Want a job that aims, above all else, to make people feel better? Consider becoming a massage therapist. Employing their unique set of tools – “magic hands” and a “magic touch” – massage therapists relieve pain, reduce stress, unwind bound-up muscles and just plain make people feel better. With more than 80 types of treatments, massage therapists have many different ways to deliver this relief. Massage therapists can specialize in deep-tissue, acupressure, reflexology, orthopedic, sports massage and other areas. Often, massage therapists become experts in several modalities, all of which require specific skills and techniques. The length and type of massage provided typically depends on the client’s condition and desires. Elderly clients, pregnant women and those recovering from a severe injury usually receive different treatments than elite athletes or those simply seeking relaxation. The nature of the massage is often discussed and agreed upon during a short interview with the client before it takes place. Massage therapists work for employers in a variety of environments, including spas and hospitals, and some are self-employed with their own small businesses. Regardless of the working arrangement, massage therapists should be friendly and personable to attract a consistent client base.
The increasing number of spas and massage clinics in recent years underscores a growing demand for massage services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects massage therapist employment growth of 22.6 percent between 2012 and 2022, adding 30,000 more professionals to this field.
The BLS reports the median annual wage for massage therapists was $35,920 in 2013. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made more than $71,020, while the bottom 10 percent made less than $18,280. The top-paying metropolitan areas for this occupation include Anchorage, Alaska; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; and Holland, Michigan.
Requirements and standards vary greatly by state. To earn a license, most states require massage therapists to complete a formal training program and pass an examination. Programs offered at colleges and universities typically require a minimum of 500 hours of training, but some require 1,000 hours or more. Some programs may focus on particular massage specializations, while others provide a general overview of the field and include classes in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. For students planning to run their own business, taking a few business courses is advisable. Marilyn Kier, a self-employed massage therapist in the Chicago area, says extra business training is important because starting and running a business requires a set of skills not covered in most programs. Many states also require massage therapists to enroll in continuing education courses and renew their license regularly.
Distinguishing yourself in a particular area of massage is Kier’s top piece of advice. She says this requires first identifying your passion within massage therapy and then working hard to become an expert in that area. The next step, according to Kier, is “practice, practice, practice.” If the practice pays off, and you provide a good service to your clients, people will begin to refer friends, family and co-workers. As a specialist in pain management and orthopedic massage, Kier sets an example of how this approach can be effective. Even during the recession, she had a two-month-long waiting list, and she often has to pass clients off to colleagues who can see them sooner. Picking a mentor who can help you learn the ropes is another way Kier says young massage therapists can get a leg up on the competition. “Get someone who has experience, and that person can guide you along the way,” she says.