Times are tough, is massage therapy school a good choice?
September 30, 2010 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I have some time in the next year and have give serious thought to going to school for Massage Therapy. Is this a good idea in our (America) current economic conditions? Is there a lot of job openings, as I've been told? It would be a seven month course costing roughly nine grand. Beyond market climate conditions, are there any other things I should think about before deciding to get into this field? There's nothing about the job, that I know of, that I see as a negative. I've always been interested in health and fitness and have toyed around with this idea for the past ten years or so and I finally came around to checking it out. As a male in my mid thirties I've heard (from a masseuse friend) it may be a bit tougher for me, is that true or is there any such possible roadblocks? Do any massage therapists have any pet peeves about the job or is there something they wish they knew about before getting into the field?

Throwaway email: anony1563@gmail.com

Note: anon because I don't want my current employ jeopardized.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I know very little about the field, but my concern would be that it seems to be a career that relies a lot on hand strength and repetitive movements--are there any problems in massage therapy with the masseuse having wrist/hand problems? Like I said, I don't know much about it, but I give my wife a lot of back massages, and it is tiring to the hands! I can't imagine being able to do it all day every day, although I'm sure that strength develops with time.
posted by midwestguy at 8:35 AM on September 30, 2010

Some years ago, I made an attempt at making a living as a licensed massage therapist. After a couple of years I had to give it up and go back to my old job, since I just couldn't build enough of a steady clientele to support myself.

1) I have no idea what the current market is like, but I've seen a lot more schools offering a massage therapy curriculum than were around when I got started. It makes me suspect you'll have a lot more competition than I did. At least one of my friends who had a long-standing practice ended up getting out of the field due to increased competition.

2) Being male is a very definite handicap in attracting clients.

3) Part of my lack of success was doubtless because I was not an aggessive salesperson for my practice. If you want to have a chance at making it, be prepared to spend a lot of time and energy marketing yourself.

4) $9000 for an 7-month course sounds really expensive compared to what I paid, but I don't know where you're located and what the prevailing prices are in your area.
posted by tdismukes at 8:40 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are the people who are telling you there are a lot of job openings the same people that want you to give them nine grand?

If so, it might be worth seeking out a second opinion (here's an Occupational Outlook Handbook entry--it's a start, anyway).
posted by box at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2010

My sister is almost through a 2-year massage therapy program right now, and the main concern she's heard is that massaging 5-6 clients a day is really hard on your own joints and body - the instructors have told her that many people are only able to do it for 8-10 years before serious arthritis sets in. People who do it longer-term are often doing more of the woo-woo stuff like acupuncture and body talk, which don't require the same kind of exertion on the therapist's part.

Also, at least in Canada, there are various organizations that certify schools and therapists. She's working towards a "registered massage therapist" certification, but there are others to choose from, and some schools aren't associated with any professional body at all. I'd do some research around your area to see what schools there are and what kind of certifications are available.

Lastly, it does seem to be a female-dominated field - there's only one guy in all of her courses. I suspect being male will make it a fair bit harder to find work and clients - it's not really fair, but there you go.
posted by pocams at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2010

midwestguy - proper technique will do a lot to make massage less tiring for your hands. See this comment of mine in another thread for some hints.
posted by tdismukes at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2010

I know of three people (all attractive, white women under 30, for whatever that's worth) who did massage therapy as a part time job because they couldn't make enough to live on without a separate, full time, paying gig. All were/are licensed.

All had student loans from massage school and were bitter about them.

The best gig seems to be working for a chiropractor, the next best a spa. Trying to work on their own, all of them had skeevy clients make them uncomfortable.
posted by Leta at 8:46 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

are there any problems in massage therapy with the masseuse having wrist/hand problems?

Not if they're doing it right. Massage therapists learn ways to treat these types of issues, and they should also learn how to avoid them.

My sister is almost through a 2-year massage therapy program right now, and the main concern she's heard is that massaging 5-6 clients a day is really hard on your own joints and body - the instructors have told her that many people are only able to do it for 8-10 years before serious arthritis sets in. People who do it longer-term are often doing more of the woo-woo stuff like acupuncture and body talk, which don't require the same kind of exertion on the therapist's part.

This is troublesome to me. At my massage school we spent a lot of time and focus on good "body mechanics" for the therapist. Emphasis was placed on the fact that, yes you can hurt yourself. Here are ways to avoid it so you can practice for decades without negative health effects.

In the most recent copy of Massage Magazine there is an article titled: "How to Succeed as a Male Massage Therapist". I've been told it takes longer (maybe an extra couple years) for a male to make it in this business. But then I've also met men who are extraordinary and have built up very good reputations.

2nding that $9000 seems high.

Also, masseuse is generally not used anymore. At least where I am, there's a lot of emphasis on "therapist". Trying desperately to legitimize the profession in the eyes of those that still think massage = sexy times, I suppose.
posted by purpletangerine at 8:52 AM on September 30, 2010

Does your local community college have a program? Mine does, and the cost would be significantly lower than $9000.
posted by TrarNoir at 9:42 AM on September 30, 2010

Listen, times are tough in the US right now and luxury items like massages are one of the first things to go. The timing is obviously not ideal.

However: if this is something you're been wanting to do for 10 years and you still want to do it despite the price tag of school and the uncertain economy, then do it! Don't let fear stand in your way. There will always be demand for good massage therapists (MT's).

It is very hard work, and though you will be taught at school the proper techniques for not killing your hands etc, the fact remains that you'll be on your feet and doing physical labor all day. At some point down the line you may be physically unable to do it anymore - you don't see a lot of 50+ year old MT's. Just something to keep in mind.

As for being a man, this is not as big of a drawback as you might think. Yes, many people prefer female MTs, but many prefer male, too, as a lot of male MT's are stronger and can give deeper massages, and many sports people/athletes prefer male MT's for that reason. And there aren't that many male MT's. My ex is a male MT and he has a thriving practice with more clients than he can handle.

(For that matter, my wife is an MT too and lately has had to turn down clients, even in this economy.)

So in short - assuming it's not a grass-is-greener type of distraction and you've done your homework, go for it!
posted by widdershins at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

In investing, when it seems like something is so obvious that "everyone" is doing it, it's a pretty certain sign of a bubble. I'm not sure how much that parallels with career choices, but pretty much virtually everyone I know with a bad/unhappy/non-existing job situation (dozens of them, thank you economy) is either openly talking about going into nursing or massage therapy or already has -- and those I know who have are just bouncing around the low/entry-level positions, unhappy and set up to be the first ones let go for any reason.

My instincts say "bubble" and "run away" -- unless it really is your calling.
posted by Pufferish at 10:30 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Similar circumstances here - I've been researching the same thing. I came here primarily to say that the $9k is typical. The program I am looking at costs even more but it is one year in length. Although as noted a community college program will indeed be cheaper than private school options.
posted by MillMan at 10:47 AM on September 30, 2010

So, I'm an admin at a bodywork school AND finishing my 1000 hour program - all of our teachers are teaching and doing full practices and a lot of them are in the 50's, so I have the benefit of seeing people who've been doing it for a while and new folks breaking in:

1. Yes, typically luxuries go first, so, not the most ideal market. On the other hand: a) if you're good at networking with above middle-income people, you can do good, b) if you are attractive in the standard fashion, you can get spa work, c) it is a skill you can take anywhere in the world, so if you have connections outside the US, you can chase the economy to better places.

2. You can protect your body, though it requires a couple of things. #1, if you're a small person working on big people all the time, not so good. This happens often enough at spas. #2, it helps if you can use a foot to work on them instead of a hand, to switch off- this is used a bit in Hawaiian lomilomi, Chinese tui na, and Japanese ashiatsu. Depending on your state, they may legally require both feet stay on the floor at all times or at least one. #3 If you have a less active style, like a focus on acupressure or other work that doesn't involve digging straight at tension, you can protect your joints a long, long time.

3. Pick a focus. As mentioned above, a lot of male bodyworkers go into sports bodywork, which isn't a bad choice. I work on folks in martial arts schools and a rollerderby team. Physical performers see the benefits of bodywork and send their teammates, so it's not as much a "luxury" as it is for others. Having a focus is how you get above the competition, because people know you know what they need.

PM me if you have specific questions.

Generally, though, I'd say if you can't easily put the money out for this, you might not want to take the full plunge- get a class or two and practice a bit on your own until your own finances look better.
posted by yeloson at 11:45 AM on September 30, 2010

A good friend of mine is a newly-minted massage therapist, so I've been hearing a lot about it recently. Here's what she's been saying:

Yes, if you're doing it right, you won't mess p your hands or back. BUT you may not always be given to opportunity to exercise best practices. You may be using your employer's equipment, and their equipment may be poor quality. My friend messed up her hands, back and legs in just this circumstance.

There are MT jobs out there, but some of them are the equivalent of fast-food; low pay, long hours, no benefits. As mentioned above, the plum jobs are often working in concert with other professionals, like chiropractors or sports medicine practitioners.

Laws vary from state to state, but make damned good and sure that the school you attend actually prepares you for state and local licensing. Not all do.
posted by lekvar at 12:58 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi, former massage therapist here. I went to school, got my certification, and worked part time in NYC for a couple of years. I enjoyed the work, but eventually needed a full time gig with benefits. I was not willing to work full time at a spa, and I was not seeing enough clients on my own to earn a living.

Of all the people I went to massage school with, nobody (or at least, nobody I am still in touch with) is still doing massage. They've all moved on to other career paths. I do not regret going; I learned a great deal and made a lot of friends. If you do go, understand that it is a lot of hard work, and that the best way to make it is to build your own business. Working for spas means you get paid diddley, and have to work according to their schedules.

I never had any physical issue working a full shift, but I have an athletic background and, even with that, working a six hour shift was exhausting! There was no way I wanted to do that five or six days a week. So if you are small and you are not used to being active, you may want to reconsider, or at least choose a modality that does not involve being on your feet.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:56 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a male massage therapist for the past 5+ years, my experience is that if I had to earn a living at it, I couldn't afford to do it. I do enjoy my work immensely (it is very low stress and I never take my work home with me) but if weren't for my wife's job, I would definitely have to go into a different field that paid something closer to a living wage.

Generally, I've found that people who prefer a male therapist are almost always willing to accept a female therapist if a male is not available, but people who prefer female therapists are rarely, if ever, willing to accept a male instead. I think it would be different in a chiropractor's office, but in the medium sized clinics and high end spa where i've worked, the female therapists always book up before the male therapists unless the clinic/spa management very actively pushes to book the male therapists. Even then, the female therapists get more work than the male therapists. This can be quite disheartening for male therapists who are unprepared for it.

$9000 for massage school? I would be surprised if you found any massage trade school for much less. Community colleges might be less but make sure that your state's massage licensing board recognizes the school as an "acceptable" provider of massage education.
posted by Cats' Concert at 7:40 PM on September 30, 2010

Totally a US-based lay person's point of view, but in the past couple of years, I've seen multiple branches of the Massage Envy chain open in my area. There's at least 3 that I know of within 20 minutes or so. I'm a member, and I know that I usually ask for a specific therapist, and plan my massage for when they are working. It might be worth it to see if you have a local branch and see if you can do some informational interviews. At the very least, Massage Envy may have made massages generally more accessible and acceptable outside a spa setting. Maybe that's the reason for the uptick in job openings?
posted by booksherpa at 8:18 PM on September 30, 2010

I have known a few friends who became license massage therapists, and have employed several over the years with whom I discussed this problem: none of my friends could make a go of it. It's a career with a serious supply & demand problem (about twice as many MTs as the market needs), in addition to other problems unique to that field (most receptionists do not risk being mistaken for prostitutes in har-har popular culture, for instance).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:38 PM on October 3, 2010

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