Massage Therapy as a Career

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Although there are several reasons people choose to pursue a career in massage therapy. Some are encouraged by the family members they give shoulder and foot massages to. Others choose massage because they've never liked school and feel massage therapy is the easiest road to a college graduation. Then there are the advertisements from the schools themselves. They lure you to the profession announcing that you can set your own work schedule and make $50K a year.

I began massage school in 2000 in a licensed state and have since moved to an un-licensed state. For 6 years I ran my own business and was also a massage therapy instructor for 7 years. I'm here to tell you the ins and outs of the profession, what to expect, and what to look for before you begin this journey.

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Education

When it comes to massage schools they are not all the same and this is one area where you must be choosy. Each state has its own laws and educational requirements for massage therapists. So if you live in Texas and have dreams of moving to New York it would be wise to attend school in New York. New York requires 1000 hours of education whereas Texas only requires 500. Luckily people don't move to a new state very often but this is one area that can potentially hold you back if you don't do your homework beforehand. Some states will require you to sit for their exam and others will accept one of the national examinations. I went to school in Ohio and had classmates who were licensed massage therapists in other states. In the state of Ohio they only accept their exam and you must attend an Ohio school in order to qualify to take the test. Here are the massage therapy regulations in the US.

Now that you know where you want to go to school let's talk about the schooling itself. Everyone who enrolls in massage therapy school does not always graduate. Be prepared to learn the anatomy and physiology of all the systems of the body. Since your work will focus solely on the muscles of the body it is vital that you know them backwards and forwards. When a person comes to you with a complaint and describes pain with a certain motion you need to be able to instantly know which muscles perform that action. In massage therapy school you will learn the scientific names of the bony landmarks where the muscles attach and also all the actions each muscle performs. The school I attended covered all the muscles of the body the first quarter and continuously tested our knowledge by examination until we reached graduation. Some schools teach a different area of the body each term without repeating the same area twice. I taught for such a program and I think it was difficult for most of the students to learn all of the muscles because there wasn't enough repetition. In this instance the student will hold the key to their own success by continually reviewing muscles they've learned in the past in addition to those they are currently learning.

The Job Market

Although it is possible to make $50K a year as a massage therapist that is very rare for new graduates. In May 2001 the bureau of labor statistics showed a salary range of $18K to $69K with a median salary of $35K. According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association in 2010:

  • The average annual income for a massage therapist (including tips) who provides approximately 15 hours of massage per week was estimated to be $31,980
  • More than half of massage therapists (57 percent) also earn income working in another profession
  • Sole practitioners account for the largest percentage of practicing therapists (65 percent). Thirty-nine percent work at least part of their time at a client’s home/business/corporate setting or their home, 26 percent in a spa setting and 25 percent in a healthcare setting

Some of these statistics may have you re-thinking your decision but here is the good news:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2010, employment for massage therapists is expected to increase 19 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than average for all occupations.

Many people choose massage therapy because they want to work for themselves. My suggestion is to begin building your client base while you're in school. When you tell people you are enrolled in massage school they will instantly offer their body for your practice. After you graduate people will not be so forthcoming because they know you'll expect them to pay you. When you're in massage school you'll most likely receive a weekly full body massage and upon graduation you will see how much your body misses that. The same is true for those who are willing to let you practice. Sure they may not become a client after you graduate but people talk and word of mouth is the most effective marketing for this career.

While you build your practice you may want to work somewhere else on the side. Be aware that some establishments will make you sign a non-compete agreement. That means you can't go work for them and then market your practice to the clients you have there. Deciding whether to work in a spa versus a clinical setting may seem like a hard decision. I've worked in both industries and each has its perks.

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Working in a Spa

When I was in school I never imagined I would ever work in a spa. I wasn't a girly girl and I dislike the backstabbing a lot of women do to each other. Fortunately our spa didn't have those issues. The owner told all of us that if we had a problem with another co-worker we had 24 hours to resolve it, if we couldn't figure it out she would decide who would leave. It worked very well and we never had any problems. To this day I still think that was a brilliant statement.

Variety is one of the largest benefits to working in a spa. Since the majority of the people you will see will want deep tissue massage it's nice to give your body a break with a salt scrub or mud wrap. Each spa has its own personality based on the ownership. Some spas will want you to memorize their signature massage and give everyone the exact same massage. The problem I have with that is not all people have problems in the same area and I like to individualize my massages. A happy client is a client who will return.

Also take into account the role of the owner. If the owner is a massage therapist they will usually allow 15 minute breaks between appointments and overall will be more sympathetic to you as a therapist. Business minded people and corporations typically view therapist in terms of dollar signs in their pocket. While they may be sensitive to the needs of the therapist they usually will schedule appointments without breaks in between. Some establishments want therapists to work 8 hours a day. A typical full-time therapist averages 20 hours a week, roughly 4 hours a day. When it comes to salary, double your 40 hour work week salary and that is what you will need to make per hour for a 20 hour work week if you want to keep the same income.

Tips are another perk to working in a spa. Not everyone will leave a tip but then there are others who leave generous tips. My largest tip was $60 every time I saw one of my clients. He was from San Francisco and couldn't believe how little I was charging him in Idaho. So he paid me what he would normally pay at home.

Working in a Clinical Setting

Tell me, when was the last time you gave the doctor a tip as you left the office? You didn't. That is the down side to working for a chiropractor, physical therapist, etc. You're not going to make tips. However, if the doctor says he wants to see you again next week where will you be? In his office. Although some clients in a spa will return for regularly scheduled appointments to address a specific issue, they are more likely to return if you are in a clinical setting.

Another bonus to working in a physicians office is insurance billing. People who are seriously injured can rack up quite a massage bill and insurance is a way to buffer that financial burden. Sadly not all insurance companies will cover massage therapy but several of them do. There were a few people with medical savings accounts who came to the spa and simply submitted their massage receipt themselves for insurance reimbursement.

Overall

Many people wake up each day to the dreaded alarm clock wishing they didn't have to go in to work. When I worked as a massage therapist I never had that feeling. People often ask if my hands would get tired during the day and if you're doing massage correctly they won't. A therapist primarily uses their upper body and body weight to work on people.

There are moments when you may become bored with your work but that is simply an indication you need to take a continuing education class. Most continuing education classes are weekend workshops and some are even offered as home-study courses. They are wonderful opportunities to steer your career in the direction you choose. There is a wide variety of courses on subjects such as: infant massage, equestrian massage, watsu, and lymphatic drainage to name a few.

Some may wonder if massage therapy is a boring career. If you're paying attention to the person on the table you will never be bored. Each person has different trouble areas for their own specific reasons. Not only is each client a puzzle to figure out but muscles release differently on different people.

If your body mechanics, your posture while giving a massage, is correct the physical aspect of massage won't seem like much work. Initially it may take a few months to build your stamina but the hands on portion isn't what drains you. Oftentimes it's the emotional baggage and stress of your clients that can begin to wear you down. In the beginning I didn't believe in such a thing but when it happens to you a few times you begin to take notice.

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Comments 16 comments

tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Excellent tips. In my hometown, everyone goes to the favorite local masuse. She is a young blind woman. I have never had a professional massage, just ones at home. I imagine that average people could hurt each other doing this. Is it bad to crack someone elses back? I don't know if I could handle the grumbles and negativity of customers like that. Yikes! Voted up.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Thanks for detailing what's involved for those interested in this career. I liked all the specifics especially the salary/ Voting this Up and Useful.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

Tammy, I wrote a 3 part series on how to massage at home. It can be done but there are some things to look out for. As for back cracking...I wouldn't do it. Over time you can wear out the joints and over stretch the ligaments. As for the negativity you learn how to ground yourself. If you've ever been around a friend that drains you with their presence it's the same thing. Thanks for the vote : )


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

Alocsin, Thank you for your kind words. The salary is a big issue because many schools give the impression that a lot of money can be made upon graduation while working your own business. Eventually that is the case but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get there. There is actually a book titled "How to make $100,000 a year as a massage therapist". Thank you for the votes : )


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

I had attended Massage school, but had only gotten half was through. It was ghrueling for me, and I never worked so hard in my life. And it's any thing but easy! Courses that aspiring Dr's have to take, and to only get paid

btwn $18,000-30,000 per year?? I totally lost my passion for it. No one promised me that it would be easy, but I never dreamed it would be so hard. I really thought that I did have a passion for it. And I wonder, if I, a healthy, extremely fit 47 year old, could physically withstand the 4 or 5 hours of what's required physically. And I was 46 when I had been in school. Well this was a great hub. Voting up and useful.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

Thanks albertsj for voting and sharing your time. It seems we have quite a bit in common. My anatomy and physiology instructor in massage school was working on his PhD in comparative anatomy at the time. He told us we were learning A&P equivalent to second year medical school students. I'm not sure if that is true but it definitely felt true. Some of my classmates were nurses and they struggled with the A&P. Sadly educational requirements are not consistent across the country. That's probably why Hollywood still portrays us as high pitched squeaky laugh bimbos. There are techniques therapists can do which aren't very physically demanding such as lymphatic drainage, craniosacral, and of course infant massage.


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

Oh, I'm not worried about the physical, since I've completely lost my passion & never even completed it. Just saying one of the effects of a post TIA (mini stroke) is overwhelming exhaustion, even though I still work out daily, it would be absolutely exhausting for me to have a full time job, in something especially physical, like massage therapy. (See my first hub: Stroke victim at 47) But, still I don't even want to do it.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

A friend of mine had a stroke a few years ago and although it has taken time you wouldn't know it if you met her today. After her stroke she lost her ability to speak and some motor function on one side of her body. She's now a Pilates instructor. Hang in there, be patient with yourself, it will get easier : )


restrelax profile image

restrelax 4 years ago from Los angeles CA

Very useful hub. Thanks for sharing.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Great idea - It a very well paid career. Also, good for being self-employment. Thanks for sharing.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

restrelax and Lady_E thank you both for sharing your thoughts and time : )


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

Massage therapy can be a nice career, but I don't know why many people in my culture frown upon masseur.


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 4 years ago from Texas

My cousin is a massage therapist. He made some good money, and now lives in Alaska. Top earners in the field must be exhausted! I know I would be. Interesting field...


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

Vinaya, there are still some demographics who frown upon the massage profession. I think, just like anything else, people fear what they don't understand.

A.A. Once a massage therapist builds up their stamina it isn't physically that difficult. In massage therapy we see a lot of type "A" personalities. It's the overall "vibe", or chemical energy, these sorts of people put out that wear a therapist down. I didn't believe in that sort of thing before I became a massage therapist, but there IS an energy transfer that occurs if the therapist isn't careful. Imagine being in a room with another person for an hour or more without saying a word. Meanwhile the therapists hands are "reading" the muscles to determine which stroke would work best. It's hard to describe to people who haven't experienced it.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Jennifer,

Fantastic hub; fantastic writing. Voted up and away on a subject and how you presented it. I have always dreamed of being a massage therapist, but never had the IQ for the education.

I enjoyed how you wrote this topic. Very intelligently, and easy to understand.

I want you to check your fan mail right now.

Then head to my hubs, check one or two, then become one of my followers.

I would love it.

Sincerely,

Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama


dhimanreena profile image

dhimanreena 2 years ago

Great hub!!! Voted up

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