Molly Coeling was recently interviewed by Chicago’s very own, Tony Sarabia, on the WBEZ radio program, “The Morning Shift.” To listen to the entire episode, check out the audio version on WBEZ, here.
Tony Sarabia: It’s the “Morning Shift”. I’m Tony Sarabia. Sit back and relax. You know today is the “National Day of Relaxation”, and for lots of us, relaxation comes with a great massage. For our latest installment in our series, “The Working Shift”, I’d like to introduce you to Molly Coeling. She’s a massage therapist and she’s here to tell us about her field of work. Welcome to “The Morning Shift”.
Molly Coeling: Thanks Tony. Thanks for having me.
Tony Sarabia: Like a lot of Americans changing careers, you came to massage therapy kind of late. I mean, you were doing something else for more than ten years. Why did you decide to make the change? What were you doing beforehand?
Molly Coeling: Sure. So beforehand I got my Masters in Public Health and worked in the public health arena for about ten years, maybe a little more, doing project management and community based research. So I did a lot of work in Boston related to cancer prevention and then here, at the University of Chicago, worked in youth violence prevention for several years.
Tony Sarabia: So how did you make this switch. What was involved there?
Molly Coeling: Well, so what was involved was doing a lot of juggling. I was going to massage school basically full time and working full time, and not doing a whole lot else. And then once I finished massage school, which was about a year of training, I did the massage therapy work on the side and continued to work full time until I got to a point where I felt like, “OK. It’s time to kind of make the actual transition.”
Tony Sarabia: Was it like one day you were getting a massage and as you were on the table you thought to yourself, “Wow! This is so nice, I’d like to do this.”?
Molly Coeling: That’s a good question. I probably receive a lot more massage now that I’m in the field than I did before.
Tony Sarabia: Really?
Molly Coeling: Yes. It seems like it attracted me not only because I wanted to make a professional switch into the wellness industry, but also because I think that it made me become more aware of having to take better care of myself. Not to say that I didn’t get massage prior to becoming a massage therapist. I do remember specifically I was working with a woman was a nurse for many years and she became a massage therapist, and I went to her because I had a lot hip pain, and I was a long-distance runner for many years. And I was shocked at how helpful she was, I was really surprised. I had thought of massage as more of a, just sort of a luxury on a special spa day, and I realized, “Oh, this can actually really help people.” So that was a piece of my shift.
Tony Sarabia: What were some of the other pieces?
Molly Coeling: Some of the other pieces were I went into the field of Community Based Research with the idea of maybe I wanna get my PhD, and maybe I wanna teach at the college level, maybe I want to become a researcher. And the more I did it, the more I realized, “Ya know what? I don’t necessarily think that’s my path.” And so there was only so far I was going to go in that field if I weren’t to continue on and get a PhD. And for anyone who is a PhD out there, they know that it’s a huge commitment and not something to be taken lightly.
So at some point I thought, “Well, ya know, I’m doing work that’s important, but…” It’s hard to really see the results when you’re working in research We were doing intervention work as well as data collection work, but it’s often like you see the results somewhere down the road, and that can be difficult at times, and so I thought “I want to do something where it feels a little more… with some more immediate results, something where I can see how I’m helping people in the shorter term and do something that’s a little more hands on – literally.” And I also thought, “Well, I’ve always been attracted to the field of wellness, always I’ve been an athlete, I’ve always been pretty interested in taking care of the body”. And so this [massage therapy] was a way to get into that field without a huge educational commitment. It was a relatively easy transition.
Tony Sarabia: We’re talking with Molly Coeling. She is a massage therapist, and she’s here as a part of our “Working Shift Series”, so if you have a question, give us a call. So even though, you know, I may have a pain and I go for a visit, it feels better, but I have to go back. It seems like one of the big draws for you is that you do so, I guess, a near immediate response from your clients.
Molly Coeling: Yes, definitely. Often people will feel, almost always feel somewhat or a lot better immediately after a massage. One of the things that I stress with people is that if you’re coming in for chronic pain or you’re rehabbing from an injury or you just have a very stressful lifestyle, that coming in once every month or two maybe isn’t going to really give you the results that you want. And fortunately more and more people are seeing that, “Guess what? I can do this on a regular basis if I just budget my time and money for it, I can maybe come in every couple weeks for a while until we get things under control.” I have one client and he said “You know my friend asked me if I won the lottery, what would I do. And I said I would get a massage every day” and then he thought about it and thought “I have a decent amount of money, I could probably get a massage every week,” and it was just something he had never thought about, that it was just something for a special occasion kind of thing.
Tony Sarabia: Speaking of education, you studied at the Soma Institute which I guess is described as the only school in the U.S. that gives out a diploma in clinical massage. What is that and how does it differ from something you get anywhere else?
Molly Coeling: That is true, and they base a lot of their approach on the Canadian model, which is actually a more intensive educational requirement to become a massage therapist in Canada, and in Canada, massage therapists are generally more closely associated with the medical field than they are in the US. Any massage school is going to have basically the same general makeup in terms of their curriculum because there are requirements for anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, hands-on work, technique, theory, all of these things. That’s not going to differ so much just because it’s pretty highly regulated. However, at Soma, the focus, the general feeling you got was, “hey we’re going to focus on specific issues and how can we address those specific issues.” So a lot of times people that went to Soma might be more geared to go towards working with people with injuries, maybe working at a chiropractor’s office where they’re in a little bit more of a clinical environment.
Tony Sarabia: It seems like this idea of massage has kind of changed, where, you know as you mentioned earlier it’s not just something for a day at the spa anymore, that it’s almost aligned, no pun intended, with chiropractic work, or physical therapy even.
Molly Coeling: Exactly. And we get more and more recognition from people in the other health care modalities like physical therapists, chiropractors, as a contributor to overall health as well as rehabbing from more specific injuries, and I think something like 52% of people that got a massage last year stated medical reason as their number one reason.
Tony Sarabia: Really?You have mentioned the Canadian model where it’s closely aligned with the medical field. Are we seeing massage therapists based in clinical settings and hospitals?
Molly Coeling: There are massage therapists in some hospitals. It’s not terribly common, but I would say they’re more likely to be partnering with other healthcare and wellness providers, like a chiropractor would probably be the number one example.
Tony Sarabia: OK so there are so many types of massages out there right? There’s the Swedish massage, Shiatsu massage, the hot stone, deep tissue massage. As a clinical masseuse, are there certain types of massages that you would steer people toward or away from?
Molly Coeling: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t necessarily steer anyone away from anything, but it would depend upon what their goals are and what their needs are. Swedish massage, if you’re just looking to relax, it’s also called “relaxation massage”. That’s really what it’s about; it’s not about targeting specific issues. Most of the people that I see are coming in for specific issues, not always, but more often than not, they’re coming in for specific issues,so I would say work with somebody who tends to focus on that rather than general relaxation. But the thing is that the way massage is often described is a little vague. These terms are kind of all encompassing, and each practitioner has different training and different things that they’re bringing to the table. So I think it’s probably just a good idea to have a conversation with the person before you choose to see them, and then you see them, and you see whether it feels like it’s a good fit for you.
Tony Sarabia: You know, a lot of people, when they think of massage, they think of a back rub or kneading someone. Can it be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing?
Molly Coeling: That’s a good question. I would say dangerous might be a little bit of an extreme word, but it could definitely not really benefit you if somebody doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Tony Sarabia: Could it make things worse?
Molly Coeling: It could make things a little bit worse, yeah, or it could just generally be kind of unpleasant. My philosophy is that if you’re holding your breath or having to tense up as a result of what I’m doing, that’s too much. That’s actually reinforcing the stress cycle that probably got you into the situation in the first place. Some people say “Please hurt me,” and that’s not what I’m gonna do. I don’t believe that’s helpful.
Tony Sarabia: You actually have people come in and say please hurt me?
Molly Coeling: I’ve had that, yes. Fewer now. I think people are realizing that it’s not helpful.
Tony Sarabia: What about the chair? You know, we used to have chair massages here, and you look kind of ridiculous — your head’s in that pillow, whatever it is, and you’re facing down and I mean what’s the deal behind the chair? Does it add anything?
Molly Coeling: The chair doesn’t necessarily add anything. I think what it does is it just kind of allows you to have somebody just come in for a few minutes, just sit down, you don’t have to get into the whole lying down on a table, maybe . you have a limited space. I do chair massage from time to time, like during tax season with some accountants at a small accounting firm, and I’ve done both [chair and table massage] depending on the space that we have available, but if you’re in a public space, some people may just feel uncomfortable lying down.
Tony Sarabia: You also practice something called Reiki. What is that?
Molly Coeling: Reiki is an energy based technique. It’s actually a very gentle modality. Most often people report lowered pain levels and lowered stress afterwards. It involves light touch or even hovering near the body, which may sound a little weird.
Tony Sarabia: Certainly not “don’t hurt me” type stuff.
Molly Coeling: No, that is not going to hurt you.
Tony Sarabia: So you’re placing your hand just above, say, the back?
Molly Coeling: You may be resting your hand on their back
or anywhere on the body, or you may be hovering. The reason why hovering can be effective is we actually are made of energy from top to bottom –hat’s not a disputed fact. We have electrical energy in our bodies, which is what makes our heart beat and our muscles move. There’s a law called Ampere’s Law for the science nerds out there, basically it means that anything which has an electrical current creates a magnetic field around it so we actually having a biomagnetic field.
Tony Sarabia: Amps.
Molly Coeling: Yes! Exactly, amps. So we have a bio magnetic field surrounding our bodies, and many people may experience that as personal space. So there’s something to that; it’s actually a real thing. So it’s an extension of your physical body.
Tony Sarabia: So when you practice Reiki on someone, it sounds like it’s more of a stress reducer as opposed to “my muscle’s sore.”
Molly Coeling: It could be either. People tend to think of it more as stress reduction, but I’ve had people on whom I’ve been working with more traditional therapeutic massage on a sore muscle, and it’s felt like we’re just not getting anywhere. And then I’ve said “Do you mind if I try a little bit of Reiki?” And after doing 5 or 10 minutes of Reiki, they’re like “Oh! My back feels better.” We have some understanding of why this may be, but it’s also constantly surprising to me.
Tony Sarabia: OK, I got a massage once and the first thing I noticed was the music. Why is there that music, and do you use any? [Music in background] Like this! It’s just soothing.
Molly Coeling: That’s part of it, right? I think, you know, you lie down, there’s low lights, there’s soothing music, there’s a heater on the table – just that in and of itself gets somebody into a state of being more receptive to receiving the work.
Tony Sarabia: But what about that person who says “hurt me”?
Molly Coeling: That person, I would just explain to them that it is not my way of working and explain to them why, and we’ll go from there. If they decide that that’s not what they want, then maybe they don’t come back. There are people that do believe that really getting in there and being really aggressive in massage is the way to work and there are many massage therapists who work that way. I’ve just found it not to be effective in my experience
Tony Sarabia: So Molly, you said that since you’ve been doing this, you’ve been getting more massages than before you started doing this. Do you often find that you need a massage when you’re done giving massages?
Molly Coeling: That would be great to have every day because it is physical labor for several, many hours in a row. So, yes, but I have a great massage therapist who I see pretty regularly, and then I’ve tried different types of massages. The challenge for me is that when I’m receiving massage, I want to be there and relaxing, but I’m also noticing, like, “Oh, what are they doing now? Oh, I like that.” So I have to turn off that part.
Tony Sarabia: How about friends and family? Do they always come up to you, and do you have to say “I’m off the clock!”?
Molly Coeling: I’ve had to say that.. Most of my friends and family are pretty understanding that I do work a lot and that when I’m spending time with them, I’m really relaxing, but once in a while if somebody has something particular going on, I may help them out for a few minutes.
Tony Sarabia: Well, we already have a line forming outside the studio. No, I’m just kidding. Molly Coeling, she is a massage therapist, and she was here as a part of our “Working Shift” series. Thanks so much for coming in, I really appreciate it.
Molly Coeling: Thank you!