Swedish Institute alumni Gavin Powell practicing Thai Massage in Thailand

From Financial Advisor to Licensed Pet Massage Therapist: Gavin Powell’s Story 

Despite having a business degree from Columbia University, Gavin Powell found himself looking for a change after the pandemic. “During COVID I decided to go back to school and study massage,” Powell said, and he found himself following a passion for massage he’d always had. And with this decision, Gavin set himself on a path to a new career with plenty of twists and turns.  

Gavin Powell’s Time at Swedish Institute 

Gavin Powell was a massage therapy student here at Swedish Institute from 2020 through 2023, and he fed his passion for working with other people throughout his time. And to Gavin’s surprise, he started practicing massage therapy on his classmates immediately. “It sounds silly in retrospect, but I didn’t expect how hands-on it would be. I didn’t expect to be working on a classmate in my first semester. You really do get those 1200 hours of practice [that they tell you in your admissions interview].”  

Some of Gavin’s favorite classes included Shiatsu and Palpation, both of which he found tricky but worthwhile. The biggest challenge was balancing his time. “I was hybrid, but I worked a 9-to-5 job in the office and went to school in the evening. I left my home in the morning and wasn’t home until the wee hours of night.” But there was one silver lining: “I was getting a massage for half of every evening, so it wasn’t all bad.” 

Approaching graduation, Gavin quickly found a job that allowed him to work in the field on a preliminary license. “I met my first employer, World Spa, at a career fair here at Swedish, held by the Career Services department.  Richard Gardner and Ebony Roberts prepared me for interviews and got me ready for the next steps.” After some time working at World Spa, Gavin decided he hadn’t finished learning yet. The next stage of his journey took him across the world. 

Learning Thai Massage in Thailand 

In an effort to expand his knowledge of massage, Gavin found different modalities to embark upon. Michael Alicia, his Shiatsu instructor during his time at school, inspired Gavin to explore Thai massage as a way to differentiate himself from his peers. So Gavin hopped on a plane to Thailand and started to study. “I spent 3 months in Thailand.  From day one, it was incredibly hands-on.” 

Thai massage, unlike Swedish massage, is done in clothing and involves more stretching than palpation or manipulation of muscles. “It also has a lot more emphasis on passive stretches. I describe it like this: it’s like wrestling, but you’re losing, and that feels great.”  

Gavin has found such joy learning Thai massage that he is even going to be teaching it here at Swedish Institute in our continuing education department later this year. “I’ve always wanted to be on the educational side of practice… to come back to Swedish Institute and teach my fellow alumni  will be incredibly rewarding.” 

However, Gavin’s desire to expand his practice didn’t end with just Thai massage. 

Learning Equine and Canine Massage 

Through a company called Equissage, Gavin began taking lessons in an entirely unique field of animal massage. ““Equissage holds programs in dog* and horse massage, and I took the 50-hour courses in each.” These courses teach about the physiology of the animal and the best ways to treat them. But getting hands-on experience is a different story.  

Swedish Institute Alumni Gavin Powell performing massage on a very relaxed and happy dog

Luckily, Gavin’s connections in Costa Rica opened a door for him. “I volunteer as an alumni interviewer and application reader at United World College, an international school in Costa Rica that I attended.” Gavin’s time in Costa Rica introduced him to a number of people in the country, including one who happened to own a horse farm. This allowed Gavin to learn hands-on. Gavin explains the similarity between horse massage and human massage. “If an animal likes a feeling, they’ll move into it or they’ll shirk away from pain. The only major difference is that an animal can’t actually talk about how they’re feeling.” 

Gavin’s Ongoing Career 

Today, Gavin works in a variety of locations as a traveling massage therapist. He works on humans and pets alike, practicing both Thai and Swedish massage. But the most important message from Gavin is this: 

“You have to be open to every opportunity and you never know where it will take you.” 

For Gavin Powell, this openness has brought him to multiple countries to learn how to heal and help others through the power of massage therapy. And he’s not stopping anytime soon, as he continues not only to learn, but to share his knowledge and experience through teaching.  

* Note: Dog massage is invalid under a massage therapist license in New York and other states. It should be performed by vetrenarians or veterinary technicians. Learn more by going to your state’s licensing board.