My name is Dawn Wagner. I live and work in Omaha, Nebraska. I am a sole-proprietor of a home- based massage therapy business which I named “Assisted Healing”.
I also am an independent contractor at “Massage & Bodywork”, where 5 other massage therapists, one who is also an Esthetician, and 1 acupuncturist practice. Our clientele mainly are seeking therapeutic massage and I am happy to have found a group of therapists whose main goal is therapy, not fluff massage.
The majority of our clients are middle-aged professionals, who are active, seeking therapeutic massage as part of their wellness plan.
I was 29 years old when I decided to go to massage school. I had been working as a medical data entry clerk @ Physician’s Laboratory when I began researching massage therapy. This was a mindless job for me, basically a means to an end. I began saving funds for continuing my education, without fully knowing which direction to go.
In 2000, after abdominal exploratory surgery, a physical therapist recommended that I have a massage. Some time passed, but I did find a therapist, who I learned later had been a Catholic nun prior to becoming an LMT. I feel this history gave her great skills in touch therapy. She was kind and understanding. Plus she really helped me and that in turn taught me that I could help myself.
This is an empowering feeling, one that resides within me even now and one that I teach my clients everyday. The decision to go to massage school was life-changing for me. I was so unhappy. I already had a B.S. in Criminal Justice, but that was going nowhere as jobs were few and pay was low. I had a few good years in a group home for wards of the state, and I knew I still wanted to help people, just in a different way. Going to massage school gave me purpose and value which up until that point I had none.
Until recently, I felt that I had a good massage therapy education. I went to an accredited massage school and was the first student in my class to take and pass the national certification exam. I even had employment before I was a licensed therapist. Nebraska requires 1000 hours of education to apply for a license in massage therapy and the school that I went to did follow through with this, but the teachers were not the best, nor the curriculum.
Sure, I learned everything I needed in order to pass boards, but when it came to recalling muscle origin/insertion and actions – basic Kinesiology, I was quite incompetent. Our Kinesiology teacher was a chiropractor who had been an owner/director at another massage school, now closed. The director of my school thought that he was an invaluable teacher, but he did not require us to palpate origin/insertion points or have a skills lab to pass the class. Most of the time he spent sharing therapy anecdotes with us.
Every question led to a detailed explanation. He could not stay on topic, therefore taught us nothing. Instead we were told to memorize the muscles and their actions, saying the actual learning would happen in our future practice! My other teachers were also massage therapists (whose teachings were based on their own experiences) but not one of them were truly educators. At the time I thought it was great to be taught by LMTs.
I don’t know what it is like at other schools in the state but I know that there has been quite a change in the last decade within the realm of massage education. I feel that a massage trade school that only teaches massage is better than a community college.
Continuing education is another area that needs to be re-evaluated as some schools’ curriculum is not complex enough to teach what is really needed to be successful in practice. I have attended several classes where I was inept in some areas. It would be great to have an anatomy refresher and a pathology class taught by a medical professional who has full knowledge of disease processes.
I specialize in working with clients who have an acute or chronic muscle injury due to overuse and/or abuse. I have had good results with clients who had plantar fasciitis, whiplash injury, sciatica, tendonitis, and scoliosis. I am now accepting clients who have been through cancer treatment, to help with their pain management and improve their quality of life. My compassion for my clients, attention to detail, and planning are the 3 factors to my success as a therapist.
Eleven years into my practice of therapeutic massage, I continue to learn. Perhaps that is what my kinesiology teacher meant. I learn by reading massage therapy publications and taking classes. Mostly however, I learn from my clients. I tell clients often that we are all made with the same parts, but not one of us responds to massage therapy in the same way. We are all individuals and what works for one person, may or may not work for another. I like when I get results when I am working with a client.
Specializing puts a plan in place, and guides both therapist and client towards a similar goal. When that goal is reached, the reward is quite satisfying. I have allowed my clients to somewhat steer my continuing education in the direction that best helps them.
When I went to massage school I had an idea of who my perfect client was, but that has changed significantly since that time. Of course, there are classes that I want to take to add skills to my “toolbox”, but I really do the research making certain that any CEU complements what I do and can be easily integrated. Otherwise, it is a waste of money and time.
This very learning is what keeps me going and that “a-ha” moment when it all comes together. That understanding and visualization is a great motivator to continue working as an LMT.
The one thing that gets truly annoying after repeating myself over and over, is the client that does nothing to help his/herself. One of our goals as a massage therapist is to teach our clients. We want to be part of their “healing process” but they are the driver here.
I know that I am only one part of the solution, so I always give other options for pain management (or whatever their goal). Massage is not magic, but it can feel like it is when it works. It works best when other therapies are utilized in addition to improve its effectiveness. Sometimes it is frustrating for clients when it seems to take too long for expected results to occur. I again refer to “we are the same, yet not the same” to explain.
The three things I would change about the industry are to begin with national certification. I think this is a great program to encourage movement through the country. I don’t understand why it is being changed to board certification, since these are two separate things. If this were up to me, I would maintain the national certification so that those therapists who wished to move would be able to continue their practice with their national certification, hence the very reason it was designed.
I would also implement the board certification as this only increases our efficacy and evidence as a healthy option for pain management (among many other benefits) in the eyes of medical professionals. Secondly, I would implement a standard for massage therapy continuing education. It is ridiculous that in the state of Nebraska, I am required bi-annually to complete 24 hours of CEU.
That is more than nurses need to keep their licenses active! I would also regulate what could be charged for these ceus. Some massage educators do not want to travel to Nebraska. If I want to take a class with John Barnes, I have to travel and that costs way more than I can afford to spend, plus time away from my practice and family. These educators do need to travel to all areas of the country, not only to big communities. The third thing I would change in the industry is to standardize our license.
Some states use CMT, others LMT, etcetera. This only causes confusion. Some regulation is necessary to be accepted as a health practice. When I am invited to speak to groups of people no matter the reason, I always mention that massage therapy is better utilized as a proactive option to maintain good health. We see our doctors annually, why not our massage therapists?
What do we do to take care of ourselves? The answer to that question is often not much. A monthly massage can do many things, relieving stress is only one benefit but stress can wreck havoc on our bodies. Being proactive instead of reactive can be the difference between wellness and illness.
I plan to practice as long as possible. I went to massage school as a second career, hoping that I could practice until retirement. I know many therapists who have been in practice for over 25 years. I am already implementing lighter work into my practice with my acceptance of recovering cancer clients. I also practice Reiki which both helps myself and is a very gentle bodywork approach.
To be absolutely honest, I have not considered what I would do if I could no longer practice massage. It would sadden me greatly if an injury ended my career prematurely, so I take precautions plus have regular massages, chiropractic adjustments and stay active to remain in this field for years to come.
I do not have any other personal sources of income. I am a Massage Therapist full-time, although I only work about 20 hours weekly, which includes client massages and paperwork.
The greatest mistake that I have made since becoming a therapist is divulging too much personal information to clients. We want our clients to be comfortable with us and we want them to know us, but telling our clients our life stories, can put our clients in a position where they are giving us advice. In the therapeutic relationship, our role is to create a boundary between therapist and client.
When that boundary is not there, or blurred, we say or do things that are not professional. It is a hard line to cross back over from once it has been breached. With some clients, it is easy to be professional, but with others who feel like “friends”, it can be harder to remove ourselves from the temptation. I know a few therapists who have spent time outside the “office” with clients, while I myself have never done that.
In fact, if I see clients in public, I have never addressed them unless they address me first. Role reversal happens even when we are careful. Within our profession, clients are vulnerable and we are there to help them, not add to their stress. We don’t ever want to do that!
One other mistake that I really want to stress is to take care of yourself and no matter what do not go beyond your own personal ability. Client’s often ask for deeper pressure or even to use tools during the session. If you do not have experience with any tool or if you have reached the depth you are able and/or comfortable at, tell the client. Refer out when necessary.
Not everyone will want or need deep tissue massage. Don’t hurt yourself in order to help your client. You will only be hurting yourself in the process by doing something that you cannot do. Practice self-care daily. It needs to be a priority for every professional doing any kind of manual therapy, which is very hard work and over time very hard on our bodies. Learn what your limits are and stick to them.
If you have an injury, you will have to take time off to allow for healing. Listen to your body. Massage therapists leave the profession every year due to injury. Your hands are your tools so please take care of them. (During massage school, my teachers stressed the importance of regular massage therapy, exercise, chiropractic adjustments and rest. These are all very important to maintain your own muscle health. I continue to struggle with making my own wellness a priority.
I was much better when I first began my practice, but that was mainly due to having more free-time due to my slowly growing practice. Now that I am busy, finding time for self-care, even restful sleep is in short-supply. I tell clients daily that regular, bi-monthly or monthly massages go a long way towards maintaining overall good health and yet I struggle with my own advice. Develop your own wellness plan and stick to it. Preventing burnout and/or injury is an often over-looked.)
When researching massage schools, look first at your own community. Make phone calls and set up visits. Attend seminars ahead of time if you can to see if you are a good fit. Ask about class size and who teaches these classes. What is the cost? How long is the program and what are its components? You need to attend an accredited health sciences massage school because there are regulations that must be met and kept to keep this certification. Attend a massage school not a community college.
Go out of state if necessary or check out the online programs that are available now that only require quarterly attendance. Do you want to attend a clinical or healing program? Where do you want to practice when you are done with school? If you have not had a massage yourself, go get one or several.
Experience bodywork for yourself beforehand so you know that you truly want to do this work. While you are in school, do the best you can..adult learning is much different than college. What you get out of it is directly related to what you put in and don’t expect rewards from your teachers, that comes from yourself.
If you cannot afford to attend massage school, there are grants available. Do the research. I saved for 6 months leading up to massage school so I would not have a large loan to pay off afterward. This helped tremendously. Some schools include the cost of books and/or equipment as part of the tuition. Others allow you to make payments. There are options.
Find your niche in the profession. There is a reason you want to go to massage school, right? That reason may change during the course of the program. However, finding your niche will help set you apart from other therapists. There are thousands of massage therapists in this country.
In Nebraska, a state with fewer people, approximately 1.86 million as of 2012, there are more than 2300 therapists. There are more than enough potential clients for all of us. Remember that although massage therapy has a long and rich history, it was very recently that it has become a widespread and yet only somewhat accepted health service. In 2002 when I went to school, it seemed that my community was nearly saturated with LMTs.
I am glad that I attended school 12 years ago because today my practice is full, yet I continue to see new clients every month. Don’t ever stop accepting new clients and don’t get so full in your schedule that new clients have to wait months to see you. Being busy is great, but not so busy that you never see a new face. 20% of your clients do bring in 80% of your income.
Be the successful therapist that is flexible and accommodating. You will need to set limits and keep these, but staying late one night to for a new client, can change everything for you. When an opportunity comes your way, always weigh the options. Learn, learn, learn. Practice, practice, practice. Be the therapist that others aspire to be!
Become a member of ABMP – Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. There are other organizations out there for malpractice insurance. A professional organization is a great resource and you will need to protect yourself if a client is ever hurt by you. Our intention is to never do this, but it still can happen. I became a member of ABMP when I was a student in massage school and have been faithful to them ever since. Donate massage therapy services for fundraisers and raffles.
This is a great way to promote yourself and potentially meet a new client. Donating even a couple hours each year is enough to bring in new clients. Network with other massage therapy professionals on LinkedIn, which has become an invaluable tool for me. When I am puzzled over a client, I post my thoughts and questions. Answers abound and options are seemingly limitless.
One nugget of information offered by a peer can be the inspiration you need to change course and see results. Don’t go beyond your scope and don’t be afraid to refer out. The latter can feel like defeat, but when you network, building relationships with like-minded professionals, referring is the best thing you can do for them. If you cannot help them personally, find someone who can.
One prediction for the future: If we can get our politicians to lobby for proactive health practices that reduce our health insurance premiums, utilization of massage therapy would skyrocket.
My passion outside of massage is travel. Although in the last 12 years, my travel has not been extensive due to time constraints, I do love to see new places. Someday, I hope to go to Europe. I also have a great desire to see New Zealand. I have a bit of wanderlust and if I had the time and money, I would get in my car and drive. I am not in love with air travel, but I love to drive.
There is so much to see in our wonderful country and flying diminishes that. I also love to read and have since I was very young. My mother always said “the more you read, the more you know”. I know lots of things, but mostly I know how to spell. I see misspelled words often before anyone else I know.
My mind is constantly correcting and rewording. If I was not a successful massage therapist, I suppose I could be an editor. Spending time outdoors doing anything when the weather is accommodating, of course. That can be a challenge in Nebraska, but we do have nice, sunny days often, so we all play hooky together, no matter the season, which are summer, Nebraska football, and dirty car.
Dawn Wagner can be reached here.