Changing course from one career to another to find more meaning in life can be a scary place to be. It can also be empowering and adventurous for the brave ones who make the jump. Once you’ve jumped, though, how can you incorporate learned skills and abilities into your new massage career?
We spoke with six massage therapists of various career backgrounds about how they draw on their past careers to support their massage practice today.
Tina M. Horton, CMT
Former career: Process engineer
Current focus: Deep tissue massage
Years in massage practice: 8
Before Tina Horton dove into orthopedic massage and treated clients with frozen shoulder and sciatica, she used her hands to construct metal frames and structures as an engineer.
“I was a process engineer for a metal fabricating company,” she said. “I personally designed fixtures and created structures for the railroad company all the way down to Coachmen campers. I designed [everything from] window frames to the front assembly of generators.”
Horton’s job as a process engineer was to take the given specs and create a structure that welders at the metal plant could use to construct pieces that would fit the specs exactly.
Eight years ago Horton started working in massage and has found herself drawing on her engineering background in her practice. “Engineering helps me see the whole shoulder as a girdle and not just a rotator cuff, or the pecs or this muscle or that muscle,” she said. “I see the whole thing.
“Massage therapy is similar to engineering in that people come to you with a problem and you have to solve it,” Horton added. “You have to figure out the why to their pain and then design a treatment plan that addresses it.”
La Shauna Moore, LMT, COS, PAc, CMCP
Former career: Accountant, tax professional
Current focus: Licensed massage therapist, cosmetologist
Years in massage practice: 11
At 17 years old, La Shauna Moore started out as a bookkeeper for her aunt who was a CPA. She furthered her training and became a tax professional. But after years of working with numbers, she found her career in accounting didn’t challenge her. She also craved person-to-person interaction and fulfilling a greater purpose to serve others in a healing capacity. So she decided to pursue cosmetology and massage therapy.
“I love the hands-on aspect of massage and I love being able to help people,” Moore said. “I enjoy being able to educate society about the benefits of massage.”
While in massage school, she knew she wanted to start her own day spa and be her own boss. Her accounting skills fit right in. “My accounting background definitely helped me understand running the business better,” she said. “Having the background and knowing what the finances are, where and how they are allocated, and how to utilize finances better definitely came in handy.” (Having years of experience in accounting and seeing how much this skill is necessary for the entrepreneur massage therapist, Moore recommends that every therapist take a basic bookkeeping class. “A basic accounting class or basic tax class should be a necessity for every massage therapist for checks and balances,” she said.)
Don’t be shy about having a different background, even if it is something as different as plumbing or accounting, said Moore, because there is something you can bring to the table.
“I would never forget about an old career or education, because you never know when or if it will come into play,” she said. “Experience is something that no one can take away from you. If nothing else, you can use it to barter for services.”
Diane E. Heck, LMT, skin therapist and Reiki master
Former career: Journalist
Current focus: Massage therapy and energy work
Years in massage practice: 24
As a community news journalist, Diane E. Heck knew how to connect with people and learn about them in a way that didn’t seem intrusive. In her former career, she perfected her interviewing and conversation skills.
“I found out that I had people skills, and I became more of an empath when I was talking to people and could figure out different things about them,” Heck said. Today, her conversation skills honed through journalism create an easy, relaxed atmosphere where clients can feel safe enough to step out of their comfort zone.
Heck discovered massage after writing an article about the Baltimore School of Massage. “A light bulb went off and I realized I am supposed to go to this school,” she said. Today, she can build trust with a person in just a brief conversation due to her past career as a journalist. Timing is everything when it comes to clients who are tough to open up about why they are really there. “I let them sink into the table and I just know when to ask them questions at the right time to get them to open up,” Heck said.
Michael Moore, LMT
Former career: Security policeman (now called security force) in the U.S. Air Force
Current focus: Orthopedic sports massage and medical massage
Years in massage practice: 24
As a former United States Air Force security policeman, Michael Moore brings discipline and professionalism into his massage therapy practice. “There are many lessons I learned in the military that have carried over to my almost 25-year career as a massage therapist,” he said. “Most importantly, show up on time.”
Moore treats his career and massage practice as a business and sets the expectation for himself of what an employer would expect, despite having his own business and setting his own hours. Showing up and being professional is a major part of who he is and how he presents himself to clients. “If I showed up late for work in the military, especially with an attitude, I’d seriously regret it,” he explained.
Professionalism for Moore also means looking the part. “I wear a uniform to work. I actually get ragged on by old massage friends for wearing a uniform [but] uniforms give a sense of professionalism, and being part of a team,” he said. “It gives clients confidence that they are being treated by professionals.”
Eglė Milavickas, LMT, CIHC
Former career: Trademark paralegal
Current focus: Customized therapeutic massage
Years in massage practice: 10
Eglė Milavickas spent years working with attorneys domestically and internationally, as a trademark paralegal for the Mars Wrigley company. Her job was to research slogans and product names for trademarks. “I really enjoyed the relationships I created and speaking with attorneys from all over the world,” she said. “It was also fun seeing my work out there, whether it was on a billboard or a website or packaging, advertisements or magazines.”
Milavickas, while working closely with an attorney at the company, learned a valuable skill that serves her to this day, not only in her massage practice but in life in general. “I came to her and said here is what I’m looking at, here’s the issue, help me,” recalls Milavickas.The attorney sent her back to her desk to answer her own question. “She told me I want you to do the research, I want you to apply why you think this is the solution to the problem,” she said. “Instead of her giving me the answer it was like, I can do this. It has really stuck with me and gave me accountability.”
In similar fashion, she is empowering her clients to be accountable for their well-being. “Asking questions and investigating helps my clients become aware of what they could be doing, so that it is not just here is where it hurts, fix me. I am also having them take part in their health and wellness.”
Leigh Anne Milne, RMT, certified yoga therapist with IAYT (C-IAYT)
Former career: Commercial fishing
Current focus: Holistic evidence-informed massage therapy and yoga
Years in massage practice: 31
Over three decades ago, Leigh Anne Milne was visiting a friend in the small fishing town of Ucluelet, British Columbia, when she was taken aback by the beauty of fishing boats entering the harbor.
“I took a look at this harbor full of these boats and I was so overcome by it that I had to be in it,” Milne said. That was the beginning of her commercial fishing career, where she spent weeks at a time 50 miles offshore on a commercial fishing boat. She pulled lines, brought in the fish, cleaned lines, filled the freezer holes, untangled lines, and completed the round-the-clock tasks of a deckhand, oftentimes in high winds and with elemental obstacles in front of her.
“It is dangerous work. I am in awe that I did it. And I did it all,” Milne said. “It really set me up going forward. I have always been independent. I didn’t have any hesitation to set up my own practice, to own a practice, or run a practice and hire other therapists. None of that ever felt insurmountable to me,” she said.
Milne said being out there helped strengthen her sense of independence, quick thinking and being able to have the confidence in herself to take on any life challenge. “Fear has not held me back. [My fishing career] helped me to have strength and belief in myself,” she said.
Milne said you can find the links that can relate to massage, and there are plenty if you look hard enough. “Find what it is you are bringing forth. It may be your maturity going into a second career. It may be communication skills. There is something in almost everything that a person can find to link to massage; if not from their career it may be from their life skills.”
For Career Development, Make a List
You have also developed strengths in previous jobs that can translate into your massage practice, but how do you determine what those skills are?
When working with coaching clients, massage therapist and life coach Savannah Mayfield, LMT, asks them to make a list of their strengths and skills. The list is broken down into two categories: hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills are measurable, for instance a second language, software fluency, math or accounting and so forth. Soft skills are personal traits like empathy, a passion for learning or good communication and listening skills. After completing this exercise, Mayfield said many future massage therapists are surprised to find how much of their previous career experience is relevant to massage.
Toi Beaman Leal, CMT, a massage therapy instructor at School of Integrative Psycho Structural Bodywork, suggests making another type of list: one of accomplishments.
“Gather a list of accomplishments from previous roles, whether paid or unpaid, and notice if there’s a common thread,” she said. “These accomplishments typically are a reflection of when you were functioning at your best, when you believed in yourself and your abilities. This self-reflection, she said, will help you gain self-confidence and provide the groundwork for interviews and résumé writing.
No matter what you’ve done in the past, you have skills, experiences and learned abilities you can apply today to your massage therapy practice.
About the Author
Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 18 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Will Touch in Long-Term Care Facilities be Changed Forever by COVID-19?” and “The Massage Therapist’s Guide to Assisted Stretching Techniques.”