Massage therapists use touch and their own physical strength to manipulate muscles which may help ease pain and soreness, boost function and promote relaxation for their patients. This is a good job for people who want to help improve a client's physical health and stress level using various massage techniques. It can be rewarding to interact with clients in a relaxed manner and see the positive effects of massage on their health and mood.
Before heading down this path, however, it is important to understand what massage therapy education requirements there are, what licensing and certification requirements exist, the specific traits massage therapists find helpful to their profession as well as the career variations available to massage therapists.
Day in the Life of a Massage Therapist
Massage therapists can choose to work in a variety of settings and play slightly different roles. These choices depend on their training, preferences and goals. For example:
- In a small clinic, a recently licensed massage therapist uses massage to ease a patient's physical pain or help them recover from injury. There may be a more experienced massage therapist on staff to mentor and manage the novice. The office staff handles general administration and may book appointments.
- A new massage therapist works at a corporate massage studio with many locations. The company advertises widely to attract new clients, taking the burden of finding new clients off the masseuse. The masseuse is free to focus on massage, while the office staff handles administrative duties such as scheduling, accounting, and facility management. However, the masseuse may have little control over her hours and schedule, as many such studios are open seven days a week, including evenings. The company may also dictate the massage styles that may be used.
- A health club offers members massage therapy as an optional service. A massage therapist works in a small studio inside the club. He may work regular hours or on an as-needed basis, which requires flexibility, and he may or may not book his own appointments.
- Many spas offer massage on their menu of services. At a luxury resort, a massage therapist typically works in a beautiful, peaceful spa. Most guests are one-time visitors, so she isn't able to build a loyal, familiar clientele.
- A massage therapist in private practice has both freedom and responsibility in running her business. She must attract and retain clients, schedule appointments, handle accounting duties, and maintain a studio. However, she can set her own hours, use massage styles she and her clients prefer, and can even go to her clients' homes or offices to provide massage.
Important Characteristics for Massage Therapists
What traits make for a successful massage therapist? As in other health-related jobs, a desire to help people feel better is critical. Along with the physical stamina and sensitivity needed to practice massage, it is important to have excellent interpersonal skills. Patience and an ability to listen to others are necessary to understand each client's needs. An aspiring massage therapist who has these characteristics must also understand what education is required to reach his goal.
Massage therapy training programs are available at both private and public colleges and in massage therapy schools or training centers. A diploma in massage therapy can usually be earned in less than two years. Most schools require 1,000 hours of study and hands-on experience, although this varies from state to state. Many massage therapy schools arrange internships with local massage practices to provide practical experience.
- An Associate Degree of Occupational Studies (AOS) in Massage Therapy is not required to practice massage therapy but can take one's education to the next level.
Massage therapy education requirements also include keeping one's certification and license (see below) current, so continuing education is necessary.
Other Ways to Prepare
There are many ways to continually increase knowledge, skill and success as a massage therapist. Some of these steps are required while others are optional.
- A license in massage therapy is required before practicing. Licensing requirements vary by state and location but typically require a combination of education, experience and/or passing an exam. Most states require 500 or more hours of massage training. Many jurisdictions recognize the exam-based certification program offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).
- Certification in massage therapy is not required in all states, but doing so can help open doors in the industry. The National Certification Board in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork administers an exam-based national certification program.
- Volunteer to perform massage on others.
- Have regular massages yourself so you can experience massage from a client's point of view.
- Set healthy boundaries with clients so they don't expect more than is reasonable or appropriate.
- Read professional journals to learn about new and emerging trends in massage therapy.
- Join a professional organization, such as the American Massage Therapy Association.
- Massage Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
- Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, https://www.fsmtb.org/