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!

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that all schools and colleges have had to make a lot of changes to how they deliver their programs—and fast. And at MH Vicars School, it was no different. We closed our campuses in mid-March, and classes continued online.

It was an adjustment, certainly, and not how we wanted to finish the school year. But our faculty and staff were not unprepared for the change. Our experience teaching and learning in a blended learning format helped us transition into the “new normal.”
Our Edmonton Director Robin Collum and our Curriculum Director Linda McGeachy sat down—over zoom, naturally—to talk about how Vicars has adapted to the pandemic , and how we’re preparing for whatever the next year might have in store for us.

You can also read the full transcript of the conversation below.

 

Robin: The MH Vicars School program has always been delivered through blended learning. Can you describe what blended learning means at MH Vicars?

Linda: Fundamentally, it means that time spent at home on the curriculum is as important as the in class component of the program.

Why did we choose a blended learning format in the first place? Who’s it for and why is it valuable for our students?

Well, that’s the original vision of the owner of the school, Maryhelen Vicars, that was to provide quality training to a demographic that does not have the means to access it any other way. It is a full-time program in terms of content. But by choosing this format, students are able to spend less time being physically present at the school, but still are able to obtain all the necessary content of the program.

The value is for those who are unable to take a program that requires them to be in school for five days a week for two years. We have several learning pathways and our students choose one that fits their particular circumstance.

So it sounds much more flexible for people who have responsibilities and jobs and things.

Absolutely.

Can you describe how our approach to blended learning has evolved over the years?

At first, our blended learning [material] consisted of paper binders filled with assignments and notes that students completed at home and brought back to class with them. As technology has evolved, it has allowed more academic content to be delivered online.

We’ve moved more core content to the system. Courses such as pathology and anatomy and physiology have become independent courses that students can take at home following a set timeline and using online resources from the textbooks as well as resources specifically developed by the school. The most current evolution to the program is the type of blended learning where students are introduced to content at home before working through it at school. This is sometimes called a “flipped classroom.”

In a common flipped classroom scenario, students might watch pre-recorded videos at home, complete specific assignments and do a quiz and then come to school to do the work armed with questions and some background knowledge.

So it sounds much more intensive than just some pre-reading.

It has a lot of weight. And, of course, all of those pre-reading assignments and whatnot will [be part of] an overall mark for the program as well.

And that means that when they’re on campus with their instructors in their pairs, in groups of three, they have a lot more context for the hands-on stuff, it sounds like.

Indeed. And so it frees up time in the classroom for the all-important hands-on component by enabling them to get through some of the academic or more theoretical work at home.

What changes did we make at Vicars and how have our classes been continuing to learn since we stopped our on-campus stuff in March?

Well, coincidentally, the pandemic only sped up a process that we’d already been designing and developing that is having students more prepared before class. Along with much more emphasis on video conferences with their instructors.

We’ve always had contact between instructors and students in between those in class days. And this is just increasing that?

Yes. The video conferencing is going to become a much bigger component. And of course, that has gone along with what we’ve had to do with putting much of our material online due to the covid situation.

Do you feel that our existing blended learning approach helped prepare us and maybe even prepare our students for this new reality of the last couple of months?

Well, without doubt, the fact that our students and instructors were already used to a large part of the course being completed at home was a benefit. However, it has not been without significant challenges as well.

Can you tell me some of the challenges that we’ve experienced with online learning?

Well, not all of our instructors are familiar with actually teaching online. Keeping the students connected to certain components of the program and to each other has been a considerable challenge for both faculty and students.

Definitely had been a learning curve on that. How have we been helping our instructors deal with that learning curve? How have we been helping them prepare and advance their knowledge of this new way of teaching?

Instructors are going to be taking an online course over the summer about how to teach online. I think this is very important. This will prepare them for returning to class in the fall, whether virtually or face to face.

Our current students have missed some on-campus days. Will they get the opportunity to cover that material when they come back to campus?

They will. If this is necessary, all missed hands-on material will be available to current students. We’ll deliver it in a flexible manner to make sure it’s achievable for everyone.

Though it’s impossible to predict what the next couple of months are going to be like, what preparations are we making as a school to help plan for different eventualities?

Well, we’ll continue to prepare to hone online teaching skills by supporting faculty with resources for teaching online. The school’s developing more video resources for techniques and treatments to reinforce classroom time. And these things will ensure that students are ready to fully engage in the hands-on component of the program when we can return to class.

And how can students who are planning to start with us in September plan ahead and prepare for the beginning of their massage education?

Well, at this time, students can start taking Anatomy and Physiology, and Pathology. Those two core components of the program are available once you’re registered for the program.

And what’s the advantage of getting started with that online learning before classes start?

Well, those two courses are independent courses, but they are also heavy courses. And so by getting a head start on them, it will just free up more time for students when they are in the throes of the actual program. And so it’s always an advantage to be able to work ahead on that material.

The worst case scenario, of course, is if we’re not able to start on campus classes as scheduled in September or if there is another interruption in classes later in the year. How is the school planning ahead for that? Will the students who plan to start in September still be able to get their education?

In any of those scenarios, we’re prepared to deliver the course without lowering any standards. We’re set up to vary the delivery of the program to accommodate online learning and classroom time to ensure all of the standards that we’re committed to will be met.

In 2011, Bree Skiba had been out of school for four years and was already head of a mini massage empire: her company Balance Massage had two Edmonton locations and had just opened a third in Kelowna. I interviewed her then about her experiences as a student, and her career so far.

Watch that video here:

It’s now six years later, and both Balance Massage and the school have grown and changed. After reconnecting at our recent Edmonton Networking Night, I took the opportunity to catch up with Bree.

“I’m still doing well!” she says. “We’re almost 10 years at our original location at Moksha Yoga West, so that’s super exciting. I have a lot of regular clients who have stuck with me through the years, even through when I had a baby and came back.

The two original Edmonton locations are still going strong, and a third clinic is opening this month within TNP Fitness Studio. Bree sold the Kelowna location a few years ago.

“I have 8 therapists now, and I’ll be looking to hire more in the next couple of months. I’ve had a couple therapists now who’ve been with me for quite a while, and I’ve had lots of Vicars grads come through my door,” she says. “I also have one Vicars student on staff right now.”

Her journey has not been without challenges, however. The industry has changed over the last decade, and she and her therapists have had to work hard to keep up.

“What I’ve noticed is the saturation of massage therapy companies in the Edmonton area,” Bree says. “There are a few very large big box companies coming out of the States that have made it harder for small business owners. Those big places, they underpay their therapists, and as a business owner who pays out a good percentage to my therapists, it’s really frustrating to see.”

To thrive with this increasing competition, Bree and her colleagues have had to get back to basics: providing consistent, high-quality treatments that her clients can count on.

“I think if you’re a good therapist, and you know what your clients want, they will always, always, always come back to you,” she says. “My bread and butter is my regular clientele. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy, because they stick around.”

And a decade in, Bree has no plans to slow down.

“I wouldn’t trade my job for the world. Being a massage therapist—I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m a single mum of a four-year-old, and I can still spend a ton of time with him and take clients in the evenings. It’s just so versatile.”

To learn more about Bree, read her bio on Balance Massage here.

To learn more about Balance Massage, visit their website.

One of my favourite things about working here is getting to know our students so well. Even as the school has grown, we’ve been able to maintain a really warm, open relationship between students and staff and instructors. I think it comes from a combination of our small class sizes, open door policy (and in the Edmonton offices, a “no door” policy), and drive to always put students first.

Anyway, knowing our students so well means we really miss them when they graduate, and love to hear what they’re up to once they begin their careers. Which is why I was so pleased to come across these videos we made in 2011!

Then and now, we’re constantly bragging about our amazing grads, and we commissioned these for our website. They didn’t end up making the transition when we revamped the site last year, but we’re adding more alumni success stories at the moment so I dug them up again.

And they’re so fun! Check out Bree and Jordan telling their stories about attending Vicars:

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[youtube id=”GKNEq7z-jWc” caption=”” theme=””]

Some of the information is out of date — for instance, we now host public clinic instead of having students do practicum placements, but it’s great to see so many familiar faces! I also enjoyed those shots of the old Edmonton location. It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two years since we moved from Roper Road to Calgary Trail.

Watching these has made me want to hear more alumni stories! Take to the comments and tell us about what you’re up to! And hey – do you want to be profiled on the blog? And remember: I’m always on the lookout for interesting massage tales. This blog can be an opportunity to share your experiences and learn from each other. Email me at robin@mhvicarsschool.com with suggestions!