Susan Salvo talks about decisions: great ones and horrible ones

Susan Salvo

 An Interview with

Susan Salvo

By: Elan Schacter


“Today, massage is frequently sought out for pain management and for stress management. In the near future, I predict that massage will be used as an intervention for a host of nervous disorders and mental health issues.” – Susan Salvo

This is a continuation of a previous blog. Visit to see the first part.

ELAN: We are more prevalent in society in this profession today, and there are many people graduating from massage school and simply bringing a resume, as they would to most jobs, to an established office, or medical office or chiropractic office, or spa, and they are able to get a job that way. What you’re saying is that when you started, that didn’t exist. You couldn’t just bring a resume. People weren’t looking for a Massage Therapist. You had to create the job.

SUSAN: Right. The office managers often loved the idea of Massage Therapy as part of their menu of services, but they needed help moving it from an idea into practice. We’re not the chiropractor; we’re not the aide. We’re something more. We had to create a place for ourselves and convince someone to take a chance on us. And a lot of people did. Much of what we accomplished was because of consumer response. Office managers could not ignore how thrilled their clients were with our work!

ELAN: So, as an innovator, and someone who naturally has an affinity towards bringing our profession more into the public eye, do you see any other interesting routes that an aspiring massage therapist might take to do similar things that you did? To go to interesting and novel places and offer their work?

SUSAN: That’s one thing that I love about this profession, Elan. Your success is limited by your imagination and energy. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do? Where do I see myself in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years?”, and start making plans. “Do I want to travel?” Some therapists travel the resort circuit and spend 6 months in Colorado during ski season and 6 months in Florida during the golf season. You can work on a cruise ship. There are so many career possibilities. Sometimes the answer is, “I don’t know what to do.” Then try everything you can and you will know it when you find it. For the first 3 years I was in practice, I worked 2 days at a chiropractic clinic, 2 days in a health club, and 2 days in a beauty shop. After I had enough clients, it was time to have a home office. Again, try it first. Stick your foot in every door that opens, then find out what appeals to you.

Teaching became something I loved to do… spreading the word of massage and getting more people out there doing the work I loved. It took a lot of people carrying a similar message, and clients understood this message. Clients rescheduled and the massage industry grew and grew until is what you see today. Now we have Massage Therapists in pain clinics, and we have Massage Therapists in corporate massage. Have you looked at the popularity of Massage Envy?

ELAN: It’s very popular.

SUSAN: It’s huge! It wouldn’t be huge if there wasn’t a demand for it. Massage Therapy has become mainstream. It is massage for the common man. It was a brilliant idea and made massage more affordable.

ELAN: Absolutely! That’s a huge step in our evolution as a profession. We are now in places that you might see other corporate franchise establishments. We’ve come a long way, and that is part of it. So, looking forward from 1982 to 2014, you’ve described a situation where people weren’t really sure what massage was, and now we are basically a business that you’ll find in any major shopping area. Where do you think we will be in 30 years?

SUSAN: Well, I think that we won’t lose the gains we’ve made. What I think is going to happen in the next 20 to 30 years is that massage will be a common intervention for physical pain and psychosocial pain. Today, massage is frequently sought out for pain management and for stress management. In the near future, I predict that massage will be used as an intervention for a host of nervous disorders and mental health issues. The neuromatrix model has changed how we view pain. Pain science is an exciting and relatively new area of massage research. The prevalence rates of nervous system disorders are skyrocketing. Nervous system disorders range from depression, to anxiety disorder, to PTSD, to addictions, to ADHD, to autism, to Alzheimer disease. Elan, you been in this business a long time. Think about how the emphasis of massage effects has changed over the years. First it was muscles, then it was blood circulation, then trigger points, then posture, and then we started focusing on the fascial systems of the body. Now the major focus of massage research is the nervous system, behavior modification, and the therapeutic relationship. It makes so much sense, because the nervous system is the master controller of the whole body. In the kind of massage I’m teaching now, it’s like we are trying to communicate with the nervous system. That’s where change needs to happen. And we are focusing more on the relationship between the therapist and the client. The smells, the sounds, the pressure, and the type of massage, because it’s a whole different ball game now and I think we are going to see a lot more emphasis on the environment and the therapeutic relationship, and how that contributes to therapeutic outcomes. Massage is a change agent. Clients can be different because they have felt or experienced something different. I see massage moving into areas of behavioral science, such as education and psychology. That’s what I’m excited about.

ELAN: It’s fascinating! When I hear you say that, I feel as though that’s how I was taught 20 years ago, how massage was supposed to be. I feel, in time, it became a model of less aesthetic, less feel- and emotion-based treatment, and more of “Let’s do a mechanical thing to have a mechanical outcome.” What you’re saying is we are going back to what at the time we described as “spiritual” or “meditative,” but now you would describe as a whole experience, where you are trying to affect the emotional state and mind state of the client. Is that something you would agree with?

SUSAN: Oh, absolutely. But again, I think part of the problem that we are having is the terminology that we are using, and I think it’s very confusing to the consumer. I know that you and I have talked about this in some private conversations, but even the term SomatoEmotional Release, I think that was probably a horrible decision from a marketing standpoint, because any time you use a word that you have to explain to someone, you are using the wrong word! They are wonderful methods, but we have to be very careful about how we package them, how we talk about them, how we promote them. Even energy work, what does that mean? So, I think part of our challenge as a profession is to really think about the terms we use, how we describe what we do to each other, to our clients, and to other referral bases such as health care providers. Things got really messy because we did not promote thinking about massage scientifically or did not use research to advance our profession. Research is and will continue to be an important part of our future. What do we do? How can we answer this question? The basis of critical thinking is how well questions are formulated. Finding ways to answer them is easy once you have a well-stated question. The next challenge will be to convey this information. Once we have the scientific basis about how massage improves the quality of life for our clients, this could lead to many new areas for massage therapists including insurance reimbursements, if that’s the direction we want to go.

Leave a Reply