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Registered Massage Therapist Talk with Jessica Harder
Jessica Harder is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has been an esthetician for 16 years graduating from Marvel college in 2006. She worked in many spas and salons, like Eveline Charles and even did a 9 month contract on Disney Cruise Lines back in 2008. This gave her an attention to detail work ethic, and her – ‘it’s all about the customer’ attitude, as she truly likes to make sure her clients self-care needs are being looked after in a relaxing and comfortable environment. Since 2018, Jessica rents her own studio space and is working for herself. This allowed her to grow her business and gain a loyal, regular base of clients. Looking to grow more, she decided to go back to school in 2020 for Massage Therapy at Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Edmonton. She graduated on June 11, 2022. Jessica is excited to bring her vast knowledge from the spa industry to the more wellness focused goals of massage therapy.
Massage therapists assess soft tissues and joints of the body for treatment and prevention of dysfunction, injury, pain and physical disorders. They work in private practice, including group or team practices, hospitals, clinics, extended care facilities, rehabilitation centers and educational institutions.
People working as a registered massage therapist (RMT) have different job prospects depending on where they work in Canada.
Massage therapists usually require completion of an 18- to 24-month or 18- to 36-month program in massage therapy from an accredited school and a period of supervised practical training.
Registration with a regulatory body is required in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and British Columbia.
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Full Length Episode:
Complete Episode Transcript
Today’s guest is Jessica Harder.
Here’s our job talk with a massage therapist.
Welcome to The Job Talk Podcast.
Where we talk with people who love their jobs.
Our guests open up about their challenges, surprises and secrets to success in their industries through conversation and we explore their careers, past work experiences, and the education that got them to where they are now.
Jessica, thank you for coming on the podcast.
I’m excited to talk to you because you recently graduated from massage therapy.
What’s why? Why did you decide to change things up a little bit and go into massage therapy? Yeah, I did just graduate from the Vicars Massage Therapy School of Edmonton on June 10th.
So super recent.
Yay! So exciting.
I didn’t actually decide to change things up.
So I am an aesthetician.
I’ve been an institution for six years and I’m just going to be adding this modality to my current business.
Model, because about four years ago I decided to step out on my own and I now just rent my own studio space.
So I work for myself and I had room to grow my business.
So I’m really excited and I really thrived in massage therapy school and I really enjoyed it. So yeah, it’s exciting.
OK, and we’ll talk to you about the education that you took to become a massage therapist.
Where did you go to high school? I went to Jasper Place Composite High School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
And what was your first post-secondary experience after you left? Left high school? I took a year off to work, just kind of any mundane job I could get.
And then I actually went back to school at Marvel College also in Edmonton, and took the Aesthetic Certification Program. OK.
And that led you into your career as an entrepreneur and a business owner.
But did you work for other businesses before you got into working for yourself? Yes, I worked for many spas in and around Edmonton.
One of the first ones being a very high and very popular spa, and they really kinda started you from the ground up, retrained you.
Even though I had just gone through ten months of school, I kind of started at the bottom of the totem pole we’ll say.
And then I just worked my way up into becoming one of their main aestheticians, I guess you could say.
And then I actually also spent nine months working on cruise ships as an aesthetician.
So that was a really fun working vacation that I got to experience in my twenties, and it was pretty neat.
How do you even apply to work on a cruise ship? Yeah.
So I applied at a website that is still up and running this day.
That I know, and it’s just called castaway.com So they are kind of like a hiring agency for any of the cruise ships that travel around the world.
I applied to that and I didn’t hear anything for nine months, so I thought I didn’t get the job.
And then out of the blue I got a phone call and it was so and so from Castaway, and they wanted to fly me.
Well, I had to pay, but they wanted me to fly to Vancouver, British Columbia, and do an interview.
So I said OK.
And I got my little plane ticket, went to Vancouver, and I did a sit down interview face to face.
But then I actually had to do a one hour massage And then afterwards they were like, OK, we’ll call you and then again, I think it was like six or seven weeks that I didn’t hear anything.
And then I got a phone call and they said, we want you to come work on cruise ships.
So then I flew to London, England, and I went to Steiner Academy, and that is the company that’s in charge of all of the spas on all of the cruise ships that cruise around the world.
And that was a positive experience for you.
Would you recommend people have that experience? Looking back on it? Yes.
Going through it like the interview process and the and like getting the job was easy enough.
But then flying to London, England was the first time I’d ever flown by myself.
I was 20 years old.
So you got to bring one big suitcase that you had to pack all your stuff into for the year and you didn’t know what was coming and you didn’t know anybody.
And it was definitely an experience that I won’t forget.
But I was homesick and I missed my family and I miss my friends.
And it’s really hard work, you know? So first when I was in London, England, I spent three weeks just doing their training up to their standards, up to their customer service level.
And then I actually got placed on Disney cruise lines.
So then I got to go to Florida and I trained with Disney, like on Celebration Avenue, and you get trained up to their standards.
It was funny because everybody in my class thought I was there training to be a princess, but I was actually like, Nope, I’m just the aesthetician.
I’m about to join a cruise ship to work in this spa.
So you definitely have some laughs and you make new friends but I’m kind of shy.
And so for me, it was definitely a very good experience. For me.
But I was I’ve had anxiety throughout a bit, I would say.
And that that was a nine month work experience.
So you have to do the first contract, which is nine months, and then you can go home and you can decide if you want to work on ships again.
And it’s much easier.
You can go back to the ship that you just spent nine months on, or you could request another ship.
But I didn’t ask to go back and I didn’t want to go back.
But I do know people through the world of Facebook staying connected that way that actually spent years and years working on ships and they just really enjoyed doing that.
So, I mean, it’s definitely something for somebody.
It just wasn’t for me. Right? Yeah.
So you finish that experience on the cruise ship.
What was your next step? What happened next after you left the cruise ship? Cruise ship.
I actually came home and there was the I guess, economy crash, I would say, of the late 2000 2008 2009, and I couldn’t find a job at a spa.
So I actually switched gears and I just started working some admin positions at some other companies.
But I always loved doing aesthetics.
So I offered it to my friends and family.
I would do mobile services, so I would go to people’s house and sit on their floor and do their pedicures and actually still do those services for some of my limited mobility clients that can’t get out of the house.
And yeah, so I always wanted to get back into spas, so I just kept looking and applying and looking for jobs and stuff like that.
So I did then get another job within a spa and yeah, I kind of work that until I had children and then that’s when I kind of decided that it was time for me to step out on my own and try and find my own space so that I could have more flexibility to be a stay at home mom as well as working.
OK, you have an entrepreneurial spirit about you.
I guess this podcast is focused on massage therapy, so why don’t we talk about and I think you mentioned it a little bit earlier in our conversation, but why why did you choose to go into massage therapy? Yeah. So ever since I finished Ascetic School, so that’s six years ago now.
I said I wanted to add massage therapy because working in spas, you usually work with aesthetician, nail techs, massage therapists, sometimes even hairstylists.
And that’s the main place that I worked at when I was working.
So that’s always what I saw.
And I always thought the two really do complement each other and go hand in hand.
So fast forward to the pandemic and my newly business getting shut down multiple times, not knowing if I would be able to work again, and then just trying to figure out some other options and really just saying I think now is the time for me to go back to school.
Or to get this massage therapy diploma because I’ve been saying it for years.
So if not now in five years, when I’m still saying that I want to go back and get it. So. Yeah, yeah.
And where did you take your course? And we can we talk about some of the subjects that you studied while you were going through that program? Sure.
So I graduated from the Vicars Massage Therapy School of Edmonton that is here in Alberta, Canada, and I had to study A and P, so anatomy and pathology.
And then there’s ology and then also principles of massage.
And then like all of your sort of conditions so year one, so it’s a two year program.
2200 hours that you get that gets you qualified as a registered massage therapist.
Year one is heavily focused on learning all of your anatomy of the body.
So bones and muscles and then also learning what those muscles do.
So their actions and then where they start and then where they finished.
So origin and insertion.
So it’s very heavily medical terminology that you’re focusing on exact points on the bone because like for example, we have our humerus here, but we also have a little bony protrusion which is called your deltoid to voracity.
So I never knew that two years ago.
So now I do.
Did you find the courses challenging or is this something that you enjoy so much that it maybe came easier to you? I think my classmates would say that it came easier to me.
They kind of called me a keener, but I did find it challenging.
I struggled with learning the muscles of the body.
I made myself voice recordings so I could listen to them while I fell asleep or while I was driving or just walking the dog.
I had flashcards that I purchased so that I could always have them with me.
And then when you actually start to do massage I would kind of like Landmark on the body.
OK, well, this is this muscle and it goes here and it does this and you’re kind of just get submerged into this world.
Of what the body is capable of and what the muscles do.
And somebody says something hurts and you’re like, Oh, well, it could be this muscle, this muscle, this muscle.
So it was definitely very like, you have to submerge yourself into your schoolwork or you won’t do well.
And how did they run the school? Are you when do you start to work with actual people? Are you guys are you guys working on your fellow classmates or do we actually bring people, people in from the public? So with I chose I specifically chose the Vicars Massage Therapy School of Edmonton because of its distance learning capabilities, because I had my own business.
I’m also a mom.
I also have life outside of school so I was in something called the monthly program.
So we would go to school four days a week, nine to five, and then once you’re done about five months, you can do you start your clinic shifts.
So you have to do these clinics shifts in order to graduate so that kind of changed my schedule where I would be going to school nine to nine for three of those four days.
And then the fourth day is actually just a massage day as well.
So I think there was one weekend where I had done like 13 massages over the four days.
So it’s definitely you do get lots of hands on experience, which is good.
But for my class, because I joined during the pandemic, we actually weren’t allowed to work on the public for my first year where typically you would start to work out in the public.
So I and my classmates worked on each other, so we would do a massage for our classmate and then receive a massage for a classmate.
So it was still like a clinic.
You still had a clinic supervisor that walked around and asked questions but it just wasn’t on the public.
And then so when the public does come in, it’s like a game changer because you have to speak in terms that they’ll understand.
You have to explain yourself eloquently because they don’t know what certain movements are.
So it was definitely nice to have the public in, but it was kind of changed everything for us that we had been used to. So what do you love about being a massage therapist? I I think I really love the ability to help people that may be experiencing pain or discomfort in their body.
So or even actually just to help somebody relax because you could just come in and say, I just want a relaxation massage.
So it’s just really allowing people to get kind of the self care that they need.
Do you have a favorite massage technique that you’ve studied and that you do.
It’s something called origin and insertion, so you would find the muscles.
So here is my deltoid, for example.
It runs along your clavicle and then also your scapula, and then it inserts into that deltoid tube.
Rusty, I mentioned earlier so what I would do is actually just run my fingers along the tendons that attach to the bone and do little like x cross marks and so I would do the whole front and then just down here.
So what’s good, what it’s good for is if you have a super tight or what we call hypertonic muscle, it actually tells the fibers in your muscles to relax and lengthen.
So yeah, that’s one of my favorite techniques that I like to do.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve experienced? I guess maybe we could talk about challenges through your education.
The pandemic might have been been one what about some challenges as that you’re now working with actual clients well.
I think one of the biggest challenges through the pandemic was just and I think this could be said for anything in life was really the unknown.
And not knowing if we would be able to go into school that month or not knowing if we would be on Zoom, we actually did spend one month for our finals in first year doing our finals over Zoom.
So that was announced very last minute.
And it was kind of a little bit hairy, but my instructors did a very good job of facilitating that for me and my classmates, but it definitely caused a lot of anxiety for me.
So really the ability to adapt and just kind of go with the flow is really paramount.
In your massage career because sometimes too, for example, we get client files at school and you go in and you read these client files and you’re like, OK, this person has a problem in their ankle.
I’m going to go into my textbook and look up all of these massage techniques I can do for their ankle.
And then they come in and they say, My shoulders really sore today could you massage my shoulder so you can’t really prep for something you don’t have in front of you.
So I think that has that was definitely one of my challenges in school.
I don’t necessarily do that now that I’m practicing.
So now that I’m in my own space, I think one of the I don’t really have a lot of challenges, but just I guess I would say clients not arriving on time.
Is a challenge because it A, causes me anxiety and then B shortens their treatment if I have a client right afterwards or if I have to be done at that specific time.
So I mean, really they only have to show up about 5 minutes early, but if you’re showing up 15 minutes late, then that’s, that’s hard to get.
Is there anything you know now after going through the program and adding this on to your service list, is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew two or three years ago before you even went into the course.
Really, it’s the effect massage can have on a person’s body or pain.
And that’s even with myself I broke my toe last May, and it caused some nerve pain all the way from my big toe up into the lower back area of my.
So my whole leg had nerve pain in it.
And I went into class and I got a massage and I specifically asked them to work on that.
And the massage therapist did whatever techniques they wanted to do.
And literally, I had been suffering with nerve pain for about three days and it was gone the next day and hasn’t returned the so like and that’s not to say that every massage is that effective.
I had a client who had reduced range of motion in their shoulder, so it’s something called frozen shoulder.
They can’t move their arm past this, but I was able to get him to move his arm to here.
So it’s like the little steps that actually really help to alleviate someone’s pain.
I wasn’t expecting to learn so many techniques and things that would be able to help people get past that.
That must be very fulfilling.
Being able to help somebody alleviate some pain that they’re experiencing can you take us through a typical day for you? Sure.
So I can kind of do a day as if I wasn’t the be all, end all, because technically I am the receptionist.
I open the door, I clean the space, I do all of that stuff.
So if I could go back to like if I was just working in a spa, typically I would show up about 15 minutes early to get all set up.
And then you would wait for your client.
And in that time I usually would check if there was laundry that needed to be loaded into the washing machine or dryer or and then check if there was laundry that needed to be folded.
Because in like esthetics and massage therapy, there is a never ending pile of laundry so and then you set up so you set up your table for your first client and then you just kind of sit and wait.
And then when the client arrives, you take them in and kind of go over what they’re looking to have done today or what they’re looking to have worked on today.
And you kind of go through that with them you could do an assessment.
So that’s essentially bringing them through range of motion of the body part that’s bugging them.
So if it’s their knee, you would get them to bend their knee, that sort of thing, and then you get their consent for massage and then you get them on to the table and then you come in and perform the massage and then you finish up.
So at the end of massage therapy too, I like to do like a strengthening or stretching, stretching exercise because really home care matters too.
There’s only so much a massage therapist can do for somebody, but to get them to do something at home is really going to help with their sort of goal as well.
Are there any misconceptions about massage therapists? Yes, that is a very loaded question.
Is it? Let’s talk. About that.
So here in Alberta, massage therapy is not regulated, so in Alberta and tend to you do have massage parlors that are performing services that are not included in massage therapy.
So sexual solicitation can happen.
And it hasn’t happened to me, thankfully.
Knock on some wood but you definitely do have to be prepared in that instance that something like that could happen.
And I mean, the worst thing anybody can do actually is call a registered massage therapist a misuse because that means that we provide those extra services.
And I have been called that.
So right away, I’m like, no, no, I’m not a masseuse.
I am a registered massage therapist.
I went to school, I took the courses.
Yeah, I will help you with your body.
And there’s nothing extra added on to that.
So that is a misconception that is still happening today.
And some people just don’t know.
There’s lots of people who have never received a massage and they may go to one of those parlors because they can look like a massage clinic and somebody could look right? Yeah.
Yes, they could look reputable, and some people just go there and get that and then that’s the expectation they have.
And then to actually in different cultures, sometimes there are things that are massage that we typically wouldn’t massage.
And North America or for example, in European countries, they are a little bit more free with their nudity.
So sometimes in European countries you don’t even get a top sheet or a blanket and you just lie on the table naked.
And that’s perfectly normal.
Where in North America, that’s not really the case.
So it kind of depends on where you are culturally and socially, but it can happen and you do have to be prepared for that.
OK, have you experienced any surprises through your education to become a massage therapists? And even now that you’re you’re working as a massage therapist? Yeah, I think one of the biggest surprises in school for anyways for massage therapy was that we actually learned a lot about ethics and business as well.
So ethics essentially is basically teaching you how to create and mold your professional persona with values and morals and essentially what is right and wrong in the profession of aesthetics.
So you talk about things like consent for massage or consent to massage somebody’s glutes their buttocks, and you talk about things about when people are crossing the line.
So it can be simple as a client always showing up late.
How you would handle that ethically without damaging your client therapist relationship? Or it can be bigger things being solicited for sexual favours or actually even having to deal with somebody on the table who has been sexually abused.
There are ways that you should handle those situations, and it’s a very serious topic.
And sometimes it was very emotionally draining to talk about those things or learn about those things, especially two because my opinion and my morals and values might be different than that of my classmates so those classes were always very heated.
It was more like a debate, but you kind of all kind of came around to common ground, I’ll say.
And then business, you actually have to do a business proposal as if you were going to go to a bank and say, I would like a loan to start this business, and that is worth 10% of your mark.
So that was a huge assignment that you had to research your demographics, your potential client base, how much money you’re going to need to start up a business, how much you’re going to charge for your service is it was very eye opening and even me being on my own for, what is it, four years almost now, it definitely opened my eyes to a whole bunch of other things that I didn’t even really think about with the business, like marketing or how you’re going to get your name out there.
So those are definitely two surprises with school and then with massage as a little surprise is I one time had somebody fall asleep on the table and they were very comfortable.
They started drooling on my feet and then when I was trying to wake them up to turn them over, they wouldn’t wake up.
And I kind of had to like pinch their shoulders and be like, Are you OK? And then they woke up and then that scared me.
So that was a literal surprise on the table that sometimes happens to people get relaxed and they fall asleep. So why would you recommend somebody become a massage therapist? Like if you like wellness and like to be able to help people with their aches and pains in their body, then you could definitely look into massage therapy I know a lot of people who used to be paramedics go kind of into the massage therapy program.
So it’s also a nice transition job or vice versa.
People that are massage therapists then go on to do nursing.
So it’s definitely a medical grounded career that kind of opens up doorways for other jobs.
But if you like being around people and placing your hands on someone’s body, then you can definitely think about massage therapy for sure.
Is there any advice that you could give somebody that is about to start their education to become a massage therapists.
You definitely need to be comfortable talking to people and kind of asking people hard questions, like whether it’s How did you hurt your shoulder or the mechanism of your injury or all of these sorts of things.
So just being able to have a conversation with somebody not making it so clinical is very important.
You do have to be comfortable with people lying on your massage table and then you massaging them.
So I know that there was a few students who dropped out within the first month of our program because they realized, Hey, my hands are going to have to be on somebody’s body for my career.
So yeah, you have to be comfortable standing and moving around.
You need to be strong like or try to build up the muscles in your arms and back because sometimes people like deep tissue massage and those massages can be hard to do.
So for sure.
Just be comfortable with people and their bodies.
OK, Jessica, I’d like to thank you for joining us today.
I really appreciate the time that you gave us today.
Thanks. Yeah, no problem. My pleasure.
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