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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Celebrating Six Years Of Massage Therapy

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

“Welcome. My name is Kirby Clark and I have been a Massage Therapist in Arkansas for six years.”

When I graduated from Springdale High School in 2012, I thought I would soon enroll in the University of Arkansas and work toward becoming a public-school teacher. I applied in the spring, got my acceptance letter over the summer, but when I met with the financial aid office that fall, everything changed. At the time, I thought there was no way I would ever reasonably be able to pay off the student loans I’d be responsible for. And something in my subconscious knew that education was not the path I was intended to follow. Instead, I took what best resembles a “gap year” to help a close friend plan her wedding and clean/renovate a hoarder house.

In October 2013, I began classes at Blue Cliff College as a part of their massage therapy program. I was on the Dean’s List for each 12-week term and completed the nine-month program with a 3.67 GPA in July of 2014. In order to pay my student loans for Blue Cliff, I got my first job working nights at the Dollar General close to home. Blue Cliff provided a mix of challenges and opportunities, but I really appreciated the in-depth 775 course hours (when the state only requires 600 to qualify for licensing). This program included 100+ hours of clinical practice with public clients and internships with Washington Regional’s Center for Exercise and Highland’s Oncology Group. I also made it my goal to attend as many community service events hosted by the College, including a chair massage event at the Race For The Cure in Bentonville.

A full year after enrolling at Blue Cliff, in October 2014, I traveled to Little Rock, AR and took my MBLEx (Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination) and State Law exams to get licensed. I was shocked and proud to learn I passed my MBLEx with 96 points above a passing score! My first license came in the mail later that month and I got my first paying job as an LMT with Massage Envy in Fayetteville.

Massage Envy’s Fayetteville location had only been open for six months at the time and did not have a therapist offering Hot Stone Massage (a signature treatment on their menu of service and a staple in the industry). I took the initiative to meet Massage Envy’s requirements to provide hot stones. This included attending more course hours with Blue Cliff and training with a seasoned therapist at Massage Envy’s Rogers location. By April, I was proud to be the sole provider of a service I would come to love and specialize in. And in June, I took a 25 hour Prenatal and Post-Partum Continuing Education Unit (CEU). I was gaining strength and confidence in my growing skills as an MT, but tragedy seems to have a way of striking when things are going their best.

In the fall of 2015, just short of a year into my practice, a mysterious pain in my left hip that had plagued me since entering the workforce came to a head when I was unable to stand up straight. It happened when I was in the middle of a shift at Massage Envy, I hobbled around doubled over between clients. I was in excruciating pain at all times and in every position imaginable, but most bizarre to me was that I couldn’t make my muscles straighten my back out. I ended up having to take three months off work without pay on medical leave. Every day was full of agony, and every night I was lucky if I could manage two straight hours of sleep. My family physician did not have answers and I resisted the tempting urge to go into the Emergency Room. I eventually had MRIs taken, and later referred to a Rheumatologist in December and began a daily cocktail of anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers. It was a horrifying saga and remains the worst physical pain of my life. But when I apprehensively resumed my work in 2016, I retuned with a deeper understanding and compassion for clients living with chronic pain.

I had to start all over again to rebuild my strength and establish a reputation and following with clients. Being a hot stone specialist was instrumental in this effort; it is easier to provide than regular massage and offers clients a blend of relaxing and therapeutic bodywork. If it were not for hot stone massage, I’m not sure I could have returned to massage- or if I would even want to. I had a gradual resurgence as a therapist and was honored to be Massage Envy’s 2016 Spirit Award recipient at the end of the year. What really sweetened the moment was the fact that the award was voted on by my co-workers.

The following Spring, I became certified in Myofascial Release (MFR) by taking a 20-hour CEU. Myofascial Release remains a cornerstone feature of my approach to massage therapy; if you’ve ever had a session with me, then you’ve likely had MFR work done. I find that MFR is as effective as Deep Tissue techniques and more versatile as it can be applied to almost any client regardless of condition, age, or massage history. In November of 2017, I accepted the position of Massage Envy’s Lead Therapist (which I had set my ambitions on for almost as long as I’d been working with them). I was honored and proud to take on the highest position a therapist could aspire to. The position included managerial responsibilities and acted as a liaison between management and staff. I served the clinic as Lead for over a year, but by 2019- as my fifth year of being an LMT approached, I directed my attention to what my future in the career could look like.

I was inspired to work towards upgrading my license to Master Massage Therapist (MMT), build my own CEU course, and open a private practice. I began by taking over 50 hours of CEUs between March and November. This included Pain Reduction with Electro Stimulation, Body Wraps, Business Building, Full Body Hot Stone, Massage Cupping, Intro. to Heat Modalities, (more) Hot Stone Massage, and Spa & Hydrotherapy courses. This provided me enough hours to build my own Hot Stone Massage CEU but was still shy of the hours needed to upgrade to MMT(more on this later). These CEUs also provided me with certifications to provide a wider variety of modalities to any clients that sought out my services. In the summer, I launched my own private business: Touch Of Divinity. I worked very hard to offer the same quality (if not better) bodywork, but in the end did not have the resources, following, or time to make Touch Of Divinity successful. With a heavy heart, I made the choice to close my own business. it was a hard decision but a necessary one. I needed a change and resigned from Massage Envy after five years of dedicated, back-breaking service.

I began 2020 working for LaVida Massage & MedSpa where I remain today. The change of setting and management suits me much better. I am happier, and I believe my work has never been better. And in late January, I was approached by Blue Cliff College to return to their campus – this time as an Instructor of Massage Therapy. I was still missing a few hours of Continuing Ed. before I could upgrade to MMT (which is required to instruct MT students) so I happily took courses in Ayurvedic studies and Intro. to Pressure (Shiatsu & Reflexology). I began teaching for Blue Cliff as soon as my application for upgrade was submitted to the AR Department of Health (AR DOH). Instructing and teaching was kind of a full circle for me from the path I was on when I finished high school, but beyond that I found it extremely rewarding (in spite of its challenges and frustrations). My fellow instructors were great, I held a great respect for the campus Directors, and I don’t think I could have been blessed with a better set of pupils (each and every one of them showed immediate promise as a future MT). Once again, things were starting to look up for my massage career.

And then the world was changed with Covid-19. Starting a new position teaching was challenging but, learning to teach virtually was a whole different level of difficulty. Eventually, I got a handle on the situation (with much help from the Blue Cliff staff) and the students all did very well despite such an insane set of circumstances. However, as more was discovered about Covid-19 and situations began to stabilize, I was called back to return to LaVida. Unfortunately, with returning to work in person, a schedule agreement could not be reached between myself, LaVida, and Blue Cliff College, so I would make the decision to leave my post as an instructor.

Returning to work as an MT didn’t present as many adjustments as one might assume, but yet again, I found myself having to build back a rapport with clientele; most of my new following just weren’t coming in to LaVida- either for safety or financial concerns. But since the reopen of the clinic, I have enjoyed a steady stream of work and am drumming up more clients returning to work with me.

After receiving my upgraded license, I applied for my own CEU to teach Hot Stone Massage, which was approved by the state of Arkansas. It has been my pleasure and blessing to work with and for the people of Northwest Arkansas. I look forward to continuing to serve this community of clients and fellow therapists with improved bodywork and massage education in the future.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT

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