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Massage therapy allows practitioners to expand their horizons


October 24, 2019
By Jules Torti

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Massage therapists can benefit from various work environments in a non-committal way, opting for “gigs” in cottage country, at company wellness fairs, fundraising events or themed weekends. A locum position for a pregnant or injured therapist at a private clinic can be an ideal opportunity to experience clinic ownership without the overhead and risk.

Due to the physical nature of massage therapy, a 40-hour workweek is impractical and unsustainable. Amateur athletes can find themselves in this restricted category as well, seeking non-physical side hustles to support and finance their demanding training.

Compacted work weeks, whether dictated by physical demands or a focus on self-care can lend well to unconventional pursuits, related or unrelated to massage. For many massage therapists, there is time to enroll in continuing education programs or courses that would be generally cramped by 9-to-5 demands. Teaching morning classes at a yoga studio or massage college allow for afternoon and evening bookings, the time frames that are most desired by clientele with traditional jobs.

Independent contractors can float between clinics and spas and school, establishing a fluid balance of interests and environments. A gig at a chiropractic clinic can be lucrative in the form of perks. Trades at a multi-disciplinary clinic can off-set costs for shiatsu sessions, gym memberships, chiro adjustments, physio treatment and naturopathic care. Discounts on Tiger balm or the use of steam room facilities can do wonders for job satisfaction.

But why are massage therapists more likely to engage in the gig economy than other professions? For therapists who practice differing modalities, having a treatment space in a few different locations can help identify and capitalize on niche clientele. A clinic near a Running Room will attract easy business thanks to geography alone. However, for therapists who also practice equine massage, it’s location, location, location. To balance a clientele of runners and galloping horses, a few gigs in the city and rural locations is vital.

Flipping different settings during the week can provide a guaranteed recharge as well. If you are home-based, interaction with other therapists or practitioners helps discuss unresolved cases and learn about new modalities and techniques. Every therapist is part of a broader network, and, collaborating can double your contacts and possibly lead to a new gig connection.

In Toronto, I curated my ideal schedule with three gigs. I capitalized on busy weekends at Body Blitz, a women’s only spa. Employees were allowed to use the waters circuit and trade treatments during off-hours. “Blitz Bucks” for reaching performance targets could be redeemed for Himalayan bath salts, moor mud, protein shakes and local coffee shop gift cards. It was a fool-proof incentive plan. I chose to also work two days at a multi-disciplinary clinic near Rosedale where I could exchange services with the chiropractor, naturopath and dentist. Because I didn’t have health care coverage at the time, this placement was a massive bonus for self-care and my bank account. My third gig was an evening shift at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. While independent contractors didn’t benefit from typical Fairmont staff perks like free meals and hotel discounts, I was able to take advantage of the health club gym, steam, sauna, free coffee and newspapers!

If your interests are divisive, and you’re drawn to both high energy and calm, serene settings, picking up temp work can help you refine your perfect career trajectory. Or, maybe that is your ideal trajectory – a rolling resume of various placements coupled with passive income. Identifying peak days at clinics or your own home-based business will allow you to optimize your income. Whether you choose to do research, sell essential oils or open an Airbnb space in your house to complement your services, the gig economy embraces all of this.

Maybe, like me, you have come to realize that massage therapy as a full-time career is no longer sustainable. I have been a freelance writer for over 10 years. In the beginning, I wrote book reviews for The Vancouver Sun, which allowed me to marry my love of reading and make some fast, easy, non-hands-on cash doing it.

When I moved to a four-day work schedule, I ramped up my writing pitches. The satisfaction I was finding in writing was surpassing that which I derived from massage gigs. My unspoken goal was to retire from massage once I started making more money writing than I was massaging. It was a measured move, but still daunting. I was signing up for an equally unreliable career. Perhaps I was designed for mystery and unsteady paycheques? The more significant promise to myself was that I would only do things that made me happy, and, I could see that my happiness level at the spa was becoming as threadbare as my massage sheets.

However, all my side hustles instilled a heightened awareness and skill set that allowed me to retire confidently. I had exhausted every massage-related position from a 5-diamond hotel spa to chair massage, to a boutique gym, to a home business. I was okay with retiring and walking away because I felt like I had experienced it all. It was a career of my design.

I retired as an MT and jumped fields in 2016 after years of calculated movement towards my next pursuit: writing full time. I landed an unexpected role as editor-in-chief at Harrowsmith magazine just one month after my last shift as a massage therapist.

While learning the curves of the editorial world, I thought I might write a book about my 17 years as an MT, but, my plot ended up revolving around the universal search for a home. My memoir, Free to a Good Home: With Room For Improvement (Caitlin Press) was written shortly after I retired and unexpectedly lived in a barn for a year (*please note, it was a fancy barn with Netflix and wifi! And, a pig named Olive and eight horses). My partner and I sold our house on Facebook and couldn’t find another one. We looked at 88 houses while house hunting. (You’ll have to order the book to see how it all panned out.) You’ll also learn why and how I became a massage therapist in the first place.

My whole life has been a series of gigs, that’s for sure. They are stepping stones that can lead you into a new career deep dive or, safely back to shore. This is what I’ve learned from the gig economy: You can re-write your own story, every day. The ending is entirely up to you.


Jules Torti is a retired massage therapist and former columnist for Massage Therapy Canada. She is the editor-in-chief of Harrowsmith magazine and author of Free to a Good Home: With Room For Improvement.