After more than a decade as a physical therapy assistant, Julie Azzopardi was looking for a new avenue to expand her career. Last year, she graduated from a massage therapy program and now provides services through an Alpena, Mich. health spa. Julie shares with CareerColleges.com her thoughts on picking a specialty, self-marketing and what makes massage therapy a great career choice.
Q. How did you find your job?
A. Ironically enough, (I found it when) my partner and I went into a massage center for a massage. I was in a different room getting my massage, and he was actually with the owner of the massage center. At the end of that session, he mentioned his girlfriend had just graduated from a massage therapy program and she said, "Oh really? I need a massage therapist!"
So it was kind of a fluke accident, but there are actually a lot of jobs up here for massage therapy. I was quite surprised because this is such as small, rural community. I had two, possibly three, other opportunities to do massage as well.
Q. How did you deal with nerves when you first started working with real clients?
A. Having been in physical therapy for more than 11 years, some of that had of course subsided, but I was definitely still nervous because (massage therapy) was new for me.
One thing they really did teach us in school was how important grounding is and how important it is to be present in the session so your mind isn't scattered about the ten things you have to do afterward. Deep breathing and being rooted were techniques that helped.
Q. What is a typical workday like?
A. A typical day for me, on a Saturday for example, is that I am in (to work) at 10 in the morning. If I have a 10 a.m. client, then I am usually there a half hour beforehand, so I can get the room ready. You get a half hour between clients to turn around the table, and there is front office staff that can change the table if you are really busy.
So if I have a 10 a.m. (client), that could go from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then my next one could come in at 11:30 a.m. and be there until 12:30 p.m. I could have as many as four clients a day or as little as two, and client sessions last as short as a half hour and as long as an hour and a half.
Q. Do you ever travel for work? If so, how often?
A. Nope, and that is just by choice. There are traveling massage therapists that go into homes and do it that way. But that's hard.
I did actually do that once for a woman who was doing a party and wanted half hour massages (as part of it). She asked me to do it which was great -- and again, that was a way to market myself.
But it was hard work to load up and unload (everything), plus I had five clients Saturday and five clients Sunday. I was tired. I had to change the sheets in between each session, make sure a cloth was there, and bring all my lotion and aromatherapy. It was a lot (to do). I didn't mind doing it, but it's not something I would want to do all the time.
Q. How do you combat getting tired from working long hours on patients? Do you get massages yourself when your muscles get tired?
A. Absolutely, I do try to get trades in. We do trades amongst our other colleagues in the spa. I have been trying to get them as frequently as I can -- usually about once a week to once every other week.
But I've been really fortunate in the sense that I don't overburden myself. I do really try to keep that balance. If I am not able to do massages, I am able to block my schedule off. (The job) is flexible in that sense.
Q. Have you ever had a troublesome client, and if so, how did you deal with the situation?
A. Yes I have. It was one of my first days at the spa, and I had a client who wanted a deeper massage than I could give her. I did what I could, but she ended up leaving, saying it was not what she wanted and that she wanted a deeper tissue massage. I said I was sorry and that it was the best I could do.
I don't beat myself up about that -- obviously I am not the therapist for her if she wanted someone to go really deep and beat her up -- in essence, that's how deep of a massage she wanted. I wasn't offended. Some people are going to come to me and not like me and other people are going to come to me and say, "Wow, that was a fantastic massage."
Q. What is the most challenging part of your job?
A. As a massage therapist, I would say marketing is the toughest thing. Even though the spa I work at does market (itself), to get the repeat clients I want -- to have that clientele I want to have follow me -- I do need to market myself.
Q. Do you have any self-marketing tips for new massage therapists?
A. There's a lot of different ways to market (yourself). Again, fortunately I work in a massage center that does a lot of (its own) marketing such as on its website, around town or in the massage center itself.
I've attended wedding conventions, farmer's markets and other community resources -- anything to put your name out there. Now with the holidays and Christmas coming up, a lot of fundraisers are going on, and I try to put my name out there that way as well.
Q. Do you find your own clients? If so, how?
A. Marketing is definitely really important. If you market yourself, that's how you get clients. We do get walk-ins or people calling who just want a massage and have never been to our massage center -- or who have been there but aren't particular about the therapist. So I have those clients that come in, but it is also very important to market (yourself), so I hand out my business cards when I can.
Q. What kind of areas can a massage therapist specialize in? And do you think students should choose a specialty right away?
A. There are so many different aspects they could specialize in. They could specialize in prenatal or pregnancy massage, myofascial release, cranial sacral therapy, deep tissue or sports medicine.
I didn't specialize, and instead chose a general health and wellness focus. I've (been able to address) an array of different diagnoses and have been able to incorporate a number of different modalities (into my work) such as myfascial release, cranial sacral, deep tissue and Swedish massage.
But if someone really does want to specialize in something such as sports medicine, they could do that as well. They can specialize right away if they like, but it's not necessary.
Q. What do you like most about being a massage therapist?
A. I would say the flexibility. There is a lot of (schedule) flexibility in massage therapy which I do really like. I can work some days; I don't have to work other days. I can make my own hours. Of course, if I don't work, I don't get paid. But if my body says it needs a break today, I can block off that time or if I have errands to run or an appointment, I can block off my schedule for that.
I also like the versatility I get from clients. Different clients want different things, whether that is to focus on their backs or just their legs. I am able to use different modalities such as myofascial release, cranial sacral or acupressure in my treatments.
Q. What advice would you give to those who are interested in going into massage therapy?
A. The advice I would give is to make sure they have that willingness to help others. They need to want to help others heal from injuries or pain. If they are looking for money or if they are just looking to pass time and don't have that genuine desire to help others, I feel they are going to go into it for the wrong reasons.
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