FOR most people, switching careers can be a traumatic experience as it involves meeting new people, learning a new set of skills and trying to impress the boss all over again.
This did not deter Malacca-born lass Amanda Chan, though. Never one to shy away from change, Amanda has tried her hand at a number of jobs, including writer and then editor for publishing companies, trade finance officer in a bank and campaigner for women's rights with a local NGO, since she graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and Social Science from Universiti Malaya in 1986.
Now 37, she runs a shop called The Wellness Place, which provides a variety of alternative healing treatments including shiatsu, reflexology, aromatherapy massage, sports massage and osteopathy.
Amanda says her decision to change careers was one of the elements in her journey towards self-discovery. “It was like a soul-searching period. I was trying to find out what I wanted to do with my life.”
It was in 1995 that she began to act on her interest in alternative medicine, a field that her sister who works as an osteopath in London, England, had introduced her to. (Osteopathy is a form of therapy that gently manipulates soft tissues, joints and the spine in order to restore proper function and alignment of the body.)
She gave up her job with the NGO, packed up her bags and went to London to attend an intensive four-month course in massage therapy, learning about the techniques of massage and studying the theory as well, which included anatomy, physiology and body massage.
She says she also sat for a theory and a practical examination that was conducted by the International Therapy Examination Board (ITEC).
Armed with a Diploma in Anatomy, Physiology and Body Massage, Amanda returned to Malaysia but she did not set up her own shop immediately.
“I joined a company called Think Tank. They sold floatation tanks which are meant for deep relaxation.”
During that time, Amanda was allowed to use a room in the company premises.
“I assisted in making appointments for clients who wanted to 'float' to achieve a relaxed state,” she says.
She eventually opened The Wellness Place, using her own savings to finance the venture and building a client base from people she had met while working in her last job.
“People got to know me mostly through word of mouth and from my days at the previous company. When I opened my own place, they followed me here,” she relates.
In fact, almost all her clients are introductions because she doesn't advertise.
“I did try to advertise when I first started the shop. I even specified that it was only for women but I began receiving unwanted calls because there were some men who seemed to have the impression that massage therapy includes other questionable activities,” she explains.
“But people are slowly becoming aware that massage therapy is a serious job offering alternative health treatment, even though there are some who still seem to have the wrong impression,” she adds.
When asked if The Wellness Place is only for women, Amanda says treatment is actually provided for men as well.
“The only reason I mentioned that it was for women only in the advertisement was to avoid awkward calls from men,” she says.
However, male clients are generally the husbands or friends of her female clients and are personally introduced to her.
The Wellness Place offers an ambience of relaxation and peace with its muted lights, relaxing music and scented candles. The soothing ambience helps to relieve stress even before therapy begins.
Amanda does not employ permanent staff, but she has visiting therapists such as a shiatsu therapist and an osteopath, who come to see clients on designated days.
There is also an aromatherapy-blending bar for those who feel creative enough to blend their own massage oil, lotion or hair and body shampoo. Aromatherapy products such as candles and burners, books on alternative health, and therapeutic pillows are among the items available for sale.
Amanda says all her previous jobs have helped her grow as a person.
“My experiences helped me open my mind and not be rigid in my thoughts and the way things should be done.”
Being a massage therapist for six years has been the longest time that Amanda has ever stayed in one job.
“There is always something new to learn in this line of work,” she says.
She has also continued to improve herself by attending courses in sports massage and natural healthcare in Australia. She is currently doing a homeopathy course.
What began as just an interest in her sister's profession has now grown into a business and at the moment, Amanda has no plans to change her current lifestyle.
One of the great things about being a therapist is that it is a flexible job, she says.
“I think if you ask me now to go back to a nine-to-five job, I'll just die a natural death.
“I actually have time to take courses, surf the Internet, read or meet my friends when there are no clients to attend. All the moving around I used to do can be rather tiring. I have no regrets setting this place up.”
Looking around her shop, she declares: “I'm happy.”