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How to become a Massage Therapist

Massage therapists are deeply devoted and highly sensitive individuals who can effectively help to bring healing and injury rehabilitation to their clients. Allied Health World spoke with highly respected veteran massage therapist, Sandra Bennett, to provide insight into what it takes to excel in the field of massage therapy:

Steps to becoming a massage therapist:

  1. Consider the setting in which you would feel most comfortable working, whether this is a hotel or spa, or in a clinical setting like a chiropractor’s office. Perhaps even get some exposure to these respective settings by seeking massages of your own.
  2. Research the various modalities of massage and choose a few based on which are of most interest to you. Consider the clients you’d want to work with and whether you’d prefer a medically accepted modality, or one considered to be complimentary or alternative. Remember, being familiar with a few different modalities from each camp would increase the range of clients available to you.
  3. Select a school that offers the modalities of your choice. Test for and successfully pass either your state’s licensing board exam, or the NCBTMB (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork) exam for national certification.


What does it take to start an independent massage therapy practice?

One of the unique things about establishing an independent practice as a massage therapist is how accessible and relatively inexpensive it is. Sandra Bennett told us, “The overhead for me was astonishing little. I needed to buy a table, a few sheets, and some lotion. Some may rent a space in a doctor’s office- usually a chiropractor or physical therapist- but I opted to work out of my home.” The cost of a good quality stationary or portable massage table is between $300 and $700, which would represent the majority of the start-up cost of establishing an independent massage therapy practice from home. Sandra went on to say, “It helps to be comfortable with bookkeeping, managerial skills, and to have a belief in what one does; all of these put together will give a massage therapist what she needs to run her own business, which affords one the freedom of self employment and the monetary benefits, tax write offs, and everything else that owning a business entails.”

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The bulk of overhead associated with an independent practice would otherwise be associated with the rent or lease of office space or a studio. This cost, of course, would be variable based on the location of the practice, but it is not uncommon for independent massage therapists to pay $1,500 to $2,500 monthly for a studio in either a high-traffic retail area or a room in a chiropractor’s office. Independently employed massage therapists new to the profession will often embrace the cost of rented or leased space as a means by which to present their practice as established and professional, or as a way to associate with a medical practice. This can be strategically effective, but it isn’t always necessary. Skilled massage therapists carry the testimonials of their clients with them wherever they practice, and word of mouth means everything in this industry. With a solid client base and referrals, a massage practice run from home, or even one that brings the practice to the client’s home, can be very successful.

How do independently employed massage therapists market their services?

Long-time massage therapist, Sandra Bennett, described her experiences with marketing her services and explained how her approach is actually common among many massage therapists who have chosen to start independent practices of their own: “Marketing in this business is largely done by word of mouth. I began by sending out letters to local doctors letting them know of my services, offering them complimentary massages to see first hand what I do. Many didn’t take me up on it, but actually sent me referrals anyhow.”

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What are the personality traits of a good massage therapist?

In order to be truly effective as a massage therapist such that actual healing is brought about, a practitioner must be able to commit themselves completely to the needs and overall well being of their clients during massage. This holds true even when working with a client with a disagreeable personality. This often means overcoming personal issues that may be occupying the mind, personal stresses, and even physical tiredness, which will affect the therapist’s ability to perform massage effectively.

Massage therapists must truly appreciate their fellow humans and be free from judgment, squeamishness, and aversion to physical contact. The work may call on a practitioner to massage a client who has bad acne all over his back, or a client with an abundance of body hair.

When veteran massage therapist, Sandra Bennett, was asked what physical attributes and personality traits are required to be successful long term in the field of massage therapy, she summed it up succinctly by saying, “It’s important to be a good listener, to be non-judgmental, and to have a strong belief in massage therapy. It helps if one is overly sensitive, and physically strong at the same time.” When asked to explain what she meant by being both overly sensitive and strong Sandra went on to say, “Massage therapy is not for everyone. I believe there is a certain gift of sensitivity and ability to feel below the surface that must be coupled with physical strength and mental focus.”

What are the physical attributes of a good massage therapist?

Physical strength is crucial to being a good massage therapist. A massage therapist’s hands must be strong enough to be capable of penetrating deep into the muscle and fascia of clients who may big in stature. This is absolutely fundamental in order to effectively perform most modalities of massage. Massage therapists often perform specific strength and flexibility exercises with their hands to avoid repeated motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. The work of a massage therapist also involves standing and maneuvering around clients so as to effectively reach areas of the body in need of attention. The inability to handle the physical demands of the job is the number one reason cited for attrition in the field of massage therapy.

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We asked veteran massage therapist, Sandra Bennett, what advice she would offer to somebody considering a career in massage therapy: She responded by saying, “I would ask: Does massage therapy fulfill the vision you have for your life? Are you entrepreneurial? Could you work in a spa or clinical environment? Can you handle paperwork? Are you physically strong? Do you have good people sills? Are you a tactile learner? Do you have the confidence to market yourself? Are you a good listener? If they can answer yes to these questions I would suggest specializing in one of two modalities and getting really good at those. Study some bookkeeping, marketing, yoga or Pilates training and work with a doctor for a while to hone in on practice management. Then go for it and have fun! It’s been a great career for me, fulfilling and rewarding.”

Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.

Massage Therapy Schools