How to Become a Massage Therapist

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Why Would You Want to Be a Massage Therapist?

Many people of varying ages and backgrounds have found great joy in the career of touch therapy. It is not for everyone, but it suits someone, it can be a fruitful and satisfying career choice. For many years, I’ve found it extremely rewarding to help relieve pain and stress for people.

I had the opportunity to interview many potential massage therapists, as a teacher’s assistants at the massage school I attended. Most people feel a calling, a deep need to help others, and are therefore drawn to health care. Many are also excited about the freedom it allows, the variety of training, different settings to work in, and the thrilling chance to have your own business.

Work Environment

Now, more than ever, there is a vast array of places you can perform bodywork. This career allows you to work with a large variety of people from all backgrounds. As well as the opportunity to work with specific groups of people. From working with famous athletes to working in hospice with the ill. Since most people could benefit from massage there are many options to specialize in.

There are many distinct industries a therapist can work. Hotels, resorts, cruises, spas, gyms, sports locker rooms, casinos, tours, salons, and even the Olympics all have been known to offer positions for therapists. Hospitals, urgent care facilities, physical therapy, and chiropractor offices also can provide a medical space to work.

Generally, you will work one on one with clients on a padded massage table with an adjustable headrest. Sometimes in spas, it is common to also have couples’ massage. This is when there are two tables in one room, two clients, and two therapists. A massage room usually has dim lighting with relaxing music playing. The client is left in the room to undress, lay on the table, and cover with a draping. Chair massage is also common, and is performed in a specially designed chair and commonly done at events. Some modalities, like Thai Massage, are performed on a mat on the floor with the client fully clothed.

Duties

Your duties as a massage therapist are to provide therapeutic massage to each client to the best of your ability. The definition of massage therapy is the manipulation of the soft tissue of the body. It is commonly applied with the therapist’s hands, forearm, elbow, knees, feet, or massage device.

Under the umbrella of massage are a huge variety of other treatments such as hydrotherapy, colonics, herbal preparations, and reflexology, to name a few.

Your specific location of licensure will regulate your “scope of practice” as well as a code of ethics. The scope of practice means the legal practice guidelines determined for your profession. It is important to always abide by these guidelines, as they are the law.

Massage History

Evidence of bodywork being provided has been found in most ancient civilizations. It is said that massage could reach as far back as 2330 BC in Egypt. China, Greece, and Sweden, France, and India all have a deep past with massage being performed for medical benefits.

Massage and hydrotherapy have a long association. Hydrotherapy was formerly called Hydropathy or water cure. As water treatments with a deeper health and science basis became popular in the late 1800s, they were referred to as hydrotherapy. This is the origin of many spa services today, such as body wraps and scrubs.

Massage Research

There have been many studies and research done on massage therapy over the years. One notable facility is The Touch Research Institute in Miami. The research began with Dr. Tiffany Fields at the University of Medicine, Miami, with a grant by Johnson & Johnson.

She began to study the benefit of touch on premature babies. Now the facility, hosts researchers from Harvard, Duke, as well as other universities. They have conducted over 100 studies on massage and touch therapy for multiple conditions including asthma, fibromyalgia, HIV, and cancer.

Training

There are over 300 massage schools in the U.S. You can usually find a choice of a full-time day program or a part-time night program. Each state makes their own rules for hour requirements. The number of hours needed for graduation range from 500-1000. For example, in Florida, the Department of Health is responsible for licensing and the required 500 hours of training from a board-approved school.

After your training is finished, you may be required to take a board examination. There is usually a fee associated with this exam. There are currently two different board exams, one is the MBLEX, the other is NCBTMB.

Be aware that you may also have to pass a background check, be finger-printed, and obtain a CPR certification. If you have any type of criminal history you will most likely have to submit a letter of explanation to the board and they will decide whether or not to grant your license.

Each state decides on the regulations for massage therapy. Most require a state-regulated license or certificate from an approved school. This means that you attend an approved school, obtain the required hours, and could be required to take a state board examination. This test is taken after you finish the required training. The fee for the exam and application to a regulating board is not usually part of the school tuition.

Renewal and Continuing Education

When you are officially licensed, you may be required to renew your license. Most states have a yearly or biyearly renew requirement for your license or certification. At that time, you will send in a fee and show proof that your continuing education requirements have been met.

Continuing education requirements range from 0-36 hours per renewal period. Sometimes a portion of the hours must be completed in person. Usually, the others can be completed online or via mail. Certain content may be required, like, massage law, HIV/Aids, and/or medical error prevention.

Massage Modalities

As a therapist, you have the exciting opportunity to learn more about or even specialize in one or more modalities. A massage modality is a very specific type of massage. Some you can learn enough in a weekend workshop to perform. While others could take years of advanced training. You may be required to do continuing education as part of your license and can take classes online, via mail, or in person.

In massage school, you will learn the basic Swedish relaxation, and likely have minimal exposure to other modalities. There is an astonishingly vast selection of supplies. With over 350 different modalities there are so many choices.

Some common types you have probably heard of are Swedish, deep tissue, and chair massage. There are eastern approaches like Chinese medical massage called Tuina and Shiatsu. Many of the Eastern approaches of massage are whole medical systems. They are connected to food, movement, mental health, as well as bodywork.

There are posture modalities like the Alexander Technique, postural integration, and structural integration. Some highly advanced medical modalities like neuromuscular therapy and Rolfing.

Aquatic massage that is performed in the water has been popular for many years, now has branched into dolphin-assisted therapy for special needs children. There are also many energetic techniques like Polarity therapy and Bioenergetics. There is even massage for horses and dogs.

Pay and Hours

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest data on the median pay for massage therapists was 39,990 or $19.23 per hour. It is forecasted to grow at a rate of 26%. Know that most employers offer positions that do not have benefits.

It is common to be employed as an independent contractor. This means you will have to take care of your own taxes. You can expect to pay around 20-25% for taxes. This can be daunting to some, but there can also be a lot of freedom in it.

As a self-employed independent contractor, there may be some benefits that someone with an employee status does not have. For example, you may be able to make your own schedule and leave the facility if you are not busy.

It is estimated that massage therapy is over a $16 Billion industry.

Most massage therapists work providing massage on average about 19 hours per week. This does not include other business tasks like scheduling, marketing, and business planning.

There are several things you can do to decrease the amount of taxes you pay. The books, clothes, and gas you spend money on can be deducted from the amount of tax you pay. Contact your tax professional to go over details before you begin this adventure.

Challenges

There are a few challenges you may face in a massage career. First, it is an extremely physical job and can be taxing on your body. Due to this, some seeking a career in bodywork burn out after three to five years.

This is mostly due to poor posture and self-care habits, but it can hard for someone that has physical challenges. The therapists that last longest and work up into their later years can find great joy in their jobs, as most do. It is imperative to find the best ways to maintain superb body mechanics, self-care, and receive regular bodywork themselves.

It can be extremely demanding mentally. Clients tend to reveal their hurtful emotional situations as well as their physical ones. Some find this overwhelming to deal with on a constant basis.

There is a rare issue of a potential client seeking erotic massage from a professional therapist. Though, it is rare and not nearly as common a problem as it has been in the past. Unfortunately, it is something that still has to be attended to. You are taught in school, safe ways to handle a variety of situations. I have had a few experiences over the years but they are extremely rare and were easily and safely handled.

Professional Memberships

Professional membership associations offer bodyworkers several benefits. Some offer liability insurance as well as a code of ethics, continuing education, and the community support of a group of professionals. The most common professional membership associations are:

AMTA – American Massage Therapy Association
ABMPAssociated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
NAMTNational Association of Massage Therapists

Conclusion

After 13 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist, and massaging tens of thousands of people, I still love what I do. I still find it extremely rewarding.

It is a frequent bonus to doing this type of work. I’ve had the opportunity to make a great impact on some people’s lives. Helping them to have less pain, more balance, and the ability to do activities more vibrantly with their family and friends. Providing clients, a path to greater health for themselves and the people around them. I’ve also been able to keep myself healthy as well as my loved ones by knowing what I know.

It still pays well despite some big changes in the law and market. It is an ever-growing and ever-changing career and I remain excited to learn more. I also find this is the case with most of the therapists that have had this career for more than 5 years. It is really the best education I’ve ever invested in myself. I highly recommend a career in massage for anyone that wants to help others heal.

References:

AMTA: https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html

Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm

Touch Research Institute: http://pediatrics.med.miami.edu/touch-research

AMTA Research Roundup: https://www.amtamassage.org/research/Massage-Therapy-Research-Roundup.html

About the Author

Website: Permie Family – Yoga & Massage EDU

For over a decade, Gina has been a practicing Licensed Massage Therapist and yogi in Florida.  Over the years she has added personal trainer, yoga teacher, and certified continuing education to her resume. 

She specializes in mobility and corrective movement, post injury/surgery care.  She is passionate about sharing knowledge and helping people become healthier in mind and body.