Spotlight on a Massage Therapist Massage Therapy is an amazing occupation with a variety of career paths available. We feature interviews with professionals in the field and share their successes, challenges, rewards, and advice.

Dustin Dreese Graduated February 2015

Irene’s – Why did you choose massage therapy as a career? 

Dustin – Having spent 8 years of my professional life after graduate school working in industries that yielded little happiness, I reached a point where I knew I needed to make a drastic change.  Joy and happiness had become infrequent.  I was overweight, unhealthy, and living in a perpetual state of stress.  I developed depression, anxiety attacks, and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  In short, I was on a quick decline… and I knew it.

I decided in the Fall of 2012 to quit my corporate career and take some time to heal and course-correct my life.  It was during this period that I realized the answer was there all along.

Growing up, my father was a big believer in Massage Therapy.  He used to send my mother and me to practitioners about once a month.  Being exposed to massage as a teenager was a blessing and I remember discussing the profession with each of the therapists, hearing the many reasons they loved what they did. However, this was in the mid-1990s and the profession did not have the kind of social stature that I felt was expected of me.  I quite intentionally ruled out Bodywork as a career and pursued more “acceptable” options.

Almost 20 years later, the field of Massage Therapy had evolved and proven itself among the health care community.  Personally, I had evolved into a free thinker and self-motivated individual who was ready to revisit the work that captivated me at such an impressionable age.

Today, I am a Licensed Massage Therapist (L.M.T.), skilled in a range of therapeutic modalities.  I strive to provide my clients with an individualized and goal-based approach to massage and bodywork.

Irene’s – Where do you practice massage therapy?

Dustin – I run my own practice, Dustin Palmer Bodywork & Massage, in Huntington Woods, MI.  I have an amazing team of 6 therapists and together we provide a supportive and collaborative approach to serving our clients.

Irene’s – What is the most rewarding part of your massage career?

Dustin –This is a hard one as there are many facets of this career that I love.  It truly is a combination of everything that motivated me from my previous careers.  First, I love creating a healthy environment for serious therapists.  We’ve all worked in places that are cliquey, competitive, and with bosses that don’t seem to care about us or our wellbeing.  I learned a lot in my previous field of Human Resources… above all is that you are only as good as your team.  If you take care of your team, they will take care of you.  As so, I am extremely proud of the workplace that I cultivate and the supportive nature of our work environment.  I have a team of six happy therapists who care as much for me as I do for them.

Next, I would be remiss if I did not mention the obvious joy that being a Massage Therapist brings to my life.  The interpersonal connections and the therapeutic relationship with clients bring energy and meaning to my life in ways I never experienced before I decided to take up this career.  I never dread going into work.

Lastly, I am a very results driven person.  I love seeing tangible results and being able to see real-time improvements, both from a business perspective as well as results with clients.  Seeing my client traffic and marketing initiatives payoff is extremely gratifying.  Helping to develop confidence in my therapists drives client retention and that provides motivation for all of us to be our best.  Hearing feedback from clients about how much we have changed their lives for the better…. priceless.

Irene’s – Do you have a favorite memory from massage school?

Dustin – It’s totally random but when I was going through the program, I was also going through a very giant and difficult personal transition.  This wasn’t uncommon for students and I found that many of us were on a personal healing journey in addition to one that leads to a new career.  I remember one of the meditations that our teacher’s assistant lead before class started.  It was a sunny morning, I was not in the best headspace, but as we began the meditation I just got this overwhelming sense that I was on the right path.  It was spiritual and unexpected.  If I close my eyes I can almost experience the hands-on classroom as it was that morning… that’s how vivid the memory is.

Irene’s – What was the best class you took at Irene’s massage school?

Dustin – I loved the lymphatic drainage class for two reasons.  Rob Kelly, to this day, was one of the most engaging and strong instructors that I have ever had.  I really enjoyed him as a person and as an instructor.  The therapy itself was extremely relaxing to both deliver and receive and I remember feeling amazing after that weekend.  Coincidentally, I use this modality quite often in my private practice and it is rewarding to this day.

Irene’s – What bodywork modalities or massage techniques do you find most effective?

Dustin – I love slow, targeted fascial therapy.  I work on a lot of athletes and chronic injury clients and I achieve amazing results by listening to the body and relying on my palpation skills to release adhesions, decrease pain and improve ROM.

Irene’s – What was your greatest success with a massage client?  

Dustin – About 4 years ago I worked with a client who had flown to China and experienced significant swelling in her ankles, legs, and arms during the flight.  She had seen several doctors and one specialist over the course of a four month period and no one could offer her an explanation of why the swelling would not go away.   The specialist recommended Rheumatoid Arthritis medication to see if it would help.  She was uncomfortable with that treatment option and decided to seek a more holistic remedy before trying the medication route.  I performed a full-body lymphatic draining treatment on her and within one session her swelling had decreased by about 80% by the end of the session.  She came back the next week and it was almost completely gone.   We saw each other bi-weekly for a few months and then spaced her sessions out to a maintenance schedule.   She is a client to this day and comes for regular lymphatic drainage and deep tissue massage.

Irene’s – Where is the first place you worked after you graduated from massage school?

Dustin – I worked at a Day Spa who recruited me at a career fair at Irene’s for 6 months but ultimately decided I wanted to be self-employed.

Irene’s – What do you do for self-care to provide longevity of your massage career?

Dustin – I get regular bodywork done, I do a full-body stretch routine, and I take time off when I need it.  I encourage all of these things with my therapist team as well.

Irene’s – To what do you attribute your success as a massage therapist?

Dustin – Hard work and professionalism.  Period.  I find a lot of new therapists think that their clients will just come to them and that things will happen easily.  This is not the case in most settings.  I spent the first two years of my new career poor.  I worked 6 days a week at all hours to accommodate client schedules and maximize my business income.  I taught myself how to build a website, maximize SEO, build referrals, bill insurance, etc.   It took about 4 years to achieve the kind of work-life balance that I have now. However, with all that hard work, I have the foundation for a very pleasant and rewarding life.

Irene’s – What marketing do you feel has worked best to promote your massage practice?

Dustin – Word of mouth is by far the best (and cheapest) marketing.  The important thing is to remind your clients to spread the word.  I also offer a little incentive for referrals.  Having a strong Google Business Profile is essential as well.  I do not typically pay for marketing unless it goes to support local initiates (like local school sports teams) and over the last 5 years I have built nearly a 1500 person client database.

Irene’s – What do you feel was the biggest mistake you made as a massage therapist and how did you address it?

Dustin – This may seem weird but I honestly don’t think I’ve made too many mistakes as a therapist.  I think the biggest mistake is the occasional communication issue with a client or one of my therapists.  In those cases it’s just important to own the mistake and take every action to fix it.  I believe fully in taking accountability for mistakes.  It’s the only way to minimize their impact and get back on track.

Irene’s – What continuing education have you taken after graduating from massage school?  

Dustin – I have been so focused on building my business that this is something that I am beginning to focus on.  I graduated before the CEU requirements were determined so I have had more time to think about and execute CEU’s. I plan on taking Pregnancy Massage, Side-Lying Massage, TMJ, and Headaches next year when the elective schedule is reopened to alumni.

Irene’s – Do you have any advice for new massage therapists?

Dustin – In the beginning, it’s important to be patient.  You WILL have a rewarding and lucrative career if you treat every client as a priority, have a strong work ethic, and remember why you entered this field in the first place.  It doesn’t happen overnight… but it DOES happen.  Also… if you find yourself dreading work… you’re either not in the right work environment or this isn’t the job for you.

Irene’s – What is the best way for massage clients to contact you?

Dustin – They can call my studio at 248-631-4728 or they can book online at