Becoming a Massage Therapist: What You Should Know

becoming a massage therapist

If you love helping others achieve health and wellness, a career as a massage therapist may be right for you. As a massage therapist, you can help clients manage pain, reduce stress, relax muscles, improve circulation, and more through the power of touch. The field offers many rewards, from flexible work options to meaningful work. Here’s what you need to know about becoming a massage therapist.

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The Benefits of a Massage Therapy Career

A massage therapy career provides many advantages beyond just a paycheck. Consider these benefits:

  • Help Others Feel Their Best. As a massage therapist, you get to help clients relieve pain, recover from injuries, reduce stress, and feel relaxed. It’s incredibly fulfilling to improve people’s well-being through your work.
  • Enjoy Flexible Options. You can work varied shifts at a spa or own your own private practice. Many therapists work part-time or set their own schedules. You can adjust your hours to fit your lifestyle.
  • Find Meaningful Work. Massage therapy allows you to have a real positive impact on clients. Helping people feel better through caring touch is meaningful and rewarding work.
  • Specialize If Desired. You can pursue specialty training and become an expert in areas like sports massage, prenatal massage, or aromatherapy. This allows you to focus on your passions.
  • Build Long-Term Client Relationships. Many massage therapists develop lasting professional relationships with regular clients over months and years. It’s rewarding to see their health improve.
  • Be Your Own Boss. As an entrepreneur, you can build your own massage therapy business. The freedom of working for yourself appeals to many in this field.
  • Choose Your Work Setting. You could work at a spa, in a healthcare setting, in your own home studio, at a gym, or even visit clients’ homes or offices.
  • Earn a Great Living. Talented massage therapists can earn excellent wages, especially those with specialty skills. The median salary is over $43,000 annually.
  • Help a Wide Range of Clients. You’ll work with all types of clients, from athletes to office workers to pregnant women. They all benefit from massage!
  • Experience Job Security. Massage therapy is a steadily growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 20% growth in opportunities for massage therapists between 2020 and 2030.
  • Improve Your Own Wellness. As a massage therapist, you’ll learn stress management, body mechanics, self-massage and other wellness skills that benefit you too.

What It Takes to Become a Massage Therapist

To launch a massage therapy career, you’ll need to take key steps:

  • Complete Training. Most states require 500-1000 hours of massage therapy training at an accredited school. Programs cover topics like anatomy, physiology, massage techniques, ethics, and business practices.
  • Pass the Licensing Exam. After finishing your program, you’ll need to pass an exam like the MBLEx to get your license and be able to practice massage therapy.
  • Consider Business Skills. As a massage therapist, you’ll likely be self-employed. Take business, marketing, and accounting classes to boost your entrepreneurial skills.
  • Get Insured. Purchase liability insurance to protect yourself from any client claims or lawsuits. This is essential as a practitioner.
  • Invest in Equipment. You’ll need a massage table, lotions, oils, hot packs, face cradles, and other supplies. Quality equipment improves clients’ experience.
  • Continue Your Education. Take continuing education courses yearly to expand your skills and maintain your license over time. Lifelong learning is key.
  • Market Yourself. Promote your practice through advertising, social media, referral incentives, and other outreach. Regular marketing is a must.
  • Develop a Niche. Specialize in a niche like sports massage or prenatal massage to attract ideal clients and boost your expertise.
  • Join Associations. Being part of a professional massage therapy association provides support, resources, and opportunities to network with peers.
  • Consider Office Space. Depending on your goals, you may want to lease professional office space to provide massages.

Selecting the Ideal Massage Therapy Training Program

Choosing the right massage therapy school is key. Look for schools that offer:

  • Accreditation. Select an accredited program approved by an organization like COMTA or ABMP. This ensures quality.
  • Comprehensive, Science-Based Curriculum. Choose a program with an emphasis on anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and hands-on training.
  • Small Class Sizes. Look for a school with an instructor to student ratio that allows for individualized attention and guidance.
  • Seasoned, Expert Instructors. Opt for instructors with years of experience both teaching and practicing massage therapy.
  • Plentiful Hands-On Opportunities. The best programs provide substantial clinical hours performing massage therapy on real clients.
  • Student Clinic. Schools with an on-site student massage clinic offer invaluable hands-on practice with supervision.
  • Variety of Modalities Covered. Look for a well-rounded program that covers modalities like Swedish, deep tissue, sports, and hot stone massage.
  • Business Training. Programs that cover the business side of starting your practice give you a leg up.
  • Industry Connections. Some schools offer connections to local employers and clinics which can be beneficial professionally.
  • Licensing Exam Preparation. Quality schools incorporate exam prep and coaching to help you pass the licensing test.
  • Financial Aid. Make sure to explore all financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, loans, and payment plans.

Things to Consider When Comparing Massage Therapy Programs

When researching schools, consider these key factors:

  • Program Length – durations range from a few months to over a year. Make sure you have time to complete the training.
  • Learning Format – full-time, part-time, online, accelerated, or night program options to suit your schedule.
  • Location – is the school conveniently located or will you need to relocate or commute long distances?
  • Class Schedule – make sure the class times fit with your work and personal obligations. Look for night and weekend options.
  • Admissions Requirements – some schools require a high school diploma, while others accept work experience.
  • Teaching Style – determine if the program’s teaching approach matches your ideal learning environment.
  • Cost – compare tuition costs across different schools. Remember costs for registration, books, and supplies.
  • Reputation and Reviews – read reviews and check the school’s reputation. Alumni satisfaction says a lot about program quality.

Starting Your Massage Therapy Career

Once licensed, there are several paths you can take:

Work at a Massage Franchise or Spa

Large massage franchises and luxury spas offer benefits like:

  • Steady Client Flow – established businesses already have a built-in customer base.
  • Shared Resources and Staff – you don’t have to handle scheduling, billing, marketing, hiring, etc. alone.
  • Name Recognition – well-known employers are reassuring and attractive to many clients.
  • Potential to Specialize – large spas may allow you to focus exclusively on services like prenatal massage.
  • Retail Opportunities – you can sell lotions, oils, and other wellness products to clients.
  • Regular Hours – franchises and spas provide consistent hours and predictable paychecks.

Join an Integrated Healthcare Practice

Working alongside chiropractors, physical therapists, or doctors has advantages:

  • Collaborative Environment – you work closely with other healthcare professionals.
  • Increased Referrals – partner practitioners will refer patients to you for massage.
  • Medical Insight – you gain a better understanding of clients’ medical conditions and treatment plans.
  • Potential Benefits – some healthcare settings may offer perks like insurance, retirement plans, or continuing education.

Build a Private Massage Therapy Practice

If you prefer working independently, opening a private practice may be for you. Considerations include:

  • Be Your Own Boss – you make all decisions related to your brand, services, policies, hours, hiring, etc.
  • Flexible Schedule – as the business owner, you decide when and how much you want to work.
  • Higher Profit Potential – you earn and keep all revenue from your massage services and any retail sales.
  • Direct Client Relationships – you interact one-on-one with your clientele and establish personalized connections.
  • Specialized Services – you can niche down and offer very customized massage treatments.
  • Sense of Accomplishment – building your own successful practice from the ground up provides immense satisfaction.

Important Decisions When Starting a Private Practice

If you pursue a private practice, you’ll need to make key decisions:

  • Business Structure – Will you operate as a sole proprietorship, LLC, or other business structure? Consider liability protection.
  • Office Space – Will you rent a professional office or convert space in your home? Make sure it complies with regulations.
  • Equipment and Furnishings – Invest in a high-quality massage table, lotions, oils, towels, decorative elements, and a sound system.
  • Branding – Define your brand identity, name, logo, slogan, colors, and style. This shapes clients’ perceptions.
  • Services – Determine the massage modalities you’ll offer, add-ons like aromatherapy, and associated pricing.
  • Marketing Plan – Strategize how you’ll promote your new business through print ads, social media, referrals, SEO, etc.
  • Accounting System – Set up bookkeeping processes to track income, expenses, profit margins, taxes, etc. If needed, hire a bookkeeper.
  • Insurance – Purchase appropriate liability insurance and other necessary coverage.
  • Hiring – If your practice grows, you may need to hire massage therapists as employees or independent contractors.

Maximizing the Success of Your Massage Therapy Practice

No matter what practice model you choose, utilize these strategies to optimize success:

  • Offer Excellent Customer Service – Greet all clients warmly and make them feel comfortable. Actively listen and address all questions/concerns. Provide clear prep and aftercare instructions. Send occasional check-ins, special offers, and wellness tips.
  • Focus on Safety and Hygiene – Keep your space meticulously clean. Change sheets and towels after each client. Disinfect all surfaces between appointments. Limit fragrance use for clients sensitive to scents.
  • Remain Client-Focused – Give clients your undivided attention during appointments. Adjust pressure, techniques, and modalities based on their needs. Offer compassionate support during emotional releases.
  • Continuously Build Your Skills – Regularly take continuing education courses. Join professional associations to stay current on best practices. Expand your massage modalities and specialty skills. Consider becoming certified in complementary wellness services.
  • Promote Self-Care and Wellness – Make time for self-massage, stretching, and other self-care. Maintain healthy habits like a nutritious diet, exercise, and sleep. Practice stress-reducing activities such yoga or meditation. Set professional boundaries and avoid burnout.

Why a Career in Massage Therapy is So Rewarding

There are so many reasons massage therapy is a fulfilling career choice. Every day, you have opportunities to:

  • Make a difference in clients’ lives
  • Connect through caring touch
  • Witness improved health and well-being
  • Empower people through education
  • Grow meaningful client relationships
  • Continuously expand your healing skills
  • Surround yourself with health-focused peers
  • Promote balance, relaxation, and self-care

If you feel called to help others live healthier and happier lives, consider answering that call by becoming a professional massage therapist. With proper training and dedication, you can build an enriching career centered around wellness, human connection, and making a difference through your work.

Elena Curtis