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
Rejuvenate. Enhance. Maintain.