What Susan Salvo has to say about making it in the Massage industry!

Susan Salvo

An Interview with


By: Elan Schacter

Susan Salvo author of Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice and Mosby’s Pathology for Massage Therapists

“…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 our referral bases such as health care providers.” ― Susan SalvoSusan Salvo is the author of Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice and Mosby’s Pathology for Massage Therapists.

She’s been a Massage Therapist since 1982, a charter member of the Louisiana chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), is board-certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), a past item reviewer for the National Certification Exam (NCE), a member of the standards-setting team for the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), and a task force member of the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge Project, which has done a lot for our profession.

Susan shares her stories of how she was inspired to become an author of Massage Therapy textbooks and her “take a leap of faith” attitude that has contributed to her success.

ELAN SCHACTER: Susan, the other day I did something I often do just to test the pulse of our profession. I do Internet searches for “Massage Therapy” on my computer. The other day I did that on Amazon.com. Your book was the first item to appear. #1 on the list of all items for sale for Massage Therapy at Amazon.com.


ELAN: A fantastic achievement! I understand that when you went to massage school in 1982, you were a single mom trying to make a better life for yourself and your son, and here you are, 32 years later, with a best-selling book. Tell me about that journey.

SUSAN: Well, it was a serendipitous journey. I went to massage school when I was 21, and my son at that time was about a year old. I attended the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Massage Therapy was a career I felt like, number one, I could make a living at; number two, it had a flexible schedule––and when you’re a single parent you have to have that; and number three, I knew I had to enjoy my work and I loved to be around people. I also liked having a job that was physically active and mentally challenging. Massage Therapy met all those criteria.

ELAN: What was the Massage Therapy profession like at that time?

SUSAN: The Massage Therapy profession was really just hitting the ground. We had a handful of Massage Therapy schools, and that’s an interesting part of the journey. I actually went to my first massage school in Springdale, Arkansas, but when I got there it was more of a home study course. I knew I was looking for something a little bit more hands-on (no pun intended), and a little bit more rigorous, so I did some research. At the time, AMTA had 14 schools that were “approved.” Albuquerque had one of them. I called my parents and said, “Look, if I decide to do this, could I borrow the money?” I believe the tuition was $1,800 at the time. I didn’t have the money myself, and my stepfather gave me the opportunity. He said, “I’ll pay the tuition and you can pay me back when you’re done.” It took me two years, but I did pay him back.I went to the massage school the next day to fill out the application. Class started that day, but it was full. I was applying for the next start date, which was 6 months later. While I was filling out the application, Robert Stevens, one of the teachers, walked into the office and said, “We just had somebody drop out. Would you start today?”And I just said, “Yes!”So, it was almost like the opportunity was there, and the door opened, and I felt pushed through. You have to take those leaps of faith, because you know, in 6 months so many things can happen, basically, when you are a single parent in a town where I had to find a place to live and shop for clothes, and I literally didn’t go there planning on staying. It was a big leap of faith for me. In the profession, you had mainly sole practitioners back then. Massage had not taken off in the spa industry like you see it today. It was the mid-1980s when Mary Decker, the Olympic runner, gave a lot of credit for her success to her Massage Therapist, Richard Phaigh. Sports Massage really put Massage Therapy on the map during this time. Massage made it big in the spa industry about 10 years later. When I started, massage was mainly in health clubs, and therapists in private practice in small offices.

ELAN: So you feel it was Sports Massage that really brought our profession to the public eye and into the mainstream, more so than spas at hotels or resorts?

SUSAN: Yes, that definitely came later.

ELAN: You brought up an excellent milestone: an Olympic athlete utilizing massage and giving a lot of credit for her success to Massage Therapy. That was the mid-1980s. How else have you seen Massage Therapy evolve as a profession? Are there any other interesting milestones that you think were important?

SUSAN: I think a lot of people are looking for meaningful work. When I graduated from massage school and moved back to Louisiana, there were no Massage Therapists in town. I had to blaze the trail. I found that the easiest way to get the word out was to start lecturing about Massage Therapy. Every civic organization in my area had monthly meetings. Whether it was the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club, they were always looking for speakers. I started teaching the public about massage. I did TV appearances and slowly started getting more clients. When I started turning clients away, which took about 3 years, then I started thinking, “If I’m really going to make massage thrive in this area, I have to start teaching massage.” Lake Charles had a fairly small market for a massage school, so I reached out to Margie Birch in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was about an hour away from where my practice was in Lake Charles. At the time, I was in my twenties and Margie was in her fifties. We were a great team! We opened a massage school and both taught a 200-hour program. Then we helped create jobs for the new therapists graduating from the school. This often meant writing proposals, putting them in the hands of the graduates and saying, “Take this to this chiropractor” or “Take this to this dentist for TMJ massage” or “Take this to the health club and/or beauty salons and say, ‘Hey, can you give me a 90-day trial period, and if your clients are happy, and if we both are happy, we will continue the work arrangement’.” If you think about it, this was 30 years ago. We had to write our own ticket. You couldn’t just apply to be a Massage Therapist back then. It was all new. Chiropractors didn’t know what to do with us back then. Health clubs didn’t know what to do with us. We all had to take a leap of faith! Am I making sense?

ELAN: Absolutely!

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