Massage therapy has become a recognized way of earning a living. “Happy ending” type massage therapists aside, there are a growing number of qualified, certified massage therapists and the range of modalities to learn is enormous. Deciding on a career as a massage therapist means first of all taking a good look inside yourself and thinking about your motivations.
I have known many massage therapists who decided to become one in order to “fix,” themselves. This may for a small few be a route to self healing, but by and large this is not the case – and if your motivation is in any way along these lines, I heartily suggest some therapy of your own before going down this road. If you feel your motivations are constructive and positive then an occupation as a massage therapist can be very rewarding.
How to get started
Once the decision is made to become a massage therapist it is a good idea first to decide what sort of massage therapist you wish to become. Sports massage is very different to Reiki for instance. Visit a wide selection of therapists and receive a range of different types of bodywork as a starting point. Most massage schools offer a range of modalities to learn so if you change your mind mid-education it will probably be possible to switch modalities.
The next thing to decide is whether or not to get certified. If you decide to become certified this will require a certain number of training hours provided by an accredited provider. This varies from state to state and country to country so you will need to check your local requirements.
If you are not intending to become certified, you have a wider range of options as to where to get trained. Some therapists offer training sessions and some spas have a training program as do the cruise ship lines. It is more than practical to start by learning from massage books and DVDs about massage, and practicing on your wife/husband/friends. So where you start will depend on these three things – what type of massage you wish to do, whether you wish to get certified and what environment you are going to work in afterward.
For most people, the next step will be to choose a massage therapy school. There are thousands of schools and some are better than others. If you are looking in your local area, a good place to start researching will be to ask a therapist that you enjoyed receiving work from where he or she trained. Although there are thousand of therapists, it is a small world and many will know other therapists or be able to recommend a good massage school – or even warn you away from bad ones. Visit the school before applying, speak to a few of the late term students and get a feel for the place. It is important that you are comfortable there. If you intend to become certified (and there is no reason why you cannot work as a “bodyworker” without certification) you will need to contact the American Massage Therapy Association to determine your needs.
What to expect
There will be a few surprises awaiting you – especially of you have chosen an intensive training course. Many therapists actively work to clear energetic blockages, whether they are aware of it or not, and at school you are going to be receiving far more body work than one would normally, because it is standard practice for students to work on each other. This is likely to raise a few issues for you and is another reason to choose a school that you feel comfortable with. Like any institution, massage therapy colleges have the inevitable cliques, personality clashes and political in-fighting. I was the only male student in a class of fifteen females; all the teachers were female and most of the people attending the clinic to receive massages were female. Having a strong male presence in a female-dominated institution was “enlightening.”
Courses and training schedules vary from school to school, but the work load is unlikely to be very demanding unless you are cramming courses into evening classes. Most schools begin with basic anatomy lessons and then progress through a range of courses slowly becoming more involved – depending on the techniques taught at that school. Around 5-600 hours seems to be the norm in the United States.
After you schooling or other training is finished, you will now be ready to unleash the positive forces of massage on the world, and most likely rush out giving free massages to all and sundry, who will be more than happy to accept said free massages. I personally think it is a huge mistake to give away too many free massages. One thing I learned is – if it is free, it is not worth anything. Save your strength and look for ways to make a living instead.
The obvious choice is a spa, wellness center or cruise ship. Be warned – you will be worked into the ground in the spa and cruise ship industry. You will be expected to work at least 8 hours a day, clean in between clients and sell product. What product will depend on the setting. This is not always the case, but by and large, hotels and spas are there to make money and a therapist is just another human resource to be used and discarded. This was not for me and I choose to run a private practice. I found clients by giving free 15 minute massages in the cancer wards and cardiac rehabilitation centers at a couple of local hospitals. If you are good, word will spread, but do not expect instant success. Like many industries, massage therapy has become over-populated, so take a close look at the amount of therapists operating in the area you are going to be working in.
Having said that, I found massage therapy to be an extremely rewarding career. I practiced for around ten years, made a decent living and felt a more complete person than at any other time in my working life. I did not make a fortune, but in certain cases, such as massaging wealthy clients on private yachts or movie stars on sets you can make very, very good money.