For our latest entry in our graduate spotlight series, we’re switching things up a bit. Instead of interviewing a grad and writing about our conversation, we handed over the whole blog to her! 

In this post, Claudia Wattel tells the story of her massage therapy career in her own words—from going back to school as an adult, to starting her own business in her small town. 

Hello! My name is Claudia Wattel, RMT. I run my own home-based massage clinic, R.E.M Massage in Barrhead, Alberta. I graduated from MH Vicars of Massage Therapy in Edmonton in 2017.

 

For me, going back to school was a life-changing event in more ways than one. When I decided to go back to school and pursue a career in massage, it was a now-or-never moment in my life. It was also, in a lot of ways, a spur of the moment decision.

 

I was 43 years old and I had already been a single mom for many years. I was looking for something that would be fulfilling and I wanted to do something that would benefit the health of others. I was looking for a career that would give me freedom and would not tie me to a specific place.

 

I also wanted options so that I would never feel stuck in any job. At the time, I was working full time as manager of a furniture store. I was doing okay making a living off of that, but knew that something had to change if I ever wanted to get ahead financially so that one day I could retire.  

 

I was also looking for a career where I could attend school while working full time. After doing a lot of research I was pulled in the direction of massage therapy because MH Vicars offered a blended-learning schedule option that would make this possible. 

 

But I still was not sure I would like it. So when I saw that MH Vicars was offering a weekend introductory massage course, I signed up for it.

 

This in itself was way out of my comfort zone, but I decided if I was ever going to do it then now was the time. My two older children had already graduated and in the work force, and my youngest daughter was in high school. I wanted to be done my own schooling before she went into her grade 12 year—I wanted to be able to dedicate my time to her in her graduation year.  

 

After taking the weekend massage course, I decided to jump in with both feet. I was called into MH Vicars for an interview after which I was accepted into the weekly program.

 

I will admit it was a very tough 2 years. But I knew it was doable. I remember thinking when I started that if I can make the pass grade of 75% I will be happy. Being a mature student, I knew that failure really was not an option. There is not only a lot of money invested into education but also a lot of time. Time is a precious commodity. And I will admit—there is also a sense of pride that is not always there when you are younger. There was no way I was going to go home at the end and have to tell people that I failed! 

 

I was working full time most weeks. I had two days off each week: Sunday and Wednesday, the day I had class. 

 

The first year I was in school from 9am-5pm (plus the commute to and from Barrhead, which is 2 hours each way). I also did about 4-5 hours of independent study work every weekday evening and most weekends. 

 

Once public clinic was added into the mix, it became even more time-consuming. I chose to do my public clinic shifts on Wednesdays after class so that I wouldn’t have to drive into the city more often than necessary. So I was in school pretty much every Wednesday from 9am-9 pm. 

 

I was thankful that my kids were older and fairly self-sufficient. I was also thankful that I had a strong support system: my sister and brother-in-law helped me out a lot.

 

When all was said and done it was all worth it: hard work and perseverance definitely pays off. Not only did I achieve my goal of not failing—I graduated from MH Vicars with honors! 

I received a great education through MH Vicars. 

 

The program is jam-packed. I had very hands-on instructors and public clinic supervisors. By the time I graduated I was prepared to confidently put into practice what I had learned. Today, I am doing what I love.

 

I was very fortunate because I still had my full-time job at the furniture store when I graduated. This meant that I didn’t have to stress about having a full client base right away and gave me the freedom to build my massage practice at my own pace. 

 

I started working part time at Pembina Massage in Barrhead in September 2017. I knew that I eventually wanted to have a home-based practice where I would have complete control over my schedule and my clients, but I also wanted to get some more clinic experience first.

For almost three years, I worked at Pembina Massage three evenings a week and treated a few clients at the clinic space I set up in my home. And then COVID hit in spring of 2020 and Alberta had its first shutdown. 

 

When Alberta Health made the decision to allow massage clinics to open up again, I decided that the time was right to leave the clinic and focus on my home-based business. 

 

I knew that this would mean rebuilding my clientele, but I could afford to take this risk because I am still working at the furniture store (I love that job too!). 

 

It was always my intention to practice massage part time. This career supplements my existing income. At first that additional income went towards paying off my student loans. Now that I have done that, I can slowly work towards retirement.
 

I believe that massage therapy in a small town differs a lot from a city practice. In a small town everyone knows everyone. When you walk down the street it is a constant stream of saying hi to people you know. This also means that your clinic has a much more personal feel to it. 
 

When we studied ethics in school, our instructors really stressed the importance of having boundaries between your friendships and your client relationships. In a small town, many of your clients are friends or acquaintances before they become clients. So I need to pay special attention to enforcing the appropriate boundaries and maintaining the therapeutic relationship both during massage treatment sessions, and in my everyday life. When my friends and neighbours come to me for a massage treatment, they know that for the time they are in the clinic space, they are my clients and I am their massage therapist. Outside of that space, I’m their friend and not their RMT.

 

Professionalism is very important. I have found that because I work from my home, new clients are sometimes surprised that it’s a professional space, a professional business. But they learn right away that my clinic is exactly that: my clinic. It is a professional environment, and I my clients receive the same respect and care that they would in any professional clinic. 

 

In a small town there is a lot of “it’s not just what you know, but who you know.” Advertising happens through word of mouth. You have to be good at what you do, because if you are not news travels fast. That being said, if you do your job well others will hear about it.  

 

I have been very blessed.  My career in massage therapy to date has been very fulfilling. I have been able to help a lot of people and continue to do so. My clinic is open 3 nights a week. I am fully booked through October and am booking clients into November and December. I have not had to advertise for my clinic and have had to turn clients away because I am already busier than I imagined I would be. 

 

My massage career has also given me that step up that I was hoping for financially. In addition to saving for retirement, I was able to purchase a new home this spring and I have been able to create a perfect set up for my home-based clinic. 

 

When I was a student, we had to create a business plan. One of the required elements was a mission statement. I still believe in what I wrote back then, and it’s now the mission statement of R.E.M Massage: 

 

To assist in the healing of body and mind. 

To relieve tension and pain. 

To bring an overall feeling of health and wellness to each and every client in a professional and relaxed environment. 

One massage at a time. 

 

Claudia Wattel, RMT 

R.E.M. Massage 

Rejuvenate. Enhance. Maintain. 

Q & A with Jocelyn Stewart: RMT and owner of Sunrae Massage and Wellness

 

A career in massage therapy called to Jocelyn Stewart. She enrolled in the 2-year program at MH Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Edmonton and  graduated in 2013.  Jocelyn got a job in a clinic as a student therapist when she was in her second year at MH Vicars, and stayed on after she graduated. During her four years there, she established a loyal client base, developed as a therapist, and learned even more about the business side of massage therapy.grad spotlight- Jocelyn Stewart

When she was ready to strike out on her own, she opened Sunrae Massage and Wellness in Fort Saskatchewan. Sunrae is now a thriving multi-therapist practice. Jocelyn herself is booking four or five months in advance, and she rents clinic space to other RMTs as well. 

She recently sat down with us to talk about how she became the therapist she is today, and what she’s learned along the way.

 

Tell me about your experiences as a business owner

I had the most wonderful mentor at the first clinic I worked at. She was so open to teaching me or letting me ask any questions, but yet letting me explore my own way. When she decided she was going to work from home, I decided to open Sunrae. I found this beautiful little building – and then I got a lot of life lessons!

Renovating, signing contracts, dealing with leases, accountants, all of that.

Maybe the biggest thing, on the business side of it, is I have learned the importance of a contract. My whole motto in life now is: “To be clear is to be kind.” 

When I have new therapists come in, I really try to foster them and say: “You know what, I don’t want to be on a split, I want you to have your own business. I want you to rent the room. I want you to develop, and do what you want to do.” 

 

You’ve been working as an RMT for nearly a decade. How has your client base changed over the years?

I don’t work with a lot of new clients now. Some of my clients are the same ones I’ve had for nearly ten years, and I’ve been so blessed. Right now I’m booking into October and November.

I have one client that I massaged at school outreach event when I was a student—I think it was the Mother’s Day Run. I massaged him for ten minutes, and he asked me for my card. [Laughs] I didn’t have cards! I was just a student! But I gave him the information of the place that I was working, and I’ve been treating him ever since. 

When you get a real connection with your clients, it’s so nice. You can build on each massage therapy treatment, and have an idea of where we need to go next. That’s really interesting.

I’m kind of nervous when I do get a new client now. I’m like “Oh my god! I’m going to have to explain myself and what my philosophies are!”

 

Can you elaborate on that? How have you managed to build a client base that aligns with your outlook and what you’re trying to do? 

I think that as a new therapist, you really try to please everybody and in doing so, sometimes you don’t get to find your own gifts or your own qualities. 

You have to be OK with the fact that you’re not for everybody. My style may not be for everybody. And, you know, you have to let your ego go and do what’s best for the client. 

Communication is so important, with all your clients. You tell them, “This is what we’re going to try, and why.” And at the end, I ask them how they feel and ask for feedback. And to my newer clients, I do say: “I’m not for everybody, and there’s other types of massage that may help you better.”

You really have to communicate and listen to what the client’s saying. 

It can be really hard to be open enough to know that you can and even should refer out to other therapists. I will refer out to the other RMTs that work with me sometimes, or to other colleagues. Sometimes I’ll tell them that they should try going to a physio, and so on.

And another thing that sometimes we don’t talk about is when you get a complaint about how you’ve performed, or in my case sometimes I hear a complaint about one of the therapists working for me. 

You have to take a step back, take the deep breath and go, “OK, how do I make this better? Is this a learning situation or is it a little bit unreasonable? Is this person just not for us?”

It can be really hard! I mean, I put my heart and soul into this. This is a little piece of me.

 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your practice?

When it hit, there were three of us working at the clinic. It was difficult because of all the new regulations. I took that very seriously: I went into the clinic, removed the waiting room, put up the signs, got all the new things we needed. And then we were off for what, four months? 

I didn’t get a rent break, I still had to pay my lease. I was able to give a rent break to the RMTs who rent rooms from me, because I was able to access some of the financial support. 

But you sit at home for four months and you think, “Oh my god, how am I going to keep my clients?”

But I had clients asking to buy gift cards to help me stay in business. I was just so humbled and grateful. And most of my clients came back. 

I went right back to my normal schedule, following the new rules. And then we got shut down again [in December 2020]. And again, you worry about how you’re going to pay the bills. But it was ok.

The only thing that I have really struggled with is clients who were anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. I got really tired of having to fight for them to wear a mask. I have a couple of clients that I just didn’t rebook, because I couldn’t deal with it anymore. It’s my safety, you know?

I was following the restrictions, and really trying to do my best with that. The other RMTs and I just sat down and discussed what we want to do now that the government has said that there’s no more restrictions. We’ve decided to keep them going for now, because that’s what we’re comfortable with at this moment.

 

Those can be tough conversations to have. 

I really think it’s great that we just sat down and discussed how this going to look for us. We’ve been pretty much on par, and so supportive of each other. We’ve been there for each other. 

I really enjoy that part of the business—trying to empower younger therapists. 

It’s hard to find somebody who’s brave enough to go out on their own. It’s hard. So I try to create an environment of support for them. 

 

What advice would you give to someone just beginning their massage therapy career? 

It is really important to make sure that, with any place that you go to work, that you have a very good contract. A contract protects both you and the other person—a verbal agreement isn’t good enough. You really do need to have a contract, because then there’s no guesswork and I would really do things.

And take continuing education courses. Get excited about new techniques, and get excited about what you’re doing. 

When you go into that massage room, go find what needs to be done—not what you think needs to be done. Really, really try to be open to solving the problem.

It can be really hard to be open because I think massage therapists are, as a rule, fairly sensitive people. So just know that it’s okay to say to yourself, “That didn’t go as well. What can I do to do better?”

And of course, support each other. There’s no need to be cutthroat. Support each other, and let’s make this industry really well respected. 

A massage therapy career (and the opportunity to open your own business!) is well within reach. Jocelyn got her start with our massage training program and you can too! Set up your virtual tour today to learn more about how MH Vicars can help set you on a path to a new career as a registered massage therapist.

 

Massage therapist Sheena Taggart is based in Bragg Creek Alberta, outside of Calgary

Please join us in congratulating MH Vicars School graduate Sheena Taggart, winner of the 2020 Peter Martin Award of Excellence from the Massage Therapists Association of Alberta.Massage therapist Sheena Taggart is based in Bragg Creek Alberta, outside of Calgary

The Peter Martin Award is an annual prize that honours recent graduates who have shown exceptional contributions to massage therapy as a student or new therapist. Sheena impressed the award judges this year with her commitment to educating her clients and community about the benefits of massage therapy.

At MH Vicars School, we have always believed that our graduates are the best therapists around. We’re never surprised when they get recognized and celebrated by other massage professionals – but we’re always delighted!

From new graduate to business owner overnight

Sheena graduated from our Calgary campus in June 2020, and immediately launched her own clinic, Connective Wellness. To get things started, she used the business plan that she’d created for her second-year business course at Vicars.

“I took that assignment very seriously, and it really helped me start my business,” says Sheena. “It meant I wasn’t completely lost when I started setting everything up, because I already had my ducks in a row.”

The clinic is based in her home in Bragg Creek, Alberta. Sheena knew that as a new business owner in a small town, she was going to have to get creative in order to get her name out there.

Having lived and worked in Bragg Creek for many years, Sheena has deep roots in the community. So she was able to begin building her client base through traditional word-of-mouth promotion, as well as the 21st-century version – social media.

“I have found that if I want to be busy, or if I have a last-minute cancellation, I just put a post up on the Facebook ‘Buy and Sell’ page for our little area,” she explained. “And any time I post on Facebook, I also have friends and clients who like or share it, so there’s a community feel to it.”

For Sheena, simply getting her name out there didn’t feel like enough. She wanted to make sure that her marketing reflected that she is an RMT who provides effective, therapeutic massage treatments. And she wanted to help the general public understand the health benefits of massage. After all, discovering those benefits is why she became a massage therapist in the first place.

Spreading the word about massage therapy

Before discovering massage therapy, Sheena worked as a Canada Post mail carrier for many years. This meant she was no stranger to muscle and joint pains and overuse injuries.

“Until my first therapeutic massage, I honestly did not know what therapeutic massage was like,” Sheena explains. “I did years and years of physio, and my fair share of chiropractic, I took anti-inflammatories and did stretches. And then I found massage therapy and it encompassed almost everything that I’d been doing, but it worked better.

“So now I’m trying to let people know what massage therapists can do. If you’re suffering, you can get better.”

So how could she spread the word about the health benefits of massage therapy, and connect with new clients at the same time? The answer was waiting for her in her Canada Post mailbag.

“Because I worked for Canada Post, I know that there are these community newsletters and newspapers that go to everyone,” she explains. “I asked my own physiotherapist, and he said ‘well, when we run a regular ad we don’t really get anything from it. But when we put an article with it, we get results.’

“So that got me thinking: I can do some actual education!”

Soon after opening her clinic in summer 2020, Sheena began submitting articles in the High Country News alongside a small ad for her business. The free monthly newspaper is delivered to thousands of households and businesses southwest of Calgary.

The results of her writing are clear. The articles attract new clients to her practice – clients who are coming specifically for her therapeutic expertise.

“I have had clients book in with me because my articles really connected with them,” she says. “And the people that were calling me from the articles tended to be older people that had never had massage therapy before.”

The topics Sheena has covered so far include hyperkyphosis, fascia, and TMJD.

Here’s an example of the kind of short and informative article that Sheena Taggart writes for in the High Country News. This piece was published there in November 2020. It can also be found on Sheena’s website.

Does Your Massage Therapist Treat Antagonist Muscles?

Have you ever had a treatment that fixes your pain but comes back within days? Most people have chronically sore shoulders and mid back. A common cause is due to your pectoral muscles being too tight and pulling you forward. The pectoral muscles can get so tight that it rolls your shoulders forward. As a result the back muscles become stretched and overworked.  This also happens with the neck muscles. The front neck muscles become tight causing a head forward posture and pain in the back of the neck and shoulders.  

To treat these issues properly the antagonist pectoral muscles need to be treated.  Many clients tell me that they have never had a massage therapist treat their pectoral muscles. Often the result of treating these muscles patients immediately comment how open their chest is. They then report later that their back pain has changed dramatically with just one treatment.

My goal as a therapeutic massage therapist is to leave my clients with lasting results. I also wish to empower them to further their health. I do this by providing a plan of stretches and strengthening exercises to re-educate and maintain the muscles. If you feel an initial trial treatment may address your health issues, please reach out to me by contacting me at info@connectivewellness.ca or go to my website www.connectivewellness.ca to book online. Direct billing is available.

About the Award

The Peter Martin Award of Excellence is an annual prize given to a recent graduate who has shown exceptional contributions to massage therapy as a student or new therapist. The winner is determined based on a letter of recommendation from an instructor or fellow therapist, and a personal essay in which they describe their career goals and accomplishments and why they chose to become a massage therapist.

It was launched in 2019 as a way for the MTAA to recognize and support outstanding RMTs as they begin their career. The award is named in memory of Peter Martin, a long-time MTAA member, and is open to therapists who have recently upgraded from student to full association membership. In addition to the professional recognition, the award comes with a $750 cash prize. To learn more about the award, including past winners and full eligibility criteria, visit the MTAA’s website.

At MH Vicars School, we often say that a massage therapy career can be whatever you want it to be. Carly Turner and Gwen Evans are a great example of this. Carly and Gwen were classmates at Vicars, and graduated in 2018. They now work together at Theralleve Therapeutic Massage and Wellness Clinic in Calgary, which Carly owns. Both Carly and Gwen offer a wide range of therapeutic massage treatments, but what really makes their clinic stand out is how clearly the two of them have been able to develop and communicate their professional philosophies. They both have a very clear idea of what kind of massage therapists they want to be. This important because it not only motivates them, but helps them find and retain clients who share the same goals.

Our Edmonton Director Robin Collum recently had the opportunity to talk with Carly and Gwen, and they were having such a good time that they couldn’t bear to cut it short! So we’ve broken the conversation into two parts.

Part 2, the three of us talked about the business of massage, opening your own clinic during a pandemic, and they offered some wise words to current and future Vicars students! Watch the video of our conversation, or read it below.

Robin

Carly, you’re the owner of Theralleve Calgary. Can you tell us a little bit about the clinic?

Carly

We’re relatively new: we opened in February 2020.

Robin

Oh, good timing!

Carly

Yeah, perfect timing! It was like, “Oh, the economy’s kind of bad…let’s just add in a pandemic!”

So we did end up closing for a little bit, but we reopened our doors in July and we’ve been going ever since. And it’s been a really amazing, interesting, big experience for me especially.

It’s something that has always been on my radar as something I wanted to do, and there was an opportunity in 2019 to kind of get things going and open up a clinic.

Gwen and I had gone to school together and created a really strong friendship, and we were just kind of like, “You know, let’s take this and run with it.”

And now here we are.

Robin

Had you planned on opening your own clinic back when you were in school? Did you always have dreams of being an entrepreneur as well as an RMT?

Carly

With our school curriculum, we had the added bonus of doing that business assignment, where it’s essentially plotting out how you would open a business. I remember that mine was very specific to cancer-related massage. But I had definitely thought of it as a “five years later” kind of plan.

So this kind of came a little bit sooner than expected, I would say.

But I’ve always had a very big entrepreneurial spirit. So taking something on like this, knowing that I interact very well with other people, I kind of rallied up that response of “What do we need to do?” and doing the research and the planning behind it…I’m certainly not afraid of that kind of hard work.

It was taking advantage of an opportunity mixed with, “Ok, well, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it!”

That’s why it’s been such an experience, because it wasn’t something for me that was necessarily planned so soon. But, you know, here I am doing it!

Robin

It sounds like it’s been a baptism by fire.

Carly

Kind of, yeah. But it’s been great. And I’ve had such wonderful people surrounding me and supporting me, including Gwen. I can only really be as good as my team and my team is pretty awesome!

Robin

Do you have any wisdom or advice to share with anyone who might be considering a career massage therapy?

Gwen

It is very much a “You get what you give” career. If you don’t put any work into it, you’re not going to get a lot of out of it. And it’s not the easiest one, but it is probably one of the most rewarding. So stick with it, get through it. The curriculum is worth it.

And just be ready to be a bit self-starting. Even if you’re working under an employee contract instead of being an independent contractor, you’re still going to have to try and reach out and prospect for those clients. So just be ready to do that a bit too.

Robin

Anything to add to that, Carly?

Carly

So succinct!

Gwen knows this, because as I said we were first year together, but I cried a lot in first year. I was frustrated. I just was like, “I don’t get this. I’m not sure I’m getting it properly.” Because there’s just so many nuances involved with massage. Nobody’s going to tell you “This is the exact pressure you need” or “That’s the exact symptom that’s going to correlate to that exact cause and effect,” and everything else.

I definitely agree with Gwen that you get what you give. Because there’s going to be a lot of challenge in it, in terms of just making sure that you are putting in the time and that you’re trying to study all of those muscle groups, and you are trying to learn what is out there, and what is being given to you.

And I mean, at MH Vicars, you’ll have amazing, amazing teachers. So that really helped.

I was just actually telling Gwen recently, it’s amazing how much has stuck and how much has deepened in our knowledge base for what we’re working with, each time we massage.

So, I mean, yes, you have to be personable in order to be a massage therapist. That’s kind of a given, but it’s amazing how much you can really learn and then eventually you can just trust the process.

And then as you’re working, you know, you might not remember all the Latin origins and insertions, but you know what you’re working on. And you know how to affect that muscle and what you can do about it if something happens. And that’s the beauty of it! Just acknowledging that you will get there.

Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of our conversation, in which Carly and Gwen talked about their approaches to massage therapy.

At MH Vicars School, we often say that a massage therapy career can be whatever you want it to be. Carly Turner and Gwen Evans are a great example of this. Carly and Gwen were classmates at Vicars, and graduated in 2018. They now work together at Theralleve Therapeutic Massage and Wellness Clinic in Calgary, which Carly owns. Both Carly and Gwen offer a wide range of therapeutic massage treatments, but what really makes their clinic stand out is how clearly the two of them have been able to develop and communicate their professional philosophies. They both have a very clear idea of what kind of massage therapists they want to be. This important because it not only motivates them, but helps them find clients who share the same goals.

Our Edmonton Director Robin Collum recently had the opportunity to talk with Carly and Gwen, and they were having such a good time that they couldn’t bear to cut it short! So we’ve broken the conversation into two parts.

In Part 1, the three of us talked about the approach they take to practicing massage therapy. Watch the video of our conversation, or read it below.

Robin

Carly, I’ll start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about your treatment philosophy?

Carly

Well, I think that for so long, there’s been a reputation around massage that it’s is strictly to help somebody feel good for an hour. That it’s just going to feel really relaxed, you’re not really going to get into anything major. You know, that the client is there just to calm down and sleep. But it’s so much more! If people come in and they have an injury, or if they have some sort of pain, we really want to get to the core of that pain. This is where our training in orthopedic testing can come in, and the overall assessment.

I’m very big on asking very specific questions. And although I definitely have some intuitive spots to my massage, I’m definitely very, very technical in my approach. And that really informs the questions that I’m going to ask, how I’m going to treat the muscle group. I say, “OK, how can we educate the client?”

I want to help them know more about what their pain is, and then be able to empower them further by giving them home care, by giving them the ability to really connect the dots so that it isn’t so passive.

We want to make things more two-sided. It’s not the therapist saying “I know all.” At the end of the day, you know your body as a client. And if I can help you understand it better by what I’m also noticing, then we create that better relationship for your health going forward.

Robin

Same question for you, Gwen. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach to massage therapy, and what kind of practice you’re trying to build?

Gwen

It’s actually very, very close to how Carly approaches it. We were classmates in first year, so we got a lot of that together. But there is there’s a couple of things where my approach is a little bit different. Whereas Carly is definitely very much about education—and I am too—I’m also very much about mindfulness of the stuff that people deal with mentally.

And obviously we stay within our scope of practice. But I have a lot of clients who deal with anxiety and body or gender dysmorphia and things like that. So my focus to that is ensuring that they constantly feel safe and that they can trust me to give them an effective treatment based on how they’re experiencing things, because not everybody experiences things the same way.

I work a lot with the LGBTQ+ community, and I also work a lot with clients who have a history of trauma as well as just increased generalized or social anxiety. And I live with a lot of that stuff personally. So for me, it’s really easy to translate that into massage—without exceeding my scope, obviously.

So for example, a client with trauma might have issues with having their neck worked on. So it’s a simple question of knowing to ask “Are you comfortable with this?”

With the LGBTQ community, body and gender dysphoria are huge things. So body neutrality is kind of the approach that I take with that. With generalized anxiety, it’s a lot more checking in. And the biggest thing that connects all of that is something that we learned in school—thank you, Courtney! —was explicit consent.

I’m really big on consent. Even with Carly, if we do a treatment for each other, if I’m working on the glutes or other sensitive areas, I get her consent every single time without fail.

It’s very important to me to get it every single time, regardless of who I’m working with.

So this has helped me find a niche in the industry. Because I get a lot of people who have had—for lack of a better term—insensitive therapists. It’s simply just not knowing, more than anything. But taking that extra second to ask that important question of “Can I work on your neck?” or “Is there anything I need to be mindful of?” can make a huge impact for somebody with anxiety or touch related trauma issues.

Come back next week for Part 2!

Maureen de Sosa Kalas, RMT
Maureen de Sosa Kalas, RMT

Maureen de Sosa Kalas, RMT

Maureen de Sosa Kalas is a lot of things: a healer, entrepreneur, an athlete, and an adventurer. And an MH Vicars graduate, of course.
In the decade since she completed the two-year diploma program at MH Vicars School in Calgary, Maureen has built a successful massage therapy career that has allowed her to combine everything she loves to do.
She owns MassageWorks Cochrane & Chiropractic Care, a multi-therapist clinic in Cochrane, Alberta, where she specializes in sports massage and treating clients with injuries and chronic conditions. Maureen took the time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions about being an RMT and running her own business.

Tell us about your massage practice!

I was a teacher by trade and decided to pursue a career in health and wellness and in a more therapeutic, caring aspect of it. I love being physically active and enjoy getting tangible results.
My focus going into massage therapy education was in the sports side of treatment as I enjoy the outdoors, and was interested in sports injuries and rehab overall. With that in mind, the focus of my practice has been in the sports and therapeutic side. After graduating from MH Vicars, I took extra courses with the Canadian Sports Massage Therapists Association in Toronto, and various other sports massage courses.

What’s the best thing about being a massage therapist?
I love the instant, tangible result or improvement when I work on someone that comes in with an injury or chronic issues. Especially when they have been so desperate in getting help and no one has figured out how to treat them, and then I’m able to help them.

What are the biggest challenge of being a massage therapist? 
I find the biggest challenge with being a RMT is having a home-life balance. Sometimes, when you are sought-after, it’s hard to take time off. But it is necessary to decompress and recharge one’s sanity, mental clarity, and wellness. My way of decompressing is through running, hiking, climbing, and cooking. Living close to the mountains affords me that lifestyle and a great client base who followed me throughout these years.

What do you think it takes to be a good massage therapist?
Having a great skill set. Not just knowing your stuff, but being a good listener, compassionate, and down-to-earth.
And having great biomechanics is essential to having a long term career in this industry. I’ve been fortunate that I am very aware of my own body mechanics, and never had any injuries such as repetitive strain injuries. I always advise any RMT to master this skill as this is not a long-term career once injuries starts happening.

What advice can you offer for someone considering a career in massage?

Take the time to know the industry. I’ve hired and interviewed so many RMTs and I find that for the most part people get into the industry because they want to help someone, which is intrinsic for most of us. But knowing what it takes to grow and build your client base and all the practical skills that comes with it, takes skill and experience and the willingness to learn. Money is not all of it but at the same time, we have to compensate ourselves well for what we do. And getting compensated well is a result of having a good skill set, including the business skills. Because as RMTs, we are a walking business entity.

Why did you choose MH Vicars for your massage education?
It was a great school, and the program was suited to what I needed at that time. It had a great reputation as well—I knew that MH Vicars produced quality graduates.

What has been the biggest accomplishment of your massage career so far? What are you most proud of, professionally?
I am most proud of the many people that I have met along the way that are now friends. I have been to their high and lows in their life, from marriages, to births, divorces, and raising kids – and I’ve treated their families – and I am still very much connected to them. I love that over the years I’ve seen them and know their story and history.

What are your professional goals right now?
My professional goal is to grow and expand our practice. I want to venture into other businesses, mentor other RMTs, and continue doing massage.

In April, the MH Vicars School community lost one of our own to COVID-19. Vitto Congi graduated from our Edmonton campus in 2019, and was just beginning to build his new career and new life. Vitto was a kind and caring man who had a bright future ahead of him, and those of us at Vicars who had the pleasure to get to know him are incredibly saddened by this loss. Though no words can do justice to what his friends and family are feeling, we have collected a few of our memories of Vitto here as a small tribute.

I had the pleasure of being one of Vitto’s second-year instructors and I was always amazed at how genuine of a person he was. He always treated everyone with such kindness and respect. He would come to class early to ask questions or to show me some of the beautiful wood paintings he was creating. He was very admired by his classmates and was always working hard to make theme laugh or making sure he was supporting them best he could. Vitto spoke so highly of his family and friends and had great plans to further his education after massage to support troops and service members of the military. I am very grateful to have met him play a small part in his journey and wonderful life story. May he rest in peace.
-Crystal Dunn, Faculty


For almost 4 years I was lucky enough to have Vitto in my life; for 2 of those years sharing weekly morning greetings.

Vitto was a champion. Not in the traditional sense of athleticism, loud and proud, or even the constant winner. No, in the quiet, fierce and steadfast sense – a champion to those he cared for.

Vitto with staff members Katherine Ward and Corrina Cornforth at his graduation in 2019.

A fierce loyalty to his mother and sister and equally fierce determination to overcome any adversity that may present itself. This was how I first defined and knew Vittorio Congi. A young man passionately pursuing his dream to further his ability to help, heal and empower others. Vitto wanted to become a massage therapist and then complete his osteopath studies so he could serve others who suffered with chronic pain and injury as he had. He wanted to ease others, as he had been eased by his dedicated practitioners.
Vitto joined our MH Vicars family and quickly became a confidante, a cheerleader, a comedian, and a friend to his classmates. Vitto had the perfect joke to share on those dull mornings and hands that were continually being offered to assist if needed.
Vitto was an artist. He painted landscapes that had beauty and depth that gave a glimpse of the man within. He not only shared Bob Ross’ style, but his gentle calmness. And Vitto was soon painting any surface he could get his hands on.
Vitto was always looking for ways to give more. He loved those in his life so deeply that he was continually encouraging and supporting his friends anyway he could. That was the beautiful thing about Vitto, once he knew you he loved you like family. I don’t think anyone was really an acquaintance to him. He’d champion you without hesitation.
If life is a classroom and we are all here to learn from each other, to experience love, to give love, to grow in love by helping others grow in love… Vitto excelled. Vitto didn’t need as much time in this classroom to learn this lesson. Vitto was a teacher. He was one of life’s lighthouses. A beacon that would help guide you and protect you from the rocks.
We were so blessed to have had Vitto’s light touch our lives, no matter how briefly. This man was never far from an eye-twinkled grin. I can’t help but smile brightly remembering him. It’s the greatest tribute to his life, his story. Smile big. Love big. Hug big. Dream big. And maybe even show up in a toga.
-Corrina Cornforth, Admissions Advisor

I didn’t have the pleasure of teaching Vitto but I did get to interact with him on campus and at public clinics, and it’s easy to say that he made a difference there. He was the kind of guy that was so intentional about his interactions with people and it was obvious he was about connection before business. He truly cared about people and the environment we all worked in. He created a positive and cooperative atmosphere and had fun doing it. Truly a good man and we were blessed to know him.

-Kerri Wagensveld, Faculty


When I think of Vitto my mind immediately goes to Monday mornings. He did most of his supervised public clinic shifts on Mondays, and his shift was supposed to begin at 11am. But he would get here at 9, every time. I think it was just more convenient for him.

Vitto and one of his instructors, Jaime De Groot, at his graduation in 2019.

He could have spent those two hours studying, playing on his phone, or even napping on the couch. But instead, he would set up the clinic: he’d prepare the schedule, pull all the client files, and make sure that everything was organized and ready for whomever was going to be the receptionist that day.
I’ll always remember this because it seems like a perfect summary of who he was as a student and as a person: hard-working, thoughtful, selfless, and kind. He loved massage therapy, and worked incredibly hard. He had a long and successful career ahead of him, and I’m so sad that we’ve lost him.
-Robin Collum, Edmonton Director


Vitto and Marci Terpsma, one of his instructors.

I will always remember the first day Vitto came to class. He was at first this shy, goofy, quiet, giant of a man who always had a smile on his face. Vitto was an absolute gem of a person. For a man dealing with so much in his life, he always had a positive outlook. He always had some sort of joke to make me and his classmates laugh. He was inquisitive, wanting to know more, always more, or to understand it all better. I was lucky enough to spend extra hours with Vitto before public clinics or after class to facilitate his learning and in that time, he also taught me. He taught me patience and resilience. I learned choosing to have a good day is always the best choice. I gained respect for hardships he endured all the while maintaining grace and good grades. I learned perseverance despite adversity. Vitto, my friend, you along with our weekly banter and texts, will be dearly missed. I hope you are cracking jokes in heaven!
-Marci Terpsma, Faculty

Wherever Ryan Kim has gone since graduating from MH Vicars School, his Vicars education has opened doors for him.

When he first graduated in 2018, Ryan felt confident enough in his own skills to start his own massage clinic in Calgary.

Ryan Kim volunteering at the Spin For A Veteran charity fundraiser

“I absolutely felt prepared, and I could start right away. Whatever was thrown at me, I could handle it,” he explained. “Some of the things that I learned in school that helped me included how to treat clients with a disability. The special populations clinics [in second year] helped me a lot.

“If my clients had different pathologies, I was able to treat it without hesitating. There were a couple of clients that I treated that were paraplegic, and I was able to assist them from the beginning to the end of the treatment.”

Ryan had gone back to school once again after graduating from Vicars, enrolling in a traditional Chinese medicine program. He plans to combine those skills with his massage career when he’s done. But he eventually found that running his own clinic while studying was hard to maintain, so he shut down his business and began looking for a position at another clinic.

Ryan found that the school’s reputation preceded him, and gave him an advantage when applying for jobs.

“When I applied for positions, I had clinics call me back right away—and a couple of the clinics said that they were calling me because it said ‘MH Vicars’ on my resume,” Ryan said. “MH Vicars graduates have a good reputation amongst clients, and with other therapists. At clinics I’ve worked at that have had MH Vicars graduates, they are busy, knowledgeable, and very pleasant to work with.”

Ryan eventually landed in a practice in Lake Louise, Alberta. But his career evolution didn’t stop there. He had dreams of moving to Vancouver, and practicing massage there. But that’s not as simple as it sounds: unlike in Alberta, massage therapy is a regulated profession in BC. So he knew that he would have to pass an entry-to-practice exam in a regulated province to be able to practice there.

But he knew that his Vicars education had prepared him for this challenge, too. The entry-to-practice standard (the knowledge and skills that a massage therapist needs to have in order to be registered) is the same in all regulated provinces, and there is a standardized curriculum schools in those provinces have to follow. Though it’s not mandatory in Alberta, MH Vicars School teaches that national standard.

Ryan decided to take the entry-to-practice exam in Newfoundland, because the process is shorter and less expensive than taking the BC exam. He knew he’d be able to succeed, because several of his classmates had taken it the year before.

“One of my classmates said, when I turned to her for advice for the exam, ‘The school prepares us well and you have everything you need to pass the exam.’ I can’t agree more,” said Ryan. He took the exam in December 2019 and learned that he’d passed a few weeks later.

“I can’t thank the teachers, staff, and the school’s curriculum enough. It not only allowed me to pass the entry-to-practice exam in a regulated province, but also is it guiding me how to become a better therapist even after graduation.”

Move over, Oscars. Take a seat, Golden Globes. This awards season, we’re only interested in the Best of YEG Fitness awards – because three of the nominees for “Best Massage Therapist” are Vicars graduates!

Kory Ring, Andrea Yacyshyn, and Dustin Ring (no relation to Kory) are among the top five finalists for the award, which is determined entirely by public votes.

The awards are presented by YEG Fitness magazine, a local publication that highlights all areas of the local fitness and wellness community.

“We view fitness as healthy living, and it’s all about balance. It’s about taking care of your body: nutrition, different kinds of activity and training, and having physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists working with you to both prevent and treat injury if you need it,” explained TJ Sadler, the magazine’s editor. “The awards are a way for us to showcase those people who are doing great things.”

Discovering that so many of their clients considered them among the city’s massage elite was a great feeling for the three Vicars grads.

“I’m so grateful to all of my clients and everyone who voted for me for this,” said Dustin, who graduated in 2017. “I never thought that I would make a list like this so close to coming out of school.”

“I was so honoured that enough people typed my name – and I have a hard-to-spell last name! It was incredibly validating as I love this work so much,” said Andrea.

Being included on lists does more than just boost a therapist’s confidence. It can have a significant impact on future business. So what can fellow Vicars graduates learn from Andrea, Dustin, and Kory’s success?

A good massage begins before the client is on the table

I asked all three of the nominees to try to identify what it was about their treatments that made clients so excited that they’d go online and vote. I expected to hear about their hands-on expertise and specialized techniques – and I did – but the first thing that each therapist highlighted about themselves was how they try to listen to and relate to their clients off the table.

“The thing my clients have consistently said to me is that they feel like I listen to them, I care, and I don’t rush them,” Andrea said.

“I’ve been told by a lot of clients that they like that I actually take the time to listen and do a proper assessment and address their concerns – just like we were taught to do in school,” Kory agreed. “And they get the results that they’re looking for, a lot of the time.”

And once your clients love your practice, they’ll keep coming back. And they’ll tell their friends.

Word-of-mouth marketing works. Don’t be afraid to ask for it!

“I actually don’t accept tips at my practice at all, and when people do try to tip me I tell them that if they want to pay me a compliment they can just tell their friends and family about me, or leave a Google review,” said Kory. “Ninety-nine per cent of my clients come from referrals, I’d say.”

No one knows how amazing you are – or is as excited to talk about why – like the clients who keep coming back to you. By encouraging your current clients to recommend you to others, you’re getting your name out there in a more authentic and efficient way than any ad could ever deliver. And, you’ll attract the kind of client who is most likely to fit in well at your practice, which means they’ll keep coming back (and refer friends of their own).

It doesn’t hurt to offer a small thank-you in return.

“I offer a $10 referral [gift] when someone sends me a new client,” explained Andrea. “A client I had from school referred another client, who then referred her sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and multiple friends. And then those clients referred people to me. It was a huge domino effect that really paid off and landed me with 10 new regular clients rather quickly.”

Don’t just tell clients about your practice – tell everyone!

One of the ways that Dustin was able to become so successful so quickly after graduating was by tapping into the professional connections that he already had as a yoga teacher. These clients and colleagues became his first cheerleaders.

“By being in the yoga community and immersing myself in different aspects of the fitness industry I’ve developed an ongoing clientele that I never thought that I would have this early in my career,” he said. “I also did a lot of volunteer events. If you’re good, people are going to tell other people.”

Some of your most important connections as a therapist aren’t with clients, but with other health care professionals. Being a source of trustworthy referrals for your clients adds value to your services at the same time as it helps clients get the care they need.

Kory’s clinic is located within Evolve Strength, a downtown gym. This mixed clinical environment has helped him make connections with other professionals.

“There’s a good referral network within the gym,” he explained. “The athletic world, I’ve come to realize, is a pretty tight-knit community in this city.”

Andrea’s practice is in her home, but that hasn’t stopped her from developing an extensive referral list of her own.

“I have a chiropractor, 3 massage therapists, an acupuncturist, a physiotherapist, a Pilates studio, a [naturopathic doctor], a medical clinic, and a pelvic floor specialist that I refer to,” said Andrea. “I have their cards in my treatment room and some of their profiles on my website. By working with them and sending them my clients, they up sending me theirs and we create a collaborative health network for our clients.”

The winners of this year’s Best of YEG Fitness awards will be announced at a ceremony on February 6, 2019.

“Looking back now, I’m definitely glad I went the Newfoundland route. It’s been a long process, but I’m finally there!”

That’s Jenna Kluthe, who graduated from MH Vicars School’s Edmonton campus in 2017. She was one of nearly a dozen Vicars grads who travelled to Newfoundland to write that province’s entry-to-practice exam with the final goal of becoming RMTs in BC. Jenna now practices in Nanaimo.

Tyler Shortridge, Karen Goforth, Jenna Kluthe, and their classmates celebrate together after writing the CMTNL exams. Photo courtesy Karen Goforth.

Jenna and her classmates chose Newfoundland because the process to apply for the exam was simpler, faster, and less expensive than going directly to BC. The College of Massage Therapists of Newfoundland and Labrador officially recognizes the Vicars program, while the BC College requires applicants to pay for a “prior learning assessment” before they can take their test. (Read more about why Vicars grads are choosing Newfoundland and New Brunswick here).

The journey to become RMTs in BC began in the spring of 2017.

“I was going to go the BC route, because I didn’t know anything about Newfoundland, but about a month before we graduated someone mentioned it and we were all curious,” said Tyler Shortridge, who lives in Cranbrook and attended the Calgary campus. “[CMTNL] were really good. They answered emails fast, they answered phone calls. It was easy to get the answers I needed, and the paperwork was simple. I think I waited two weeks to hear whether we were accepted to write the exam. They had no issues with our program.”

The Newfoundland entry-to-practice exam has two parts. The multiple-choice exam covers massage theory, ethics, and law, including regulations specific to Newfoundland. The practical exam, which consists of seven separate stations, evaluates the therapist’s academic knowledge, hands-on techniques, and problem-solving skills.

“It was a little bit intimidating,” said Jenna. “You walk into the room and there were two examiners, just sitting off to the side, and there’s the body. The examiners don’t say anything, they don’t acknowledge you, they don’t smile, they don’t do anything. You just walk in and do your thing.”

The College publishes a detailed outline of the exam structure and contents to help therapists prepare, and the Vicars grad felt that the exams were well-organized and fair.

“It was fairly straightforward. You just have to make sure that you’re confident in your answers,” said Karen Goforth, who lives and works in Creston, BC.

Nonetheless, they all felt very prepared.

“The hardest part was waiting for the results,” said Tyler. “I took the exam in August, and by the end of October I was registered in Newfoundland. The end of January is when I was able to work in BC as an RMT.”

All the time and effort was worth it.

“Being a massage therapist is awesome, I love it. I have the freedom to do whatever I want with my schedule, and I like helping people,” said Tyler. “You see a lot of different people, and it’s really nice to connect with them.”

If you’re a Vicars student or grad interested in more information about moving to a regulated province, please contact the school and we’d be happy to help.