I does rarely but I would not bet my bills on it.

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?

Choose a school that focuses on the healing path of the practitioner as well as the clients body. It is important to work on yourself as you work on others. Look for schools where the founder of the school or graduates are the teachers. This keeps a good solid continuum of a method or philosophy of the system.

Don’t choose schools that promise great careers or great incomes because everyone promises everything. Read the bios of the teachers and check and see if they are living the path that they teach. In class, when I would watch our body work teacher, Mark, demonstrate techniques and listen to him talk, it made us feel a deep connection to life. This the power of great teachers and that which they impart to the students.

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

Well lets separate afford from qualifying for credit. Most people in America can qualify for credit at massage schools. If you can’t then you might be able to get a co signer or qualify for a grant or scholarship to help you on the path. Most people who achieved something worthwhile had to work for it.

Now you might feel that massage school will take away time from your job or interfere with your schedule. You’ll never know until you ask and investigate fully how you can fit in training with work. If you look at your situation carefully then you might find there is a way. It might not be easy but that does not mean you can’t work through it. Ask yourself how much extra income can you earn after you’re qualified even if it is just doing cheap massage for friends and family or working at cut price massage shop.

You might find that you can furnish those payments easily and do something with great purpose at the same time. Also, ask yourself how do you want your life to be in the next 2-3 years. Will massage therapy bring you closer to your mission and vision of your happiness. If so, find a way.

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?

Massage therapy is power. Forget the industry for a moment. By becoming a CMT you learn about the body, your body and this an enlightening experience.

Years ago I was in the hospital with my little boy who banged his head. We did not need to go but we went any way. 3-hours later we got into the nurse practitioner. While they were looking for a band aid, I happened to look at the notes for patients on the monitor who, like us, had waited for hours. There was a list and on it were the complaints of the patients, things like; soar back, migraine headaches and another for nausea.

These people had limped into hospital for complaints that as a massage therapist you know a hospital is pretty much useless for. As a massage therapist you become in touch with your body and not separate from it, as if it were a car or a washing machine. You learn that things like soar backs can be treated easily and at home or with massage. You learn that a migraine can be treated with a whole host of alternative approaches and nausea goes away with ginger.

For me this has been one of the most rewarding parts of massage. I stopped panicking about the slightest ache and pain and started to take responsibility for my own body and healing. Yes, doctors have their place but you have your place too. It’s in the center of your life.

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?

Yes. Beware of the corporate model. It is out dated and ultimately represents suffering for the industry. Big box massage systems will tell you about their mission, vision and core values but at the end of the day they are in it for profit of the shareholders and nothing else.

Ask the owners and shareholders of these “spreading like wildfire” stores how much they earn then look at the CMT working hard and burning themselves out to make a wage that won’t cover their bills. Good business sense is vital but there are better models out there emerging through non profit and employee own businesses. That is the future. Money for the sake of money is the past.

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.

My wife and son are my passion inside and outside of anything I do.

Adam Sell, CMT, CST

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+

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