Former Fashion Designer Debra Bernath Finds Massage Therapy a Way to Express Art Much Like in Fashion

Debra Bernath1. 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? I am an independent 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 began my practice 7 years ago working in three locations: NYC, Jersey City and in Maplewood, NJ. I would visit people’s homes in NYC. In Jersey City I had an extra room in my apartment (would only see referred clients.) in Maplewood I rented a room in a yoga center and continue to be there still to this day.

Initially shared the room with two other therapists- an acupuncturist and reiki therapist, now I am alone, but do rent the room to other therapists from time to time. I still have a few clients in NYC and Jersey City that I visit. Clients in NYC have their own tables so don’t have to carry mine in or I see clients at a rented space in the city. I will visit clients at their homes in NJ, but this is not the bulk of my business. Most clients visit me at my office.

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?

It started way back in 1995 when I went to a talk about Traditional Chinese medicine and learned about Qigong. The talk given by a Chinese Doctor, demonstrated some hand techniques that I caught onto easily. Next thing I started to study Qigong Meridian Therapy, with this Chinese Doctor. I was working in the Fashion Industry as a Textile Designer where I saw many stressed out people. I used to offer this to my colleagues during breaks and they left transformed. It was pretty amazing!

Then I wanted to learn Reflexology. Because the meridians begin and end in the feet, hands, face and ears I knew there had to be something to this Reflexology, besides, I melted when my own feet were worked on. The Fashion World is very stressful industry.

I was sitting in front of a computer for many hours everyday doing design work. I didn’t want to continue working this way. My posture and eyes were bothered from continually staring and sitting in front of a computer. Also, it was pretty cool seeing how people were transformed after working on them with the Qigong Meridian Therapy (QMT) and Reflexology.

I always enjoyed working on people and thought that it would be more rewarding to help people de-stress opposed to being stressed all the time. Originally, I thought NYC would be my work location and in order to have a business offering Reflexology and QMTs, I would need a Massage License.

So, then I started exploring schools and opportunities. Because of my new personal relationship, I ended up moving to New Jersey and decided to go to school in NJ for the NY state program, a much longer program than in NJ. I also thought that doing this kind of work would give me time to work on my own artwork-botanical illustration.

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.

I was concerned with the cost of going to massage school and the quality of the school. The program was important to me. After studying with a Dr. of Chinese medicine for two years, I had high expectations. What were the teachers like? What was the curriculum? How long would it take? Etc.

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

I have several specialties based in similar principle of working with energy pathways, be that meridians, points, or reflexes. I am also certified in Pre-natal massage, Reflexology and Qigong Meridian therapy, which are all special and unique. Three contributing factors to my success: persistence, offering several different modalities, and doing good work. There are more factors too, online scheduling, website, offering classes, getting myself known in the community.

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

I love what I do! My work is very creative. It is all about wellness and stress reduction. My clients come to me for many reasons, but they leave feeling great! How good is that?

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

I am not crazy about the necessary business part. Having to keep track of payment, paying sales tax, scheduling, etc. I would prefer to focus on studying more about bodywork and how I can better serve my clients.

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?

This industry deserves more respect as a profession, because what we can do for people helps them tremendously. Reducing stress, pain, suffering is preventive medicine. The healthcare industry could encourage people to seek out this work for their health benefit.

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

I plan to work as much as I am able and eventually to teach more. Currently teach Reflexology in a massage school and possibly another. I also have a program to learn Reflexology for certification and am working on continuing ed credits.

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?

This is my only job at the time.

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 give your work away. In the beginning, you want people to experience your work and you need to practice on people, but don’t forget your worth as a therapist. If you work in fairs to get yourself out there, always ask for something. If you don’t feel comfortable yet, then take donations for a cause you believe in. Also, take good care of yourself-exercise, do yoga or qigong as a regular practice.

Get bodywork yourself. In the beginning you want to get clients, so you take people at all hours and times. Be careful about this. Create your boundaries of time you are willing to work. Also, don’t burn yourself out by doing too many sessions in one day. If you do a lot of sessions in one day, make sure you get enough rest and don’t do that many the next day. Contact your clients before and after sessions to remind them of their session and to follow-up with how they enjoyed their session.

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?

When I was searching for a school, there were several things I looked for: the reputation of the school, the size of the classes, when the classes were offered ( I was also working so needed a schedule that would work with my working schedule), where the school was located ( I live in a heavily trafficked metropolitan area, so driving is a factor).

I would also inquire how much “hands-on” experience you get on the table, visit the school itself and observe the facilities and attend a few classes, learn about the instructor’s backgrounds. In the end, it has to feel right for you.

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

There are loans!

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?

This seems like a glamorous career on the outside, but it takes a lot of work! You must love what you do, love your clients, love learning. I am always studying and taking classes on bodywork. Finishing massage school is only the beginning. There are continuing ed courses required for NCTMB as well as many state certification and license. You may want to explore some new technique or deepen your knowledge about working with the neck and shoulder for instance.

Think about where you want to go with this. Is it part-time, full-time? Do you want to work for a spa or other establishment where they will market and supply your clients? You make less money this way and are on a schedule, but maybe this is more secure for you. Do you want your own practice?

This takes a lot of dedication and focus. You will need a good website, business cards, brochures, marketing and I suggest online scheduling or someone to make your appointments (I use online scheduling which helps me tremendously). It takes time to build your clientele. You must have patience and perseverance. Can you afford to take this route?

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?

More and more people are searching for not only a great massage, but are looking for overall well being. People appreciate a therapist who has more to offer them in ways that help them distress, help them recover from injury, pain and suffering. Target your practice for specific needs.

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.

I am an artist through and through, be it either working with the human body through bodywork or creating illustrations of plants, trees and flowers. Being in nature is restorative for me as well as my Qigong practice of 20 years.

Debra Bernath LMT, NCTMB, ARCB is a Licensed/Certified Bodyworker, Reflexologis, a Teacher and is the owner operator of Energy Pathways to Harmony.  You can connect with her on Facebook here.

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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