Niki Swarthout has been a massage therapist for the past 22 years. She has a private practice in Saugerties and works with the elderly and infirm at Kaaterskill Care Nursing and Rehab in Catskill.
What inspired you to become a massage therapist?
I’ve always had an interest in movement and dance. Many years ago my husband and I also started the Runaway Circus; we taught local kids circus skills and helped them create unique performances. So I think massage therapy was an easy transition from that. I must say though, both my brother and sister were massage therapists before me, so maybe it runs in the family.
What kind of training is required to become a massage therapist?
New York State licensing for massage therapy requires a thousand course hours from a state-approved school along with passing an intensive board exam.
What do you enjoy most about being a massage therapist?
I like working on injuries. I especially like working on people who haven’t been able to get help anywhere else and they are sort of at the end of the line. I like to unravel something that can ultimately make them feel better. I’ve worked with many people who have been in car accidents. I’ve had significant success with people who have been given pain meds and sent on their way. My favorite thing is figuring out where the dysfunction is and bringing relief; however, the most deeply satisfying work I do is at Kaaterskill Care. Many of the people there have never received massage. I find it especially rewarding to give a new experience to people at the end of their lives, and one that makes them feel so much better.
What is the most difficult aspect of being a massage therapist?
Massage therapy is not a desk job; it is very physically demanding. One of the most challenging aspects is dealing with the body mechanics of working on the people I see in the nursing home situation. I have to work around a wheelchair or other paraphernalia. At times that is difficult and can be draining. Three hours of work there is a full day. In massage, in general, a full day is not eight hours.
If you had not become a massage therapist what might you have done?
I would travel but, of course, if I had to work, I would teach.
You do teach now, right?
I do. I teach at Columbia Greene Community College in their excellent two-year massage therapy program. I’ve taught basically all of their hands-on courses over the years.
What advice can you offer someone who wants to become a massage therapist?
Make sure you go to a New York State-approved school.
How’s the money?
I’ve been able to support myself and raise two boys. I’m not rich but I’m comfortable.