Becoming a Massage Therapist: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a massage therapist? Get real information on the physical requirements, education/training and salary details to see if becoming a massage therapist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Massage Therapist Career

A career as a massage therapist requires licensure and/or certification to practice, depending on individual states requirements. Here are a few pros and cons for a quick look at this career.

Pros of a Career in Massage Therapy
Ability to care for clients**
Develop lasting relationships**
Minimal education required - need only an associate's degree to begin*
Job growth expected to move faster than the national average*

Cons of a Career in Massage Therapy
Physical strain on your body*
Job may require frequent change**
Employment options may be only offered on a part-time basis*
Work is usually by appointment only*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine

Essential Career Information

Massage therapists work for clients in a wide range of locations, such as resorts, chiropractors, doctor's offices and spas. Massage therapists must be familiar with methods (also called modalities) such as relaxation, hot stone and shiatsu, and the massage therapist must be able to help the client decide which method is best for their therapeutic needs. Massage can help provide relief to a variety of health conditions and physical ailments and should be tailored to meet each client's needs.

Salary Information

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for massage therapists was around $37,180 as of May 2014. According to the most recent job outlook information, the job growth for the position was expected to be faster than the national average, with a rate of around 23% from 2012-2022.

Career Skills and Requirements

Exact training and educational requirements for massage therapists depend greatly on the state in which you work. Most states require that you become licensed after you have completed an associate's degree level program and hours of training. Training may be available in specialty areas and can help you choose which industry you want to apply your massage therapy training in, such as healthcare or spas. You will be required to learn the basic anatomy of the body, including muscle function as well as how the body works. A few postings from companies seeking massage therapists in March 2012 required the following:

  • A hotel chain in Florida sought a massage therapist able to not only provide massages to clients, but also provide strong customer service skills and address any health concerns that the client may have in regards to getting a massage.
  • A fitness company in Missouri looked for a massage therapist to provide massages for clients through a wide range of techniques - for example, deep tissue - in a spa setting. This position also required up-to-date licensure in order to practice as well as 1-2 years of professional experience.
  • A South Carolina community college posted an ad for an adjunct massage therapy professor to help prepare massage therapy students in the field. The position required an associate's degree and some level of teaching experience.

How to Maximize Your Skills

After you have earned your degree and become licensed, you will be ready to enter the massage therapy field. In order to make your skills stand out in the industry, you will need to show that you are physically fit, good with customers and ready to potentially work erratic or part-time hours until you have established your own client base. You will also need to show a strong ability to work with both clients and management, as you will most likely be working for someone else when you first begin your career.

Strong decision-making skills will also help you in your career pursuits as you may need to judge the condition of a client based on what you see, rather than what they tell you about any conditions. Strong communication skills can also help you as a massage therapist. These skills can be useful in recruiting new clients to your place of employment as well as maintaining current relationships.

Other Careers to Consider

If you are interested in the basics of a career in massage therapy but are not sure if this is the industry that you should enter, you can consider becoming an athletic trainer or physical therapist aide may be better suited to your needs. These two occupations also do require physical activity and a wide knowledge of the human body, as massage therapy does. If you want to pursue lengthy schooling, you may want to consider a career as a chiropractor or a physical therapist. Both careers can offer clients relief for both physical and mental stress through treatment like massage therapy can.

Athletic Trainer Career Information

One career that has similar educational requirements to that of massage therapist, but a slightly higher median salary, is athletic trainer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for this position is around $41,000, which is slightly higher than the average massage therapist's salary. The job growth for this position is expected to grow by around 30% between 2010-2020. This is faster than the national average, but a low number of available jobs remains, but the growth is still faster than the growth of a massage therapy career.

Physical Therapy Aide/Assistant Career Information

If you enjoy working directly with clients, don't mind long hours on your feet and want to work in a career with greater job prospects than those of massage therapists, consider becoming a physical therapy aide or a physical therapy assistant. According to the BLS, the average median salary for this career is slightly higher than that of a massage therapist, around $38,000 annually. The educational requirements are similar to those required for massage therapists - usually only an associate's degree program in the field, paired with on-the-job training, needs to be completed. The job growth for this career was expected to be around 46% from 2010-2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.

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