There are several reasons that a career as a professional massage therapist has become so appealing over the last decade and a half. In a fast-paced, high-tech culture such as ours, massage therapy can be a very rewarding choice for those interested in helping people slow down, take stock, and improve the quality of their lives. As the mechanization of our society becomes more pervasive—digitized voices answering phones, solitary on-line shopping and banking, self-checkout aisles at the grocery store and the like—individuals who enjoy interacting with others on a uniquely personal basis will find the focused, one-on-one nature of massage therapy very compelling.
The public demand for massage has been steadily rising. The American Massage Therapy Association analyzed a study on the use of alternative medicine that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (November 1998) and estimated that consumers spend $4-6 billion a year on visits to massage therapists.
Massage therapists find work in a variety of settings: massage therapy clinics, chiropractor’s and physician’s offices, airports, health clubs, cruise ships, shopping malls, convention centers, professional sports team clubhouses, salons and spas, hospitals, alternative medicine centers, and nursing homes, just to name a few. Many practitioners take advantage of the latest in cleverly designed portable massage equipment to provide on-site massage at office buildings or in a client’s home.
Because massage therapy is now so prevalent at so many different venues, it offers an alluring range of choice in working environments and conditions—from the security of hiring on as an employee or subcontractor for an established massage provider to the freedoms in scheduling and business practices that self-employment can provide. Many therapists maximize their income opportunities by opening their own clinics and serving as employers for other massage therapists.
The profession also offers an abundance of choice for those wishing to specialize. As scientific research continues to prove the validity of massage as a therapeutic agent, the spectrum of techniques and modalities available for the practicing therapist to learn only expands. Some focus on relaxation massage, while others take years of advanced training to master specific clinical applications or qualify to teach a particular discipline. Other therapists will choose to work with a special segment of the population, becoming experts in the use of massage to meet the needs of the elderly, pregnant women, athletes, infants, or those suffering the effects of a particular disease.
Are you ready to become a professional massage therapist?
You’re an athlete or a dancer. You’re interested in natural health and healing and ways to keep your body fit and pain free. Your family and friends or members of your sports team have always praised your touching skills and asked you to help soothe neck and shoulder aches with a quick back rub. But it’s a big step from casually helping those you know to providing skilled touch in a professional manner for complete strangers.
Perhaps the best way to discover whether you are suited to become a professional massage therapist is to take a short introductory course. While it won’t provide you with enough training to qualify as a professional, such a course can give you a good idea of your commitment level and aptitude for the work itself. Typically running anywhere from a weekend to several weeks in length, introductory courses are offered through schools specializing in massage training as well as at community colleges, local YMCA’s, or other adult education centers.
Another helpful resource in gaging your readiness for a massage career is to receive massage from one or more professional therapists. This will not only give you an opportunity to experience how the course of a typical massage session might progress, but you’ll be able to speak with someone who has direct knowledge of the field.
Find the Training That’s Right for You: Accreditation and Curriculum
As the massage profession develops, many changes are taking place that will impact those entering the field over the next few years. More stringent standards for educational training programs are being formulated. Additionally, over 30 states now regulate massage therapy practice, meaning that several require a certain type or length of training as well as passage of an examination. If you plan to settle in a particular area, you’ll need to know what those requirements are before deciding which school best meets your needs.
Two important things to consider to look for a program that:
1. Is accredited or approved by a recognized national accreditation agency
2. Provides a minimum of 500 in-class hours of instruction—especially because many states regulating massage require it.
Accreditation will mean that the school has been inspected by credible, impartial authorities and found to meet certain standards deemed necessary for providing adequate preparation for students to find success in the massage therapy field. Such accreditation agencies include the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation (COMTA) and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT).
It is often said that massage therapy is both an art and a science. You’ll want to find a program that offers a well-rounded curriculum, with a balance between lecture and experiential courses. Look for a program that’s very strong on the basics of massage—you’ll have plenty of time to specialize later. You’ll need both a solid grounding in anatomy and physiology of the human body and ample opportunity to develop your touch skills. Not only will a good school provide you with hours of hands-on training under the supervision of experienced massage therapists, but it should also offer you the chance to practice in simulated professional work situations. Well designed schools usually operate a student clinic that accepts paying members of the general public as clients and/or maintain a comprehensive community outreach program where students can hone their skills.
Remember, business and marketing courses are also important. It is fine to be knowledgeable about the human body and technically proficient in your work, but it is also essential that you develop interpersonal skills to help you identify and retain your clients, whether you are running your own business or working for someone else.