Hello, my name is Leslie Olsen, and I am a 23-year Licensed Massage Therapist. I have a Master’s degree in Health Policy, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Health Coach, Fitness Coaching Specialist, and I have worked in the field of fitness, health, and wellness for over thirty years.
I am from Ottawa, Canada, and for most of life and in all seasons, I have been physically active – I think I was born with sneakers on. Intramural sports in high school, running, skiing, swimming, competitive rowing in university, and a willingness to try anything, except sky diving, bungee jumping or cliff diving.
I rode my bike to work and school, I rode my bike to sports, and when at work I took time to run at lunch. In 1979, exercise became my job after I participated in my first ‘Aerobics Dance’ class and I became a Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor and more recently, a Health Coach.
In 1987, while riding my bike, I was in an accident – hit by a truck, maybe sky diving is safer? I argued with the ambulance attendant that I was fine; just give me my bike so I can ride home. It lay there on the road, in rough shape – almost bent in half. Of course, I was in shock, but I just wanted to get home and refused to get in the ambulance. A few hours later, when I realized I could hardly sit down, I went to the hospital. Nothing broken, just a lot of bruises, but over the next few months, the problems intensified, I was in constant pain, and nothing seemed to help.
A few months later, a Chiropractor suggested I try massage therapy and I was introduced to my first professional massage albeit reluctantly. I thought the therapist was a sadist because it hurt so much; but the next day I felt so much better, that massage became an integral part of my recovery and ultimately my life.
I moved to the US in 1990 after marrying an American Air Force Officer, who I had met in Ottawa. We moved to Tampa, close to MacDill AFB. One of the first things I did was to find an LMT, who told me about a local massage therapy school. I had started a Master’s degree and then became pregnant (a trip to Las Vegas will do that).
I switched gears and enrolled at the school. At the time, tuition was much less than it is now. We could afford it easily, and I thought it would be a great part-time job that I could take with me no matter where I lived – have table, will travel.
The academic component was easy since I had studied Biology, Anatomy, and Physiology, but some of my classmates struggled. I had no preconceived image of the structure of a massage curriculum; however, I soon discovered a few problems with this school, which is now closed.
First, massage therapy sometimes attracts people with questionable intent. Second, the staff laboriously attempted to draw out the negative emotions in the students. People literally lost it during their introduction; apparently, this was to reinforce a bond.
In general, we become LMTs as a viable career option, but for some massage therapy releases years of physical and emotional pain. Third, I was pregnant for the entire time, and it was my first summer in Florida. This led to good and bad repercussions, I received many massages but that belly sure got in the way. I delivered my son three weeks after graduation.
In the 1990s, we still had to do a manual example of our work for the exam. Thankfully, I was not pregnant for that, and after I passed the licensing exams, I worked in a small clinic making $12/hour. Two years later, I found a job at a local gym where I coordinated the Aerobics department and offered massage therapy.
The demands on my schedule were intense. I juggled family time with work unsuccessfully, and combined with other factors, a divorce ensued. I started my own practice going to people’s homes in order to be more flexible with my time. The money was great, but this type of practice adds to the toll on your body. I remarried and after the birth of my second child, I rented space in a local massage establishment and started at a chiropractor’s office.
Consequently, I discovered my only issues with the industry, which I call The Clash of the Insurance Titan and the Woes of Rent. I discovered to my chagrin that the chiropractic staff was charging for ‘additional services’ without informing me and definitely not paying me.
In addition, the proprietor and owner of the building where I worked kept trying to raise my rent in spite of my insistence that I only wanted to work part-time. I acquiesce to the recent PIP changes surrounding massage billing; a lot of money was made.
The expansion in the field of massage therapy in terms of modalities and acceptance certainly reinforces the accomplishments within the industry. People ask me about what works bests for what condition, thus I have tried just about everything available so that I could provide at least a description of the experience.
Acupuncture, Thai massage, energy work, colonics, Rolfing, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and the multitude of courses for my continuing credit requirements represent the tip of my iceberg. Initially, we are less selective since any work is good work but eventually, we find our niche. I found mine with athletes who needed deep work and muscle recovery as well as seniors who were suffering from the conundrums of aging, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and arthritis.
Nevertheless, the benefits of massage are not fully quantifiable since we cannot apply pure statistics as proof of our successes, only the personal gratitude we receive. Often we treat people once or twice, others become regulars; and occasionally, we cannot establish a rapport, and our efforts seem futile.
Therefore, in spite of the growth, it is difficult to measure how many people we help. Each person is different and every treatment leads to different outcomes. The analogy that I find works for exercise and massage: it took you ten years to get where you are today and you want me to fix you in one hour!
Academically, we understand the myriad of benefits from massage therapy. Pain relief, increased blood circulation, reduced stress, as well as other physiological markers, but for massage practitioners, we know it is much more with plenty of anecdotal evidence. Many people go on with their day-to-day lives in discomfort for a variety of reasons.
They search for help unsuccessfully, or they accept their pain as normal and ignore it. Furthermore, they question mainstream health care but remain ignorant or apathetic to their options, adhering to powerful and fast acting drugs, unsuccessful interventions, and surgery.
If you are seriously contemplating a career as a LMT, then spend a day or at least a few hours at a school. Compare curriculums, tuition fees, and consider a student loan. The internet abounds with advice – use it. Talk to other therapists as well.
It takes time to establish a financially stable practice, and we make plenty of mistakes along the way. If you are not physically strong, avoid too much deep work or monitor your body carefully. Trust your intuition. Massage therapy is phenomenal but it is also hard physically and emotionally.
At first I thought I was superwoman and that I alone could fix everything, but I could not. Ego aside, I have only so much to give. The ‘face’ of my clients has undergone numerous metamorphoses over the years, and maybe this reflects the changes in my own life as I relented to my limitations. In 2011, I nearly lost my lower right leg in a bizarre accident, not a bike just a faulty glass door; and I continue to struggle with the ramifications on me as the person, the athlete, and the therapist.
As a twenty-three year veteran, I ascribe that this is a successful career. I love giving massages almost as much as I love receiving them. I am now publishing articles on fitness, health, nutrition, wellness, the benefits of massage, and I have made a little money. I continue to lead aerobic classes, run, and bike. At this time, after a brief hiatus, I hope to start up again part-time at a local spa like facility.
I believe that the field of massage therapy will continue to grow. Recent changes in health care policy and insurance regulations indicate that changes are afoot. The outrageous cost of medical treatments on the individual and on the economy in this country aligns with the research on the fundamental importance of preventative measures in terms of morbidity and disease.
Finally, in this perennially changing world of social networking and media, a constant in life is the need for touch. Never stop getting massages.
You can reach Leslie M. Olsen, MPA on her LinkedIn page here, on her Twitter page here or at her Facebook page here.
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