A shorter version of this interview appeared in the September 2016 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.
Michael Coffee, M.M.P., N.C.M.T., 34, of Pueblo, Colorado, specializes in medical massage as well as myofascial release work. He graduated from the Jade Daniels Institute of Massage & The Healing Arts in Roanoke, Virginia, and currently works with three physical therapists and two physical therapy assistants (pt-connections.com). A father of two, he lives in Pueblo with his wife, Christina.
When and how did you decide massage therapy was the right career for you?
A: When I was 7, my mother was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a very painful neurological condition, in her right thumb. By [the time I was] 8, it had spread throughout her whole body, causing extreme, constant pain. By 13, after years of praying and asking Santa Claus to help, I purchased a book on the history of massage at a local bookstore, which included some instruction on basic techniques. It was the first purchase I ever made, besides candy and soft drinks as a kid. Though at the time my mother was in so much pain [I could] barely hug her, let alone massage her, the neighbor kids all benefited from my newly found inspiration. I have always loved helping people because I’ve seen firsthand what constant pain can do to someone.
What challenges do therapists face that are unique to working in a physical therapy clinic?
A: Originally, ego and a misunderstanding of what physical therapy is. The great thing with us working together was a better understanding of our given professions. One of the great advantages of working with physical therapists is having them refer for massage, and not just to the massage therapist they have on-site, but to all licensed massage therapists in my city; we refer out because of how busy our massage program has become. It’s greatest for my clients who have the most to gain when licensed massage therapists and physical therapists work in collaboration to make them better, faster.
What role does a massage therapist play on a physical therapy team?
A: Depending on experience, those roles may vary. My role has changed as I have done more continuing education. If you were to ask the physical therapists, my role is one that allows physical therapy patients to come back to the clinic, even after treatment, which opens more chances to get the whole family in for physical therapy and massage. Also, it allows the physical therapists to focus more on multi-functional movement, and less on any injurious issues in the tissues, getting clients better, faster, with a bonus of a massage to either relax the patient, or to complement the particular therapy being given.
How do you define individual massage session success?
A: I define [it] by how the client feels after that massage. When first starting out as a licensed massage therapist, I was at times bored halfway through a Swedish massage. Now, there’s not enough time to do [all] the things I want to do during a session. How the client feels physically and mentally after a massage dictates whether or not that person will return or send family and friends to see me.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a massage therapist?
A: Helping people get back to the ones they love and the things they love doing, fast, without the side effects of drugs. In short, helping others, and being of service to others, is one of the most rewarding things in life.
How do you balance your work life and your family life?
A: Recently I have set boundaries and started giving myself more time off to be with family. For a while I was working six days a week, which is not healthy for one’s family. By respecting my time more, [I find] my family is much happier.
What do you do for self-care and in your free time, to stay healthy and energized?
A: I love getting massages by trading off with other therapists in Pueblo.
What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career in massage and bodywork that you wish someone had given you?
A: I wish someone would have suggested a personal training degree or physical therapy assistant degree to help complement my massage license.
In five years, where do you see yourself and your career?
A: I would love to be teaching massage and helping others achieve their potential in massage therapy. I love our profession.