Member Spotlight: Aaron Soetaert

American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) member Aaron Soetaert is a massage therapy student at the Cortiva Institute in Tucson, Arizona. After serving in the military, Aaron lost his right arm below the shoulder due to a car accident.

How did he become interested in massage, what does he find challenging about being a massage therapy student and where would he like to work after completing his studies? Read our interview below.

Tell us about your background.

I was born to drug addicted parents and have been challenged most of my life with adapting and overcoming. I joined the U.S. Air Force at 19 years old and shortly after was sent to Iraq to serve my country, which I did with much pride.

Shortly after returning from Iraq, I almost lost my life due to a drunk driver. I woke up - thank God - but I was missing most of my right arm and almost lost my left arm and left leg. I fell into a dark depression and didn't want to come out. 

What drew you to the massage therapy profession? 

One day at the hospital where I was rehabbing, they offered free massages. I had never gotten a massage, but I thought, "What could it hurt?" I showed up scarred and in pain, and this therapist brought out feeling that I hadn't felt in months through their touch. This really opened my eyes.

I woke up the next day ready to conquer the world, and that is what I am doing to this day. So when I got all rehabbed and my life was back on track, I told myself one day I would love to heal people through massage. 

Fast forward six years and one daughter later, I was driving and missed my turn. Turning around, I ended up in the parking lot of Cortiva Institute, a massage therapy school. I just knew it was a sign, and I walked in and signed up for the next available class.

The first day of orientation, I let my teacher and fellow students know that just because I look disabled doesn't mean I am. I wanted to be tested and treated like every other massage therapist. I'm one month from graduation and have had the time of my life learning the fantastic skills and techniques it takes to be a dedicated massage therapist and won't stop healing the amazing humans of this world.

I make every client I have massaged in clinic understand that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible, and it reflects in my feedback forms with a 98 percent return request rate.

What do you enjoy most about being a massage therapy student? What are the challenges?

I absolutely love watching a client's fascia melt under my hand. I love being able to palpate a trigger point and compress it until the blood starts flowing through that muscle better.

My biggest challenge is my pressure because I have a lot of it and have had to learn how to control it and go into a muscle in the correct sequence. I struggle with certain techniques such as pin and lengthen, but I have started using my residual limb in instances where I would need to pin a muscle. I also use my "nub" (that's what I call it) for massaging the feet and hands. I have found that it is soft yet provides pressure that is perfect for those extremities.

Describe the massage environment in which you would like to work when you complete your studies.

I want to help my fellow veterans get over this pharmaceutical epidemic and show them that through massage therapy they can get pain relief, an increase in their range of motion and help with their PTSD, which is truly destroying our veterans. After returning from Iraq, I myself experienced PTSD, and massage has changed my life.

Related: Research - Massage Therapy for Military Veterans

How has AMTA impacted your career?    

AMTA has helped me tremendously. When I learn something in class, I usually come home and use the AMTA website to find articles or information on the subject we are learning about to get a real-life experience.

Related: Current Massage Therapy Research

I have also joined as an AMTA Student Member. I have found it to be amazing, and it has shown me that I am truly cared about from the beginning to the end of my career as an AMTA member. 

What advice would you offer other people with a disability who want to work as a massage therapist?    

My advice is to keep your head up and to work hard to adapt your abilities to the amazing power of massage. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself and show up every day on time and ready to learn.

Massage school has been a lot tougher class-wise than doing the hands-on massage work. I absolutely love healing through massage.  I want other amputees to know that not only can massage help with their pathology, but they can also help others by joining the profession. 

Want to start your own career in massage therapy?

A career in massage therapy can be rewarding on many levels. Find research on the profession, discover massage therapy schools and see an overview of work settings.  

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"AMTA is an awesome organization. I can’t imagine any massage therapist not joining."

Karen T., AMTA member since 2002