Marriage and Family Therapy and/or Nursing or Massagy Therapy advice
December 14, 2017 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Needing help...! Single mom here. 6 months away from graduating with my masters in marriage and family therapy, thought that I would be done with school forever after that but suddenly I'm getting this restless feeling that this may not be enough!

I live in the bay area, ca and as a single woman i get panicky that I'll never be able to afford my own home. Can't leave the area for 16 more years due to proximity to kids father, so it is what it is, kids need both of us. I live in subsidized housing so i don't need to make a ton of money right away but I do want to make the most of my current situation (not having to pay market rent). I love therapy, will be graduating in 6 months, and having been through alot myself I am super empathic towards people in need.

However, I'm thinking of either getting certified in massage therapy as a way to a)mix it up/change of scenery from mental health work b) supplement my psychotherapy practice with massage income


go for an associates in nursing, which is highly competitive and may take me 2 years plus to even get accepted. I'm thinking that all while working on last 3 nursing pre-req classes and applying every term until I get in I can continue my MFT work, then I will be an RN and money should no longer be an issue from what I'm reading. I think I would be a great nurse, I used to be a medical assistant and have done injections, blood draws, assisted real nurses in procedures, etc. However, I'm not 100% sold on all of this being worth it in the end.

Finally, I intially went and got my MFT because I worked in government as a case manager and I really loved my little high paying cubicle farm office job and simply wanted the MFT to be able to move up to higher level county case work....and I only left because of scheduling issues with school. But they said I can ask for re-employment within a year and the year is up in 3 months.

So my options

1. Continue with MFT, get license, focus on psycotherapy and nothing else, maybe make 50-80k and up as time goes on, likely much higher if i get back into government and supervision, have better work/life balance but less earning potential than RN

2. Continue with MFT, get massage therapy license, do 20 hours week MFT and 20 hours a week massage, maybe make 50-100k and up as time goes on and have something to fall back on in between MFT jobs without a ton of extra schooling

3. Continue with MFT, apply to nursing school, work very part time as MFT during nursing school, become RN, maybe make 80-150k and up, have more options, but maybe be stressed out with this long road of starting school all over or worse end up hating nursing :(

4. Ask for my old county job back (if I get it), complete my MFT and patiently wait to be hired into a higher level case manager role with my new degree, all the while making 60k which is better than most entry level MFT jobs, eventually be up to 90-110k+,

I really appreciate anyone's time in reading and responding
posted by livelikegold6 to Education (21 answers total)
#4 is obvious to me. You liked it and you are fairly sure you will get a promotion when your degree is done.

Another factor that you need to calculate is the cost of all of these programs. Nursing school is NOT CHEAP so even if you do end up making more, you may have a ton of student loan debt that would negate it. It does not sound appealing even without the debt factored in.

How much does it cost to get your massage therapist license?

Another factor is benefits - if you're independent either as a therapist or massage therapist, will you need to self-fund your health insurance? What about retirement savings? I'd bet that your old job had decent benefits. Don't undercount those. Paying for your own health insurance is often super expensive.

To me this is a no brainer, but I'd encourage you to go back to your pro/con list and factor in cost of education and possible benefits.
posted by k8t at 10:03 AM on December 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also your salary ranges seem a bit off to me and are super wide ranges. Are you sure those numbers are accurate and reflect take home pay? Are those numbers for freelance workers or for full time employees with benefits? I know you're in the Bay Area but I'm thinking about this from my experience living in Seattle and SoCal, so I don't think that I'm too off.
posted by k8t at 10:07 AM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Massage therapy (that is not simply a euphemism for sex work) actually requires considerable effort to build up and maintain a following, because so much of the business is built on personal relationships. While you might be able to get hired on at some mill, it's not so easy to just start out part-time and make a decent chunk of money.

Since it sounds like you actually liked your old job, honestly #4 sounds like by far the best option.
posted by praemunire at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: #4 sounds like the no-brainer to me too, at least in the short term. "Graduating in six months and feeling restless" sounds to me a lot like senioritis (even if you are not technically a senior because I assume this is a grad program). The last few months of my grad program, I wanted to kill everything related to my degree and open a bakery. :) But I'm glad I stuck with it and once I was out of that environment I do really love my job and I'm very very glad I didn't suddenly switch gears. Once you are done with your degree and back to working, if you're STILL feeling super restless after a year or so, then maybe it's time to reassess and think about changes you could make.

Honestly, I would also just make peace with the fact that you are not going to be buying a house in the Bay Area. Even the upper ends of these salaries in the most optimistic scenarios are probably not going to allow you to buy in the Bay Area with any sort of even semi-reasonable commute. This is why most people I know with kids have moved away, and since it sounds like that is not in the cards for you, I would just mentally let go of homeownership unless something in the area dramatically changes.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:33 AM on December 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Number 1 or Number 4 is my vote.

If you're looking to build wealth to afford a house someday, pursuing a new degree with new expenses doesn't make sense when your MFT has good earning ability. I'm an RN and I realize that San Fransisco is a completely different ballgame when it comes to money and cost of living, but the salary you listed seems awfully high for an RN.
posted by loveandhappiness at 10:34 AM on December 14, 2017

Former massage therapist here, who went back to the day job.* Unless you are working in a medical/PT/retirement home-type setting, massage happens outside of regular business hours. That means nights, weekends and holidays - all the times your kids are not in school. I am a single mom of now-grown kids and it was not good for them.

*This is a very common thing. Massage is great if if you are a driven entrepreneur type, if your schedule is super flexible, and if you don't really need the money. That doesn't describe a lot of single moms.
posted by headnsouth at 10:35 AM on December 14, 2017

Response by poster: You guys are god sends, please keep it coming. I chuckled at the senioritis comment!
posted by livelikegold6 at 11:06 AM on December 14, 2017

Currently licensed massage therapist here, but who only (very occasionally) works on family/friends, because I have a day job. A regular Monday-Friday government day job with benefits, that does not physically tax me (other than the occasional paper cut).

20 hours/week as a massage therapist is considered full-time work. This is assuming that you can find clients for those 20 hours. It is also a lot of physical work and can take a serious toll on you (I have LMT friends who have had to quit massage and find office work because they hurt themselves with all the hours they gave massage).

As headnsouth says, if you're a driven entrepreneur type, AND have the schedule flexibility (weekends, evenings), AND don't need to worry about money, AND enjoy giving massage, go for it.

From what you have described, option 4 sounds the best to me - spare yourself more education expense, work regular/human hours, and do what you enjoy. Seems like a clear win all around.

(BTW, if you have a personal interest in massage, you can take community ed classes at massage schools, read books, watch videos, etc., at minimal expense.)
posted by sazanka at 11:25 AM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

#4 would be my vote.

Having worked in social work myself years ago and having a spouse who is an LCSW, I'm sure you are aware that burnout for that field can be high. Having a job you like can make ALL the difference. Also, you don't mention how many hours you've completed towards licensure (or if you did, my apologies for missing it). But in my experience licensed therapists move up much more quickly than you likely would as a new RN or message therapist.

Best of luck with whatever you end up pursuing!
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:27 AM on December 14, 2017

You are definitely not going to make $150K as a new grad RN, even in San Francisco, even if you get a job right away at the bedside in an acute care hospital in a major city (ask some new grads how hard that is!) *and* also work a ton of overtime. I'm an RN at a big hospital in a major Bay Area city, I have eleven years of experience as a nurse, and after taxes/union dues/403(b) contributions/etc., I brought home a bit more than half that this year.

Please don't think that nursing is an easy way to get rich. You will make a very middle-class salary relative to the cost of living, and you will work very, very hard for it.
posted by jesourie at 11:31 AM on December 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

I note that the primary career (MFT) and the second jobs/careers (massage and nursing) are heavy duty care taking jobs. Often people in any of these positions seek second jobs that are not in caretaking fields so as to avoid burn out. Is option 4 plus a non-caretaking part time position an option?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:06 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: As you know, the degree is just one part of getting an MFT - you still need to 3000 hours of supervised experience plus you have to pass your licensing exams. I vote for getting through the intern stage as fast you can so you can get your actual license. There are some paid internships out there - often with agencies, which is good for you if you want to use your degree to move up in agency work.

Also, if you want to go back to your old job, ask how you are going to get your intern hours to get licensed. So option 5 might be to go back to your old job and use that extra time to do an internship that can fit into your schedule. It will take you longer to get enough hours but you will be on track to get the higher credential.
posted by metahawk at 3:02 PM on December 14, 2017

Affording a house in the Bay area may continue to be out of reach. You have subsidized housing, which is fantastic. One reason to have a house is to build equity. Unless it will jeopardize the housing assistance, set aside some money every month, probably in a retirement fund, to build some alternate equity.

You have an option to make good money at a job you love, with a degree that has some flexibility. If you pursue nursing, you could specialize in psychiatric or mental health nursing, which might be satisfying. Having a job you love is worth quite a bit.
posted by theora55 at 3:35 PM on December 14, 2017

Another vote for #4 County job! This is a no-brainer! Once you are finished with your degree you will see clearly.
posted by shalom at 4:59 PM on December 14, 2017

Response by poster: Great points! I am currently in my internship (paid!).. But if i go back to county job i wouldnt be accruing anymore hours towards my license... Until i get that promotion. And as a single mom i cant work more than 40 hours a week. I honestly may not even get my same county job but im confident i will get a county level mft position within a year, meanwhile i can stay at my current agency internship accruing these lovely mft hours!
posted by livelikegold6 at 6:44 PM on December 14, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you theora! I hadnt thought of it that way, stocking some equity away someway will make me feel better.
posted by livelikegold6 at 6:46 PM on December 14, 2017

20 hours a week of massage therapy? Do you mean hands-on time? Because if you do, a) that's an amount of labour that you have to build up to, and b) it's an additional 5-10 hours per week of unpaid, but vital, work. Minimum, if you're at all concerned about things like marketing, accounting, client relations, and maintaining your CE requirements in addition to the unpaid admin and maintenance work you have to do each day.

Being a massage therapist means you are self employed 90% of the time, and in a competitive economy with a saturated market (read, any metropolis), that means you need to hustle your ass off to obtain and retain clients, unless you work at a massage mill type place where they get clients for you but pay peanuts. It also means you don't get paid days off if you are sick, need a holiday, or get injured, or need a personal day to look after your sick kid. You probably won't get health insurance. You will probably get injured at some point and have to work with the injury. I'm currently working with a chronic sprain, carpal tunnel, tendonitis and osteoarthritis. They were all induced and are aggravated by my work.

For me, massage therapy school was 2 years with only a week break in the summer and at Christmas. That was the accelerated program. I'm not sure how long it is in your region, but the commitment is probably more intense than you are expecting. The schooling was full time, plus additional hours for the required student clinic hours.

As a massage therapist, it will be out of your scope of practice to use psychotherapeutic tools with your massage clients. However, they will absolutely use you as a proxy for actual therapy. You will have to be very careful not to engage them in ways that you have been trained to because it is a breach of professional ethics. You may find this challenging and draining, particularly if you are encountering it 20 hours per week.

Massage therapy has a high burnout rate, both because of the physical strain and the emotional burden. Many people either burn out or scale to extremely part time work long before they pay off their student loan.

You will also always get someone associating your work with sex work, no matter how distinctly you say massage therapy or how clear it is that you are referring to therapeutic massage. It happened right in this thread. Similarly, most massage therapists I know have experienced sexual harassment.

I'm not sure where you are getting your numbers, but you won't make 50k working 20 hours per week as a massage therapist. I work 35 hours of paid labour per week plus my unpaid labour and I earn substantially less than that before taxes. The only people I know who come close to that have been in the industry for 10+ years, and not doing hands-on that whole time. The only way to make money in this business is to own a clinic and have people working under you, or teach.

if you're a driven entrepreneur type, AND have the schedule flexibility (weekends, evenings), AND don't need to worry about money, AND enjoy giving massage, AND are in excellent physical health, AND are a kinesthetic/mechanical type, go for it.

Don't become a massage therapist if you don't take it seriously or think it's easy money. Don't become a massage therapist if you aren't cool with physical labour. Don't become a massage therapist if you think it will be a good "break" from your counselling work. You will be disappointed.
posted by windykites at 8:01 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow thank u so much windykites ^ all the massage therapy schools make it sound so easy but im really not interested in what u mentioned at all. I think for my sanity and my kids sake just sticking with my mft and making the most of it is my best bet.

Its soo hard to choose a best answer you've all brought up some excellent points!
posted by livelikegold6 at 10:47 AM on December 15, 2017

the massage therapy schools make it sound so easy

Yeah, this is A Problem and it's unfair to potential massage therapists. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. But most massage schools are for-profit, and sometimes manipulative or deceptive to get students in the door.

Good luck to you with the path you choose. Hope you find something you love.
posted by windykites at 12:03 PM on December 15, 2017

I used to be a massage therapist, and I also use to live in the bay area. I'll chime in on that aspect, because that is all I know about. Most of the points people are making are pretty accurate. This is all assuming you own your own business, as anything else will likely not be worth the time compared to your other sources of income.

57k pre-tax would be 20 hours a week billed at 60/hr, which isn't a stretch for the area. That said, your cost are going to be almost entirely renting space. So that is where you make or break your budget. If you are planning to work out of your home, it could be a hobby. Otherwise you will likely need to make it full time.

If you expect to bill 20 hours a week, you will be working 35 hours. You cannot do this and another job very easily, mostly because as a massage therapist you usually have to have a flexible schedule for your clients. Unless your other job is also freelance, you aren't going to be able to do more that 2 hours a week in massage.

The massage work itself is physically draining, and you should expect to be dealing with injuries of your own pretty much all the time if you are billing 20 hours a week.

As for the sexual harassment, its true it happens constantly. I honestly feel I dealt with worse when I was doing security though. I don't think it is a big deal, but it will come up.

Don't listen to anything those massage schools tell you or promise you. Massage schools are business, and a shady one at that.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 1:48 PM on December 15, 2017

#4. I would skip the costs of nursing school because I don't think an RN would be adequate for quickly getting hired. Most places want a BSN now.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:54 PM on December 18, 2017

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