Massage therapists are commonly credited with having "magic hands" or a "magic touch." For the uninitiated, this may seem like mere hyperbole. But anyone who has felt a massage therapist use those magic hands to relieve pain, reduce stress, and unwind tired, bound-up muscles knows, the praise is entirely justified. 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 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 either work for an employer—in a variety of environments, from spas to hospitals—or are self-employed with their own small business. Regardless of the working arrangement, massage therapists should be friendly and personable to attract a consistent client base.
An increasing number of spas and massage clinics in recent years underscores a growing demand for massage services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects massage therapists employment growth of 20.1 percent between 2010 and 2020, adding 30,900 more professionals to the 153,700 jobs currently in this field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for massage therapists was $34,900 in 2010. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made approximately $69,000, while the bottom 10 percent made approximately $17,970. The top-paying metropolitan areas for this occupation include Anchorage, Alaska, Tallahassee, Fla., and York-Hanover, Pa.
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. Some programs may focus on particular massage specializations, while others provide a general overview of the field. 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 entire set of skills not covered in most programs.
Reviews and Advice
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 are providing 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 is an example of how effective this approach can be. Even in this economy, she has a two-month waiting list, and often has to pass clients onto colleagues who can help 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. "Get the benefit of their experience."