An Interview with Jan DeCourtney, Holistic Certified Massage Therapist

by Cathy Sivak

Jan DeCourtney is a holistic certified massage therapist (CMT) and an active advocate of the role of massage in the overall holistic healthcare approach. Her solo private practice Life Spring Healing practice in Boulder, Colo., offers clients therapeutic massage, assisted stretching, psychotherapy, and utilizes a wellness program to alleviate chronic pain, stress and illness.

She graduated from the Boulder College of Massage Therapy (BCMT) (1998) after she completed a Polarity Practitioner Training Certificate through the Wellness Institute (1997), and honed her massage skills as a co-founder and practitioner of the Therapeutic BodyWorkers' Association on-site office massage service in the Boulder-Denver region.

Her own chronic health issues led her to Dr. Stoll, and the benefits she personally experienced from his 3LS wellness program led her to share the program with her massage clients and to team with Dr. Stoll to write and publish the book Recapture Your Health: A Step-by-Step Program to Reverse Chronic Symptoms and Create Lasting Wellness. Ms. DeCourtney is also the director of Sunrise Health Coach Publications, which acted as publisher for the Dr. Stoll collaboration. She also writes her award-winning website, Life Spring Healing Arts, a newsletter, and notes that publication of magazine articles is in progress. "As a massage therapist, I can touch and help only a limited number of people in my town each day. But as a writer, I can reach a much larger number of people all around the world at all times through the internet and books," she says.

Ms. DeCourtney's other credentials include a National Certification in Massage Therapy (NCMBT) (1998); as a Registered Polarity Practitioner, Wellness Institute (2000); Personal Trainer Instructor certification, YMCA (2004), as a Registered (unlicensed) Psychotherapist, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (1997); and CPR and First Aid certifications (1994 to present).

Her active involvement shows her dedication to her profession, but she didn't always realize it was her career path. Ms. DeCourtney's education started out with a BA in Latin American Studies (1981) from the University of New Mexico (UNM). Her studies and exposure to holistic/spiritual/religious modalities includes Insight Meditation (Buddhism), Unity Church, Yoga Classes, Taoist Master Hua-Ching Ni, Native American Teacher Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), Spiritual Channel Mary Margaret Moore (Bartholomew) and T'ai Chi classes. Along the way, her employment experience has included stints as a: dental office assistant, desktop publishing administrative assistant, bilingual secretary, stenographer, hotel desk clerk, travel counselor, waitress, cashier and clerk.

She is a member of organizations including: the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the Boulder College of Massage Therapy Alumni Association, the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA), the Colorado Association of Psychotherapists (CAP) and the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA).

Jan DeCourtney & Her Career

Your practice, Life Spring Healing Arts, offers therapeutic and relaxation massage, psychotherapy, Dr. Stoll's 3LS Wellness Program and other services, including e-mail consultations. Tell us about your practice. How do the different disciplines work together?

My intention is to offer holistic health care and wellness education to my clients alongside massage and bodywork therapy. Thus all the disciplines and resources I offer address some aspect of body, mind, emotion, or spirit. Each skill or modality complements the others to achieve the goal of guiding my clients to move closer to a state of wholeness.

I also believe strongly in empowering people to care for themselves, so I like to go beyond just doing bodywork. All the resources and disciplines offer opportunities for them to learn about themselves and take charge of their own health.

What do you enjoy most in your role in client care?

Seeing the relief and delight on the faces of clients who thought they would never be symptom-free.

Can you describe a typical client session?

Each appointment is different, because a session is individually customized to meet the needs of that client on that day. That being said, most sessions begin with a check-in to see how the client is doing, followed by some kind of bodywork or other modality, and finish with an educational component of some kind (teaching self-care or referring to a resource).

How does the work you did for seven years with the On-Site Chair Massage Group for the Therapeutic BodyWorkers' Association differ from the private practice you established in 1997?

The Therapeutic BodyWorkers' Association was formed by myself with a group of colleagues to provide on-site chair massage service for local corporations. At that time, the "dotcoms" were booming, and it took an entire team of therapists to keep up with the demand for chair massage!

Your self-authored website, Life Spring Healing Arts, has garnered several awards and you are involved in other writing projects, including your recent co-authorship of Recapture Your Health. What led your interest in a writing sideline?

As a massage therapist, I can touch and help only a limited number of people in my town each day. But as a writer, I can reach a much larger number of people all around the world at all times through the internet and books. This realization made me interested in writing as a sideline to my massage practice.

Can you tell us about the book, and how the collaboration came about?

My collaboration with Walt Stoll came about after he began helping me solve the puzzle of my own chronic health condition. I had been unable to find help for 20 years, and when I immediately started feeling better under his guidance, I realized that what he taught was very valuable and needed to be put into written form. So we began our collaboration.

Recapture Your Health is a guidebook, a how-to-do-it manual for resolving chronic health conditions. Our book addresses the typical chronic symptoms of people who show up in massage offices, and no other effective treatment exists for many of these symptoms. It teaches the foundation of health in the easy-to-follow format of a three-step plan. We call this plan the 3LS Wellness Program after the image of a wooden three-legged dairy stool, because of its balance and stability.

My hope for our book is to create change in the way health care is offered in this country. If all practitioners, from reiki practitioners to MDs, would start teaching patients the basics of health, there would be a huge change in our nation. Our society would be healthier and happier, and people would not first become extremely ill and then need to rely on doctors to fix their health problems. Currently, 50 percent of the U.S. population suffers from chronic illnesses (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), most of which could be reversed by following the basics of the 3LS Wellness Program.

In addition to several professional organization memberships, you are involved in numerous professional and personal development activities. What drives your commitment to ongoing development?

My ongoing growth is driven from my desire for health and wholeness, and my wish to share this enlivening, enlightening holistic path with other people. Once anyone has lived this way, they want to share it with others because it is so fulfilling and enriching. Becoming vibrantly healthy in all aspects of life has been a lifetime goal for me, and I'm happy to say I'm continually moving closer to this wonderful goal.

Education Information & Advice

What led you to pursue your Polarity Practitioner Training Certificate (1997) at the Wellness Institute, then go on to complete the Certified Massage Therapist training program (1998) at Boulder College of Massage Therapy?

My chronic illness made it impossible for me to work in my originally chosen profession. In the end, this may have been for the better. Taking my first class in Polarity Therapy lead me to discover the right profession for me: healing. After that discovery, I wanted to learn more skills, and so I continued my education at BCMT.

How did you choose the Boulder College of Massage Therapy?

I wanted the best education possible, and after visiting 15 massage schools in 3 different states, BCMT was my choice based on its professionalism and student clinic. It seemed appropriate to balance my spiritual-intuitive Polarity Therapy training with a more mainstream scientific-medical approach to be able to effectively work with more people.

What factors should prospective massage therapy students consider when choosing a school, program or certification course?

The must consider their budget, of course, and their personal interests. I recommend that students get the best education they can afford. It will serve them well, both in their professional and personal lives.

How can prospective massage therapy students assess their skill and aptitude?

Take an evening class on how to massage a family member, or other healing class, and see how you like it. Read everything you can about healing and find out what interests you. Start practicing on your family and friends and see if you enjoy it and if your work is well received by them.

Can you describe the basic massage therapy program curriculum? What should students expect from the training?

There is a fairly standard basic curriculum for learning massage, including learning the muscles, anatomy and physiology, and classes on how to build your practice. However, each school offers its own specialization. For example, some massage schools offer a more intuitive approach, while others offer a more scientific or medical approach, or certain specialties like spa work.

What impact does training have on massage therapist licensing? Can you describe the state and national licensing process?

At present, licensing is regulated by state and municipality. Some states/municipalities have licensing laws and others do not, and the amount of education required differs widely. Those who do not have licensing in their locale may wish to take the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. It provides a professional credential and attests to having a certain knowledge of massage.

How do you feel that the massage therapy educational system could be changed to better serve both students and society?

Having different levels and types of training, and many different areas of specialization and focus, seems appropriate to me. That way, students can find what interests them and clients can find a wide variety of therapeutic options.

Industry Trends, Information & Advice

What trends in massage therapy treatment should students be aware of?

I don't tend to follow market trends very closely, because I believe that by following your heart, doing what makes you happiest in your practice, and providing excellent customer service, you will be successful as a therapist. However, judging from the recent changes I've noticed in the BCMT curriculum, I would say the current trend is towards more education, greater professionalism and increased specialization.

What are some common myths about the massage therapy profession?

I think many students think that they can do massage eight hours a day and make a ton of money very fast. It is important to learn how much massage you can handle comfortably, and work at a reasonable level to avoid burnout so you can enjoy longevity in the profession.

What are the best ways to land a job in the field of massage therapy?

As soon as I graduated I went into private practice, so I have no experience with landing a job in the field. I imagine that it is like seeking any kind of job: present good credentials and a solid background, and a willingness to meet people's needs, both those who hire you and the clients you serve. And, be persistent in your search.

How is the job market?

There are more massage therapists now than before. However, there is also an increased interest in receiving massage due to people becoming more knowledgeable about its benefits.

What can recent massage therapy school graduates expect to earn if they join a practice? When they start their own practices? Once they get established?

In my opinion, graduates can expect to enjoy very rewarding work and experience great satisfaction with what they do! Surveys indicate a high rate of satisfaction among those who become therapists. Expect to take one to two years to build a successful private practice, and budget accordingly. About earnings, this varies widely depending upon many factors, including part of the country you live in, where you are working, and how many hours a week you work.

How has the popularity of the Internet affected the massage therapy profession?

Prospective clients often use the internet to find and learn more about a potential therapist, so it is very helpful these days to have a website. Having your own website is just like having another version of a business card. It's almost mandatory in today's business climate.

Is it important for someone to be passionate about healthcare in order to be successful as a massage therapist?

Enthusiasm and delight in your work is definitely a ticket to success in any profession or career. Perhaps it is more accurate to say have a passion for serving the needs of people or have a passion for giving massage.

What other career advice can you offer future massage therapy specialists?

Find a way to make massage serve your own interests at the same time you serve your clients' needs. This will bring passion to your work. One of the most wonderful thing about massage therapy as a profession is how flexible and adaptable massage is to the interests of the therapist. For example, there is a great range of location, including working at home, a chiropractor's office, your own professional office, on cruise ships, and I've even heard of therapists setting up their business on a beach. Some only do out-calls. You can also set the number of hours you work, from part-time to full-time. Then you can decide what type of clients you want to work with, serving any population that you feel most comfortable with or that interests you most. This adaptability and flexibility makes massage an especially great profession. Find your niche.

Closing Remarks

Do you have any other advice or insights about the massage therapy profession that would be interesting or helpful to potential massage therapy students?

The advice I have for therapists is to keep learning and working on yourself. I find it useful to be doing constant personal growth work on myself. This continues to deepen me as a therapist, and my clients really benefit. Therapists who have some depth and experience, both in giving massage and in life, tend to listen better, understand better, and meet the needs of the clients better. Personal growth work is an excellent way to give yourself that depth.

Editor's Note: If you are a future massage therapist who would to follow-up with Jan DeCourtney personally about the 3LS Wellness Program or other aspects of this interview, click here.

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