Anyone looking for a career that combines a high degree of personal interaction with the opportunity to help people may want to consider becoming a massage therapist. These professionals, also known by the familiar term of "masseuse", are in the business of helping people feel better by relieving pain, alleviating stress, and helping heal injuries. Before taking the leap into this rewarding and challenging profession, future massage therapists will want to learn what is involved. Examining how massage therapists spend their time and knowing the steps to become one can help people determine if this is the right career for them.
What does a massage therapist do?
Massage therapy has a wide variety of applications. Therapists help their clients in the areas of relaxation, stress reduction, health promotion, chronic pain management, injury recovery, and dealing with specific maladies. Clientele can include athletes, performers, the elderly, and even office workers. Massage therapists practice in a variety of settings, such as massage therapy clinics, doctor or chiropractor offices, holistic health clinics, health clubs and fitness centers, spas, nursing homes, hospitals, cruise ships, sports team facilities, and private offices. Some have their own portable equipment and perform their work at the office or home of their client.
The demand for massage therapists has become very high in recent years, owing to a significant public trend in the use of massage as a prime healthcare modality option.
Therapists may work as self-employed practitioners in a private or group office setting, as salaried employees, or as independent contractors. Earnings vary widely depending on the type of practice and location, as well as on the skill and experience of the therapist. Practitioners with their own facility usually earn the most but they also carry the burden of having to build and maintain a steady and reliable clientele base. Those working for an hourly wage tend to earn less but also do not have overhead expenses.
Fundamentals of massage therapy include Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, and Trigger Point Therapy. Some of the more common forms of massage therapy in practical application include the following:
- Relaxation Massage: Typically performed in a spa setting, this type of therapy includes stress management and relaxation treatments.
- Sports Massage: This form of therapy is practiced in a variety of settings, and involves working with athletes to enhance their performance as well as helping them to recover from injuries.
- Medical/Clinical Massage: This type of massage treats people who suffer from pain and injuries, and is usually practiced in a doctor's office, chiropractor's office, hospital, or medical clinic.
- Corporate Onsite Massage: Offered to employees of several major corporations, this type of therapy can run the gamut from a 15-minute seated to a full-table massage and typically involves travel for the therapist to an onsite location.
Steps to become a massage therapist?
Most massage therapists need to graduate from a massage therapy program, and become licensed or certified in their state. Here are some basic steps to follow if you want to become a massage therapist:
- Become familiar with the profession. First, spend some time thinking about the profession and which specialty in massage therapy to concentrate on. Then make sure to visit massage therapists and even get some massages. Also, take time to do some research. Look online for information about different types of massage or check the local library for massage books. Even better, contact local therapists or schools and ask questions.
- Research the licensing requirements of your state. Regulation and licensing requirements vary from state to state, and even by city. Currently 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate massage therapy in some way. In states without this regulation, cities tend to have requirements for a business license. Most states require a minimum of 500 or more hours of massage training. A full list of licensing requirements by state can be found here.
- Find and complete a suitable training program. There are plenty of massage schools out there. Look for a program that leads to certification and, most importantly, satisfies your state's licensing requirements. It is recommended to enroll in a training program that is accredited or approved by a nationally-recognized accreditation agency. One such agency is the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA). At the present time, there are approximately 70 training programs and institutions accredited by COMTA.
- Get certified and licensed. Not all areas require certification, but it can still open a lot of doors in the industry. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) administers an exam-based national certification program. Similar to the "national boards" given in other healthcare fields, the exam is given at test centers across the country. Those who pass become eligible to use the title "Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork" and may use the initials NCTMB. Most states that regulate massage therapists have adopted this exam as a state exam. In order to take the exam, certain eligibility requirements must be met, including graduation from a training program. It is becoming increasingly common for graduating students to take the national certification exam shortly after completing school.
- Decide whether to start a personal practice or look for a job. In the past, almost all massage therapists worked for themselves. Today, however, there are a growing number of salaried jobs in massage therapy. Sources to tap in order to find employment as a massage therapist include massage schools, local papers, online employment sites, medical clinics, health clubs, spas, and corporations. Those who prefer to start their own business can find many resources for new business owners through the Small Business Administration.
How to become a GREAT massage therapist
- Take massage education to the next level. An Associate Degree of Occupational Studies (AOS) in Massage Therapy will provide knowledge of the advanced concepts and techniques used in medical massage, energy healing, craniosacral therapy, and more. An Associate Degree program will take approximately six to nine months of additional study and will qualify graduates for employment in all areas of massage, both clinical and medical. In addition to an advanced degree, there are other ways to grow as a healthcare practitioner. Taking classes in new techniques, reading books about different types of bodywork, and getting massage from other practitioners are excellent ways to enhance professional growth.
- Volunteer massage services to others. A great way to start building a clientele and also to get more Ԩands onԠexperience is to volunteer services to others. Volunteer clients can include friends and family or even community organizations in the area.
- Join a professional association. Membership in a professional organization can provide a big boost to a career. One such organization is the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), whose membership offers benefits, programs, and services to massage therapy professionals and students.
These are some of the basics involved in becoming a successful massage therapist. The profession requires an aptitude for working with people, but can result in a very satisfying and rewarding career. An early familiarity with the profession, knowledge of jurisdictional education/licensing requirements, and the right training are the key ingredients to success. Continuous improvement in terms of education, practice, and building of credentials will not only maintain that success but will enhance and magnify it.