Making a Difference: 30 Years in the Profession

October 2013 marked the 30th year I’ve been a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT). There were 8 other students in my class at Sutherland Chan School in Toronto. In 1983 there were only three massage therapy schools in all of Canada, and a couple of hundred therapists; now there are more than 20 schools in Ontario alone, and more than 11,000 therapists.

After graduating, I shared a clinic in upscale Queen St East, Toronto, Ontario. At that time, most RMTs were working from their homes, in a Chiropractor’s office, or at a health club. There were almost no stand-alone Massage Therapy clinics, and certainly none with a sandwich board outside, advertising Therapeutic Massage. In the first few months I had some interesting visitors.

First were two burly gentlemen in suits, who showed me their badges. They were part of the Vice Squad of the Metropolitan Toronto Police. They requested to go through the used laundry bag, to see if this was a “body rub parlour”. Realizing their mistake, they quickly left. As a positive outcome, I had several police officers as clients for years.

Next, an inspector from the Metropolitan Toronto Licensing Commission came by the clinic, demanding to see a “body rub parlour” license. I knew RMTs did not need to purchase a “massage parlour” license. I received a notice telling me to either apply for this license or pay a fine.

I decided to fight the notice, and contacted our professional massage association, and our regulating body, and they took action. After a bit of a struggle with the Commission that lasted about a year, it was conceded that yes, RMTs were covered under the Provincial Health Care Act, not a municipal By-law. This was my first experience in how one can make a difference in this new profession I cared about.

After several years as a therapist I wanted to give something back to the profession, and became a practical examiner for the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario, one of those people with a clipboard who decides whether you are competent to practice as a therapist. After experiencing the candidates’ stress levels over a couple of years, I thought there had to be a better way to prepare candidates for this process, so I looked for a teaching job at the school I had graduated from.

There was no specific textbook for the course I was teaching, so I joked to the Dean of the school that I would write one. For 11 years I taught treatments, and during that time had the privilege of training about a third of the massage therapists in Ontario. It was wonderful watching students “get it”, or seeing them work through a complex case in student clinic and handle it well. I discovered that I love teaching, seeing people put the pieces together and being successful.

My initial motivation for teaching came full circle while running a clinic helping students who were having trouble with practical exams. We worked together on assessment, techniques, and how to overcome performance anxiety. Students who attended this clinic came away more solid in their skills and confident in themselves. An added bonus was improving their scores on practical exams an average of 23%.

Back to my joke about writing a book. In my first few years of teaching treatments, a collection of teaching notes became a spiral bound book. To teach treatments, you need to know everything about everything, and the quantity of information was huge. It was important to create order for the students in this sea of information. After a few trial runs, the spiral bound books morphed into a textbook which students called “The Purple Bible”.

In 1995, Linda Ludwig, RMT and I sat down to get all the information, research and our years of clinical experience together to create a text that would be a one-stop reference for therapists around the globe. A chapter was complete when we thought it had everything needed – which was how “Clinical Massage Therapy: Understanding, Assessing and Treating over 70 Conditions” got to be 1100 pages long. No editor would have put up with this style of writing. The five-year process of research, writing and rewriting was exhausting yet exhilarating. The book is full of our own passion for the profession.

It’s said that writing a book is like giving birth. And now it has a life of its own in places around the world. The book has been used in schools all over the United States, Australia, and Britain, as well as here in Canada. Individual therapists in Norway, Israel, and Hong Kong, to name a few places, use copies of it.

“Clinical Massage Therapy” is also used as a reference text for creating entrance to practice exams in several jurisdictions. But perhaps the most humbling use was in South Africa. When apartheid was defeated, many of that country’s laws were rewritten, including the Health Care laws. The South African Massage Therapist Association used the book to help them create standards of practice. So the Ontario model has influenced individual therapists, schools and national curriculums around the world.

I still have an active clinical practice. It’s important to me to have ongoing real life experience with clients. You get to help clients get better, take control of their health, and be more aware of their body. It’s a great thing.

I love learning, and the mind, body and spirit are fortunately so complex and interwoven that there is always something new to marvel over. When you go forward with knowledge, curiosity, confidence, compassion and interest in people, you can transform peoples’ lives. And that passion will keep you in your career for 30 or more years.


Fiona Rattray RMT

Elora ON


Lifetime Achievement Award

Thanks to the One Concept Group for a Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the 2013 Massage Therapy and Chiropractic Show in Niagara Falls, Ontario! Linda Ludwig and myself attended a lovely Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony last October, where I was honored and humbled to receive this acknowledgement for the contributions I’ve made to this  profession.

Fiona Rattray, RMT