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Practice made perfect

The job of a massage therapy professional can sometimes be isolating – working long hours within the confines of a treatment room.

January 7, 2015  By Mari-Len De

The job of a massage therapy professional can sometimes be isolating – working long hours within the confines of a treatment room. Except for short initial conversations with clients during treatment, the opportunities for interaction are limited.

Photo credit: John W. Corry, RMT


This is why veteran massage therapist Cathy Ryan found it a very integral part of her career growth to get involved in her professional community as an active participant among her peers. Recently, she took on the role of chair of the board of the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia (CMTBC), serving a two-year term.

“I knew that in order for a person to stay really excited about what they’re doing, it is really important to do things beyond just the treatment room – not to, in any way, diminish the work that we’re doing in the treatment room because it’s very meaningful and important work, of course,” says Ryan who considers herself a “perpetual student” seeking new opportunities to learn from and contribute to her profession. This constant learning has led to diversity in her practice that now spans 24 years.


Although she now lives in Telkwa, B.C., Ryan’s career began in Ontario, graduating from D’Arcy Lane Institute in London, Ont., in 1990. Like many of her colleagues, Ryan’s interest in massage therapy was brought on by personal experience. As a young athlete, she was exposed to massage therapy treatments, which have always brought on positive results.

Perpetual learner
Launching one’s massage therapy practice right out of school can be both challenging and intimidating. Often, the inexperience and lack of appropriate business skills could stand in the way of a fulfilling practice.

Ryan calls it fortunate that the right opportunity to launch her career struck at the right moment.

“There was a chiropractor who came to our school specifically looking for someone with a strong background in exercise therapy as well as massage therapy, because his clinic was part of a pilot project for workers’ comp… that was looking at outcomes for back injuries related to work,” she recalls.

Ryan’s past life as a personal trainer, prior to enrolling in massage therapy school, came in very handy and she got the job. Because the pilot project involved comparing various medical approaches – chiropractic, massage therapy and exercise rehabilitation – Ryan was immediately exposed to an interdisciplinary work setting.

Having access to support from people with vast experience in practice and can impart some of their knowledge on the newbies is very important for one who is just starting out in the profession.

“What’s been a real key for me is that I’ve had great opportunity to collaborate in a number of ways, not only with my own colleagues in the profession, but also interprofessionally,” Ryan says.

These collaborations have been instrumental to her leading a diversified career in health care. She has served as a medical team leader and massage therapy clinical coordinator for
special populations, she has provided medical evaluations, participated in international focus groups, and fostered interprofessional and public education on massage therapy.

 She also acted as a subject matter expert for the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO) and has been a member of multiple committees with the CMTBC. Ryan is also an educator, having taught both entry-to-practice and various continuing education courses.

“Part of my reason for spending 10 years as subject matter expert with the CMTO is because I wanted to contribute to the profession that way,” she says.

Writing is another passion for Ryan. She has written a number of articles on fascia and is co-authoring a book on traumatic scar tissue management with Nancy Keeney-Smith, a licensed massage therapist based in Florida.

Fascia is a subject that is near and dear to Ryan. She remembers the first time she attended a fascia research congress in Boston in 2007.

“When the researchers and the scientists got up to speak, there were a lot of us who had that deer-in-the-headlight kind of look, because they were speaking in a language that wasn’t necessarily all that familiar to us,” she recalls. “I was not a researcher, I’ve never done research. I graduated at a time when research literacy was not part of our entry to practice education – it is now, which I think is fantastic.”

That conference made a great impression on Ryan. It got her more interested in the area of massage therapy research, and enrolled in several online courses to expand her knowledge on research literacy. Eventually, her writing stints involved research translation for several publications.

As chair of the CMTBC, it is important for Ryan to facilitate a healthy dialogue among board members in the pursuit of the college’s mandates.

“I just make sure that every person on the board has an opportunity to express their perspective on whatever discussion we’re having. And make sure, as a result of those discussions, that we can support the college, that we’re making really sound decisions so the college is able to fulfill its duty in an exemplary way.”

Perhaps it’s never been more important to be at the forefront in light of positive developments for the massage therapy profession that has been transpiring in recent years.

Research initiatives specific to massage therapy continue to rise and have contributed to the increase in the profession’s credibility in health care.

Professional associations in unregulated provinces are gaining ground in their efforts to achieve professional regulation. In December 2013, New Brunswick entered the regulation fold – joining Ontario, B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador. Other provinces are at various levels of the process for regulation and some are expected to achieve professional regulation soon.

The push for national accreditation of massage therapy education has also gained momentum, with the formation of the Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation (CMTCA). At the time of this writing, the council’s first board of directors has just been elected.

“Anything that supports the credibility of the profession, obviously, is very exciting first and foremost, to ensure that we are delivering the best, safest, most ethical, effective quality of care that we can to the public,” Ryan says.

The process of accrediting schools, however, is not new to B.C. It has a long established system for accrediting massage therapy education programs through the province’s Ministry of Advanced Education, with significant input and assistance from the CMTBC.

This means when national accreditation comes, B.C. schools will potentially not have to undergo big changes to comply with national standards.

To Ryan, however, the vision for the profession does not end with national accreditation. For one thing, the goal of getting professional regulation for all jurisdictions across Canada is vital to elevating RMTs as a significant player in the health-care space.

“Both the national accreditation and the work on the (Interjurisdictional Entry-to-Practice Competency) document are both very instrumental in our profession moving toward a national registration exam, which is quite likely to happen in our future as more and more provinces and possibly territories at some point in time become regulated,” Ryan says.

Although she is nearing 25 years in the profession, the thought of retiring may not yet be in Ryan’s mind. She is excited about her new post and looks forward to every opportunity that allows her to help others – whether it’s her clinic patients, new RMTs needing guidance or peers in search of collaborative opportunities.

For therapists just starting out in the profession, her one advice is to constantly “stay current and stay connected.”

“Collaborate with your colleagues, look for ways to collaborate interprofessionally,” she suggests. “That is a really great way to evolve as a person and evolve your practice.”

Being active in the professional community not only allows one to contribute to its growth, but it’s also an excellent venue to meet some extraordinary people, she adds.

“For me it’s been really extraordinary to have an opportunity to participate from the regulator perspective… it has really made me a far better practitioner and person, and helped me evolve.”

It may be far from her mind, but when asked what legacy she would like to leave for the profession, Ryan remarks: “First and foremost, that I have represented the profession well, in any way that I have contributed and can contribute to the profession’s public profile. Whatever I can do to bring massage therapy more to the forefront so those in need of quality care have access to it, and that massage therapy is readily identified as the safest, most ethical, effective form of health care. Any way that I can support or contribute to that, I will think it’s been time well spent.”

Mari-Len De Guzman is editor of Massage Therapy Canada magazine. You may contact her at

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