The Road to a New Career in Massage

By Sharon Livingstone

The road to massage is not always lined with scented candles. And massage is not always our first career.

Jo Cotterall has been operating her home-based clinic in Townsville, Queensland for just over a year.

‘I always felt I wasn’t meant for accounting even though I did it well,’ Jo says of her long career in Accountancy and Corporate Finance. ‘From a young age I can remember having a fascination with how the human body worked – probably like most of us. Maybe not like most of us, I loved watching documentaries on surgeries and pathology, whereas my family would run and hide at the sight of these things. They all said to me, “you will be a doctor one day”.’

“In a nut(egg)shell, I was a mess.”

Jo ignored her family and multiple aptitude tests that suggested her career should be in “healthcare”, and moved into accounting because of a natural gift with numbers. Jo made a success of her career while raising two children but, ‘it was a high stress job, my lifestyle was not the healthiest – I was the heaviest I had ever been (even heavier than being pregnant). I didn’t sleep. In a nut shell, I was a mess’. Added to this, Jo was managing a shoulder injury that persisted for 5 years. Ironically, it was that shoulder injury that introduced Jo to massage. ‘The only thing I had found that worked for me to facilitate change was massage. It gave me clarity, reduced my stress, reduced my pain, gave me better range of motion and I remember thinking to myself, oh my goodness, this is amazing.

Perhaps fortuitously, Jo was made redundant from her accounting job and in a self-confessed mid-life crisis moment, Jo headed off to study massage. ‘I wanted a better lifestyle, and this included a better work life balance. I wanted a whole lot more fulfilment in my work.’

Robert Sic has been a massage therapist for over 8 years, and works at a chiropractic clinic in Campbelltown, NSW. Diagnosed with a rare form of Diabetes in childhood, Robert travelled a stony path to massage, having to drop out of his Psychology degree to head out to work to support the family and save the family home. It wasn’t enough and within a few hours of the family home selling, Robert’s mother died suddenly. His father’s health was poor so Robert also became his father’s carer until he too died 2 years later. Robert and his younger brother were left to support each other.

‘While trying to survive, working on cars, working in kitchens washing dishes, I was extremely stressed and unhappy and felt very empty until one cold morning, I was under a car welding and said ‘enough is enough, I need a change’.’

Robert’s candle filled image of what a massage was.

With an image of a candlelit, flowery massage in his mind and a bit of research, Robert met with a massage teacher at Sutherland TAFE. But Robert’s image of massage received a shock at that meeting.

‘She was showing me the clinic where the students practice on each other and I said to her “surely clothed right?” and she grinned and said no.’

At the time, Robert’s self-esteem was low and he kept everyone at arm’s length but massage changed that:

‘I enjoyed massaging in a way I’d never experienced anything else but I was really good at it and everyone loved my warm empathetic touch and I almost had an instant rapport with everyone.’

New Career, New Challenges

Not everything about entering a career in massage is easy.

Jo: ‘At first it was hard to adjust to the reduced income and the limitations of how many people you can treat in a day due to the physical demand.’


Robert: ‘The way my friends and family saw me changed. As a male it was difficult to get jobs. I found the fitness needed was very high as it can be draining physically, mentally and emotionally.

The Good Bits

On the other hand …

Jo: ‘Massage is an amazing gift of touch. To assist someone in letting go of stress is beyond words. To assist someone in finding clarity so they can deal with everyday life stressors and make those required changes for themselves is overwhelming (in a good way). Having a client come into the clinic barely able to walk straight and have pain, at the end of the session get up and have 50% less pain and walk straight is so rewarding.’

Robert: ‘I love being able to help people recover from pain, injury, trauma, stress. It never feels like work. I’m literally excited every day to go to work and that feeling never gets old.’

Flexibility and Family

Jo’s family also had to do some adapting when she quite literally brought work home. However, working from home gives Jo flexibility to work around her family commitments.

Robert, who shares a home with his brother, sister-in-law, nephews and niece, also finds massage a flexible fit.

Words of Wisdom

For anyone considering changing to a career in massage, Jo says, ‘Go for it. You may be surprised at how things fall into place; how one door will close and another one will open. Challenge should be embraced, and anything is possible if you put your mind, body and soul into it.’

Robert wants wannabe massage therapists to be aware of massage misconceptions: ‘There seems to be a huge perception out there that massage is easy, work is plentiful, et cetera, but in reality you have to work very hard, study very hard, constantly evolve and learn, and you have to be willing to work on not just the actual massage but everything from marketing, promotion, client files, draping, rapport with clients and much more. Talk to as many therapists as possible before going through to study to make sure it’s the right career path.’

Is it worth it?

Coming to a new career after gaining life (and work) experience is often met with a regret of not doing it sooner. However, the experiences gained in a life before massage may help us to be better therapists.

Jo: ‘Change is often hard for the bravest of people. Today I am always in the present moment, not looking back – for me it was well worth it to get to this point. I know I have just started my journey in massage (but) I am so thrilled to see what comes next. I am thirsty for new techniques and knowledge, and am looking forward to a long and rewarding career doing what I am so passionate about: helping others.’

Robert: ‘My transition was difficult but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and massage is not just my job, it’s my passion and my life. I’m in a good place at the moment and, after 8 years, I’m still excited to go to work every day and it still doesn’t feel like work, apart from when I have to deal with the dreaded health funds (lol).’

‘The joy and pride I experience every day, I feel like I could do this for free – don’t tell my boss though.’


About the Author

Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but discovering job satisfaction came from helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller, who has just returned from a 300km walk across France (but not on a pilgrimage).

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  1. Great article, thanks for sharing your stories. I can agree with the different points you raise as I too have changed track later in life to take up massage. Good to have both the pros and cons discussed. Talking pre-course to more experienced people may have been a good idea, still the intuitive pull to the industry was strong.

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