How to Become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapy is one of the most rewarding careers in the healthcare support field. You get to help your clients on a physical, emotional, and even spiritual level. While it may seem that it wouldn’t take much effort to do massage for a living, nothing could be further from the truth. To become a certified massage therapist, you must learn the basics like technique and anatomy, but also less obvious things like kinesiology (the study of how the body moves) and pathology (the study of diseases). If you have ever been interested in a career in the massage field, look no further. This article describes step by step details on schooling, alternative modalities, and career options. Below are some of the things you always wanted to know about becoming a professional massage therapist.

What does massage therapist do?
Massage therapists manipulate the soft tissues and joints of the body to help relieve pain, heal injuries, and aid in general wellness of clients.

How much is massage therapy school?
Depending on the massage school that you attend, the cost will widely vary. For example, a private school may offer certification in massage therapy that range from $10,000 to $20,000. At a college level, pursuing a degree in massage therapy or related field could cost you over $40,000. However, obtaining a certification, rather than a degree, at a community college could cost substantially less. There are many options and each institution charges a different rate. For detailed tuition and cost information, contact the schools directly.

Massage Therapist
Massage Therapist

How much does a massage therapist make?
The average annual wage of massage therapists in the U.S. is $45,880. The top 10 percentile of massage therapists earn an average annual wage of $78,280. Earnings varied by industry and location. For example, in Alaska, the average annual wage of massage therapists is $82,280, surpassing the national average of the top 10 percentile.
The data was collected in 2018, and provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How do I start?
Once you have decided you want to pursue a career in massage therapy, you need to find a school that offers accredited courses. Once you found your school of choice, you need to find out what kind of degree you can earn. In some states, you can become a licensed massage therapist. However, in other states, certification is the only option. Once you have enrolled in classes, you are required to put in a certain number of hours, which changes per state.

You are going to need certain materials that may be expensive, like textbooks and a massage table. But as with any program, you need the right materials to do the job correctly. You may need to apply for a loan for the courses, but the school should be able to help you with that. Depending on whether you get an Associate of Arts (A.A.S) degree or are just going for a certificate program will determine the cost of your schooling. Keep in mind that an A.A.S. is more expensive, it may also open more doors once you get into the career field. Choose whichever works best for you.

What will I learn in massage school?
Your massage therapy courses will mainly be divided into two separate areas of study; hands-on and textbook. Hands-on, of course, is where you learn massage techniques by practicing on your classmates, and eventually, on the general public in sessions called clinicals. In the massage classes, you will also learn about the different types of massages, alternative modalities such as craniosacral therapy, cupping, and aromatherapy.

You will also learn how to act in a professional setting, and to keep track of your client records via SOAP notes. SOAP notes are Subjective, Objective, Assessment Plan sheets that help the MT make notes on their patients’ chart regarding the plan of action to take in their treatment. You may have a period at the end of your massage courses where you do clinical work, which is where you take all the knowledge you have learned so far and test it on real people. In exchange for the massage school offering them free or deeply discounted massages from you, they are obligated to give feedback that will be useful to you once you are out in the field. These people can critique your techniques, your bedside manner, your level of confidence, and their overall impression. These honest feedbacks are critical for evaluation and improvement of oneself.

In the classroom setting, you will study from a textbook. You will take a number of courses to learn about massage related topics such as the origin and insertion points of a muscle, how diseases are spread and what kind of illnesses can be made worse by receiving a massage, and how to market your business once you are out of school. You may also be required to take subjects like medical terminology and pathology that can translate into other fields.

How can I learn more about a modality not covered in class?
In some cases, you come across a modality that you didn’t learn in school or learn about very briefly. There are many alternative modalities, and it is a good idea to continue educating yourself after completing the initial certification course. Massage has become very popular, and there are lots of places that offer classes outside of massage schools. For example, Reiki is very popular, but not always taught in a massage therapy course. However, you may be able to find Reiki masters at community learning centers in your town. Just be aware that these courses can be expensive, and your extracurricular studies may not be considered a part of your formal training if it took place outside of the school you trained at.

How do I get a job?
Once you graduate from your program, you can begin applying to jobs at various locations such as massage centers, massage spas and salons. You can also try to set up your own place, but this may be difficult for a new massage therapist without a client base. Depending on your situation, it may be best to become an employee at a spa or rent a room via a monthly contract. This way you are able to build a client base and gain some experience with real customers. Renting a room may be difficult if you are in a newly opened salon, as sometimes your monthly room rent can exceed what you have earned. Rent is rarely based on a per-client basis, so review the details carefully when choosing a rental spot.

How do I interact with clients?
Each client will be unique, so your interactions will change for almost every client you have. Some things that will remain consistent are that you need to keep records on each client, called SOAP notes. These notes will detail customers’ medical histories, the areas of their body that are in pain, what you did during each massage, and what you plan to do for the next massage. Some customers have specific areas of their body that they don’t want to be touched, which must be recorded and respected. These charts can help you to learn how to help manage the clients’ pain and help them heal.

One thing to remember while interacting with clients is to remain professional. Some clients may find massage to be an intimidating thing, whether due to body issues or physical or psychological trauma. By maintaining your façade as a consummate professional, it may help to calm the nerves of these people.

Another reason to remain professional is to help you emotionally distance yourself from your clients. This is a good idea for several reasons. Massage can be a draining practice. If you become attached to the person on your table, their problems can start to overwhelm you. You should be able to express empathy and give them a professional massage, but also be able to distance oneself emotionally when necessary. You also don’t want to send out the wrong signal. Some people can misconstrue a non-sexual massage as an invitation for more. By remaining professional, you are stopping these unwanted advances before they can begin. Maintaining a professional conduct is especially important for massage therapy in a home service setting.

How can I set up my own place?
Once you have built up a proper client base, and if you decide that you want to strike out on your own, you need to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. First, you need to find a centrally located business area to buy or rent. It may help to defray costs if you set up a shop with a few other therapists as well. If you hire other massage therapists that are proficient in other modalities, you will have more services to offer to your clients as a holistic massage therapy service. Some massage practitioners specialize in sports massage therapy, muscle therapy, chiropractic massage, medical massage, and mobile massage. Others build a relationship with larger clients and specialize in corporate massage. Once you have a set of services to provide and found a suitable location, you need to order massage therapy supplies such as tables, towels, and POS systems. Marketing materials will also be necessary for a new business as well. You may consider ordering massage therapist business cards, ads for the business, along with other marketing materials and online advertisement spaces.

When you leave your current business, you may find yourself in a sticky situation regarding clients. Even if you have been working with someone for years, you may not have the right to invite them to your new salon. Oftentimes you are required to sign paperwork upon being hired that states that you will not poach clients. This means when you leave, you are not allowed to solicit everyone you work on so that they follow you to your new place and stop frequenting the salon that they originally met you at. In these cases, while you often can’t tell the clients the name or location of your new place, you can say that you are leaving your current place because you are starting your own and tell them what town you will be in. If the client is really interested in seeing you again, they will do the legwork.

Advertising can make or break your business. How will people know you are around if you don’t advertise? Try to place an ad online, in the paper, on a website, or even have a commercial on the television or radio. Offer a special price to new clients or a discount to current clients who have successfully referred others to you by word of mouth. Little things like this can be very effective for getting people in the door. Once they are there, it is up to you to show them what you can do.

While becoming a professional massage therapist is a lot of hard work, it is an extremely fun and rewarding career that will make you feel good about helping others.
While starting a career as a Massage Therapist is a significant step, progressing as a professional is just as important.

Learning more from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) can aid in becoming a nationally certified massage therapist.

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