How can I become a massage therapist?
July 11, 2005 1:53 PM   Subscribe

So I've decided to become a massage therapist.

After emerging from college with a completely impractical degree, I've decided that the options of grad school, an office job, and waiting tables don't sound terribly appealing. I want to do something different, and for various reasons, I'm drawn to the idea of becoming a massage therapist.

I'm looking for advice on getting started and finding a good school that will genuinely teach me about the body and about helping people in a way that's based in science, rather than airy-fairy New Age mumbo jumbo (although I'll accept the aforementioned with an open mind should it prove beneficial). I'm very willing to relocate, although right now money is a problem - I assume I'd have to take out more loans on top of the ones I already have. Is massage lucrative enough that I'll be able to support myself on that alone, or do most therapists have a second job?

Apologies for the scattered nature of my question, but basically, I want to be a good, respectable, knowledgeable massage therapist, and I'm looking for any and all advice to pursue that goal, and my main obstacle is money. Thanks in advance.
posted by granted to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I've heard that the "registered massage therapy" courses in Canada are one of the absolute best in the world and the different classes are all pretty well standardized (to the.. uh, same standards). Also, during the Salt Lake City Olympics, Canadian RMTs are heavily recruited to take care of the atheletes.

I have a (guy) friend-of-a-friend doing the (2 year) course right now. TONS of anatomy, more than doctors have to take in med school. There's also some people starting to do 'research' that's strict enough for submission to scientific journals.

As for money, there's pretty good demand in most metropolitan areas. A decent therapist runs about $50 CDN an hour (they'll have to pay rental fees) and airport RMTs charge upwards of $80 an hour (although their rent's probably more expensive). You'll get to meet a lot of interesting people, too.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:13 PM on July 11, 2005

My mother got certified as a massage therapist several years ago, but it didn't end up making any money for her--I think that you have to be good at marketing yourself and distinguishing yourself from the competition, in addition to the obvious massage skills. But, that's merely anecdotal.
posted by Jeanne at 2:18 PM on July 11, 2005

Seconding the registered massage therapy courses here in Canada. Different provinces have different requirements, so a two-year course in one province might be a one or three year in another.

I know several people who have gone through them, and they're very happy with the experience.

This is very long-term, but it seems the trick to making money with it is to get a gig as a sports therapist with a school or a sports team for a year or two, which will build you up enough money and client base to start your own practice.
posted by Jairus at 2:43 PM on July 11, 2005

A crucial question influencing what program to pursue is where you want to practice. In the U.S., there are no national requirements. 33 states and D.C. have their own, and, generally, counties and cities can be more restrictive. (Used to be my 100 hour certificate would have allowed me to practice in Berkeley. No more -- now it's 500.)

Looking at the ZIP in your member profile, and doing some quick googling, it looks like Illinois requires 500 hours of training. That's good enough for nearly all the U.S. (New York State being a notable exception at 1000 hours.)

If my massage school experience holds true, you'll find both that you're taught absolutely straight rock-solid anatomy and physiology in those classes, and hear airy-fairy New Age mumbo jumbo terms like "running energy" in the practical massage classes, so I'm glad to hear you're keeping your mind open.

You definitely can make a living doing massage, but you do have to work at marketing and building a clientele.

Keep in mind that it's physically trying work, and massage therapists have to be careful to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

I don't have much advice about how to choose a school other than visiting them, talking to students and teachers, getting a massage from one of them (many massage schools offer discount massages from students,) and finding how they feel to you.

Good luck.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 4:06 PM on July 11, 2005

My fiancée is partway through an RMT program here in Ottawa. I'll light the nyxiesignal and point her at this discussion tonight.
posted by mendel at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2005

Yep, mendel summoned me to this post.

First, WRT courses in Canada: Yes, our requirements are more strict than those in many other countries, so our courses are longer and have more medical (anatomy, physiology, pathology) components than at many other schools.

That said, if you're really interested in taking the RMT course at a Canadian school, you need to ask yourself if the money and time spent (minimum one year; my own course is three) is worth it to you if you aren't going to practice here. Realistically, if you meet your State requirements and begin practice, you can still continue to take further massage courses while being able to make money as a massage therapist. If you choose your 'continued education' courses carefully, you could end up with as good an education as the massage therapists in Canada.

Also note that if you do want to come to Canada, you're looking for a course of 2200 hours or longer. There are some schools that do less than that, but its the 2200+ courses that are recognized by the governing bodies in each province that does have provincial licensing requirements.

To answer some of your questions more specifically:

Finding a good school: As others have suggested, visit the schools and check out their programs. When reading about them online or in mailed info packages, look for programs that have a heavy basis in Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology. Many programs will teach you some Traditional Chinese Medicine and things like Aromatherapy; those are good things to learn, but choose a school that teaches them as part of an overall curriculum and not as the 'meat' of it.

Supporting yourself: Yes, you can support yourself as a Massage Therapist, but as others have said, it takes marketing skills to do so. It may take a few years for you to build up enough of a practice to completely support yourself without another job. Also, if you don't already have some background with running a small business, I would suggest taking some courses of that sort. Even if you don't ever own a clinic, chances are you'll still be an 'independent contractor', which means you need to know how to do things such as handle the clinic's cut, ordering supplies, and doing your taxes.

I also wanted to say I can relate to where you are. I graduated University with a BSc in 2001, but found that I'd need a grad degree to do anything useful with it, unless I wanted to work a desk job. Going back to school had been difficult, but its also been a very rewarding and worthwhile experience.
posted by nyxie at 3:09 PM on July 12, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you so much!
posted by granted at 11:51 PM on July 12, 2005

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