What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: Registered Massage Therapist, RMT, Licensed Massage Therapist, LMT, Masseur, Masseuse
Career Overview: These professionals touch and manipulate patient muscles and tissues to relieve stress or pain.
Career Salary Range: $19,720 to $74,879
Estimated Period of Schooling Required: 500 to 1,000 hours
Required Minimum Degree/License: Postsecondary Nondegree Award
Become a Massage Therapist
A Massage Therapist kneads muscles and other soft tissues of the body to improve patient stress levels, injuries, circulation, relaxation and general wellness. They may incorporate oils, lotions and equipment such as hot stones into each massage, at a patient’s request or for desired results. There are many different types and styles of massage possible.
“Working as a Massage Therapist is a calling,” explained Lori Walter, LMT, a Massage Therapist practicing in Texas. “The most desirable quality in a potential Massage Therapist is a passion for the physiology and a desire to learn.”
Before beginning a massage, these professionals must discuss symptoms, health records and desired outcomes with their patients, additionally evaluating their present conditions and levels of tension. After providing therapy, Registered Massage Therapists (or “RMTs”) may advise patients on stretching, relaxation and strengthening practices. Furthermore, upon concluding a treatment, a Massage Therapist must document their patient’s condition and progress for reference upon future appointments.
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Education & Training
To become a Masseuse, these professionals must complete a postsecondary non-degree program which typically consists of roughly 500 to 1,000 hours of study and practice / experience. These programs can be found in both public and private postsecondary institutions, and typically require a high school diploma or the equivalent for admission. During the programs, learners can expect to receive hands-on experience with instruction on massage techniques, anatomy, kinesiology, physiology and business management.
“In Texas, we have schools of massage therapy that are stand alone. Once the 500 hours are completed then you take a national certification test that allows you to take your license from state to state,” Walter explained. “The classes are very intense and you are required to know every system of the body, as well as a massage technique called Swedish massage.”
Important to note, while some states have their own state-specific exam which they offer, others use the Massage Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). Depending on their employer, professionals may also have to undergo a background check, become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and have liability insurance to begin working.
Walter added that, in terms of massage therapy schools, many offer day classes or evening classes to best accommodate their learners. Thus, how long a program takes to complete will depend upon the intensity of a learner’s schedule and the number of hours and days they attend classes. In Walter’s case, schooling took 9 months to complete, and she pursued continuing education for an advance technique along with a paid apprenticeship.
“A challenge of a massage therapy program was staying organized and ready for study of a new language. This is because Latin is the language of medical and anatomical terms,” Walter said. “Other challenges were the depth of the curriculum and, last but not least, taking on the mantle of being the authority of client health issues and needs.”
To advance in a career as a Massage Therapist, these professionals can choose to open their own practice or enhance a particular skill set (i.e. spa therapy). Massage Therapists may also consider taking on additional managerial roles, or entering the corporate world. Achieving advanced education may also introduce advanced opportunities in the industry.
“Advancement opportunities vary from state to state, but they all pretty much include ‘climbing the ladder.’ So, first you start at the bottom as a Licensed Massage Therapist, and then you study and take more classes and earn more advanced licenses until you have carved out the status which you had wished to uphold,” Walter, who chose to open her own practice immediately upon completing massage therapy school, said. “In this field, the sky’s the limit on what you can achieve if you put in the work.”
Experience & Skills
To be successful as a Licensed Massage Therapist (for “LMT”), professionals should first-and-foremost have strong communication skills. These skills are essentially for determining a patient’s needs and their current condition. From here, LMTs should have solid decision-making skills, enabling them to determine how to best treat a patient to reach their desired outcomes (for example, to lower stress or tension levels).
“Often when physical health problems arise, this means that someone didn’t listen to their own body or body mechanics or something disconnected the brain and the body from listening. So, the alternative healing path, including massage therapy, involves a therapist communicating with the patient and then careful expressing what they need to know about their own body,” Walter explained. “We live in a fast-paced environment where running around on too little sleep and too much coffee is the ‘norm’ these days, but that lifestyle doesn’t allow the body to make changes and create wellness.”
Additionally, physical strength and dexterity are imperative in this profession, because performing massages can be quite strenuous. The repetitive motions and force applied can cause a Massage Therapist to experience greater fatigue than in other occupations.
“A Therapist utilizes body mechanics as the foundation of each modality that is performed, but having a native ability to move your hands into the curves and contours of the human body is a bonus when teaching the massage routines,” Walter further explained. “The hardest thing for a Therapist to learn is the inner strength needed when dealing with the suffering of others.”
Lastly, time-management skills are also important, especially in the case of self-employed Massage Therapists, as they must keep on a schedule and allow themselves enough time to ensure that they have the adequate materials (i.e. lotions, oils, etc.) and that the therapeutic environment is cleaned prior to each appointment.
“Massage Therapists should be learners, good listeners, able to separate out what’s going on in their personal life from their professional life and able to focus on the needs of others,” Walter expressed. “Professionals in this occupation should also have a longing to work and train people about their body. That’s is what they are qualified to do.”
Other qualities of a effective Masseur include being understanding, courteous, kind and empathetic. While some patients choose to pursue massage therapy for relaxation purposes, others seek these services out of need, trying to reduce pain or stress. Thus, a RMT must be accommodating to both scenarios, and genuinely want to help their clients to improve their conditions. Furthermore, Massage Therapists should be honest and abide by patient confidentiality requirements. They should also be personable and able to make sure that their clients feel comfortable and trust in their abilities.
“The average lifestyle of a Massage Therapist includes being able to wear many hats,” Walter stressed. “For example, most Massage Therapists are independent contractors, and have to be the front office person as well as the janitor and all other personnel in-between. No role is too big and no role too small in this occupation.”
While half of Massage Therapists tend to work full-time schedules, the other half typically work part-time. Especially in the case of those RMTs who are self-employed, these professionals can largely build their own schedules dependant upon when they choose to schedule patient appointments. This flexibility is ideal, because providing massages can be very strenuous and many Massage Therapists would be physically unable to perform the services 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. That being said, this career in healthcare also poses a risk of injury due to the physical demands involving long periods of standing and repetitive motions. However, abiding by good bodily mechanics and techniques can help a Massage Therapist to avoid injury.
“As with any other career, this profession can be exhausting,” Walter said. “You have good days and bad days, but you work through the bad and welcome the good ones. The work itself is physically demanding, but more importantly the role is emotionally draining because you are dealing with people in pain.”
Walter added that she begins each day cleaning up her office, followed by completing paperwork, making phone calls, answering emails, recording deposits, etc. Then, she holds a brief staff meeting to discuss how the day’s tasks and duties will be divided up, followed by beginning to see patients for the day.
“Going out to lunch to do some breathing and walking as well as fuel up for the afternoon shift is always a good idea midday,” Walter added. “Then the primary time to see clients or do training hits in the hours of 4 pm until 8pm, at which point you can finally go home and sleep to get up and follow the same routine again the next day. This is my day, but oftentimes getting to be this busy and have a routine will take years for a new professional in the field.”
Today is the perfect time to begin a career as a Massage Therapist. From 2016 to 2026, this occupation is projected to grow 26 percent, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations! This growth can largely be attributed to an increased awareness of the benefits of massage therapy, in addition to increased regulations adding credibility to the occupation. Additionally, there are more massage clinics established today then there were just a few years ago. This is definitely an exciting and rapidly growing industry!
To provide more insight into employment in this career, many Massage Therapists are self-employed and may work within their own homes or travel to clients’ homes or offices to provide massage therapy. Alternatively, others within this profession choose to work for personal care services, within the offices of health practitioners, for Chiropractors for through accomodation services. Thus, the working conditions of these professionals are extremely dependant on their employer. For example, if a RMT chooses to work from home, they may need to maintain a professional working space and provide their own oils, lotions, etc. Furthermore, the state with the highest employment level in this occupation is California, followed by Florida, Texas, Colorado and New York.
Going through national organizations is usually the easiest way to find and secure a position in this field,” Walter advised. “Tiny massage companies are always looking for employees. Also, self employment is always the option at the office of a parallel profession such as chiropractor or wellness/fitness center, and more functional medical offices are now hiring as they offer massage therapy as a preventive tool.”
As of 2016, the median annual wage for a Registered Massage Therapist was $39,860. Professionals can undoubtedly earn a livable wage in this career in healthcare! While the lowest 10 percent of professionals in this career were recorded to have earned less than $19,720, the highest 10 percent of earners made more than $74,870. These earnings can be a combination of wages and tips, and earnings may vary based upon employer and practice setting. Currently, the highest paying employers include the offices of Chiropractors, the offices of other health practitioners, personal care services and accommodation services. Top paying states for this occupation are Alaska, New York, Vermont, Delaware and Washington.
“The hourly rate in this career can vary greatly depending upon the area, but the needs are great so the amount of clients available is strong,” Walter said. “Just remember self-care is the name of the game. If you want to have a long career in massage therapy, make sure to take care of your own body.”
Walter advised that if a Massage Therapist wanted to make more money they could do so most easily by choosing to take on more clients. She added that today, demand for massage therapy is high so all one has to do is really get their name out there.
That’s the great part, if you get properly trained the demand is high. As with all other vocational careers the demand is high but the trained personal is very lower because in this day and age where everyone is told that they have to go to college to get a good career,” Walter explained.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) is a national association that was established to create ease for massage and bodywork practitioners and students to succeed in the industry. The association strives to achieve this through setting the standard for the profession and “expecting more” from participating members.
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is an non-profit professional association dedicated to serving Massage Therapists, learners and massage schools. The association does so through providing members with benefits, promoting health groups and creating conversation about the field.
- Career shadow a Massage Therapist to see if you find this career interesting
- Find a massage therapy program with a high success rate of students passing the national certification test
- Seek out a mentor
- Enroll in an educational program
- Network with massage therapy career professionals
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Lori Walter, LMT
Practice: Stretch 4 Life, stretch4life.com
Location: Aubrey, TX
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I would suggest that someone entering the field secure an apprenticeship with a mature Massage Therapist.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The number one mistake Massage Therapists entering this field make is that they jump right into a lease for contract labor situation before completing the advanced training involved when running a small business.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“They should ask, ‘Can I take on a demanding career and also run a small business?’”
Why did you choose to become a Massage Therapist?
“I chose to become a Massage Therapist because the work was of great interest to me all throughout my life. When I discovered that massage therapy could really be a career, I couldn’t stop myself from enrolling in the classes.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?
“Learning. I never stop learning more about this field.”
*Credentialing organizations: Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork