Massage Career Paths: Which One is Right for You?
- April 24, 2018
- Posted by: claudine
- Category: Massage career choices
Choosing the Right Massage Career Path
A career in massage therapy has the potential to be exciting, rewarding, and extremely satisfying. You’re constantly meeting new people thanks to the influx of clients into your practice. At the same time, you have the opportunity to build lasting relationships with ongoing clients. Over time, you get to see your clients feeling better, more relaxed, less stressed, and happier overall in their lives. It’s a winning combination that few other occupations can offer.
With this in mind, though, you may be surprised to learn that there are actually a number of fairly different career paths that one can take as a massage therapist and bodyworker. Once you’ve passed the MBLEx test, it’s time to give some serious thought to what sort of a career you’d like to build in massage. In fact, if you’ve yet to sit for your state licensing exam — or even if you’re still in massage school — it’s never too early to start thinking about what sort of a working environment you’d like to create for yourself as a bodyworker.
While the requirements for licensure laid out by state massage therapy boards can vary widely from one state to another, the variety of opportunities for massage therapists is fairly consistent everywhere. It generally doesn’t matter which state you live in: wherever you end up, you’ll encounter a number of potential career paths that you can take. Each of these career paths comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. By putting in the work ahead of time to evaluate them one by one, you’re much more likely to end up with a job that fits your needs, personality, and long term goals.
Before we get into a discussion of the different career options available to you, we’ll briefly touch on what’s required in order to obtain your massage licensure in the first place. From there, we’ll take a look at five different career paths that you might choose as a massage therapist, including:
- Health care
- Sports massage
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
Requirements for Massage Licensure
If you’re not already a licensed massage therapist, you may be wondering what’s required of you in your state in order to begin practicing.
Unfortunately, every state has fairly different requirements. Many states require at least 500 hours of education as part of your massage training, while some — such as New York — can require as many as 1,000 hours. A handful of states such as Wyoming have no regulation for massage therapy whatsoever.
In 44 states, the MBLEx test is required in order to obtain licensure. The MBLEx is administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, or FSMTB. As a national organization, the FSMTB created the MBLEx test as a means of providing every state with the opportunity to evaluate potential candidates for massage licensure according to the same standards as other states. By creating a test that’s used all across the country, the FSMTB provides massage therapists with greater mobility in the event that they wish to relocate and practice in another state.
For this reason, it’s best to assume that you’ll need to attend an accredited massage program and pass the MBLEx in order to embark on any of the career paths laid out here. Even if you live in a state like Hawaii (which administers its own special state exam), familiarizing yourself with the MBLEx test is a good idea in the event that you decide to relocate to another state down the road. Check out our guide to the MBLEx exam for a list of the U.S. states and territories which require that a candidate pass the MBLEx test in order to obtain licensure.
Now that you have a better sense of what’s required of you in order to become a massage therapist, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the career paths available to you once you’ve passed the licensing exam.
Working in a Health Care Environment
Some people embark on a career in massage therapy under the impression that they’ll need to establish their own private massage practice, or perhaps get a job at a local spa. However, there are a number of other opportunities available to bodyworkers. One of those opportunities is the chance to work in a health care environment.
When we talk about health care environments, we’re referring to a fairly diverse number of scenarios. For example, you could work in a doctor’s office, a nursing home, a hospital, a hospice setting, or even as part of an integrative medicine practice alongside doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and/or naturopaths.
It’s important to consider that working alongside health care professionals won’t likely involve much of a change in what you do, but rather where you’re doing it and with whom you’re working.
While this may not be true of every single health care setting, it’s not uncommon for health care environments to feel significantly more “sterile” than you may be used to as someone who practices massage. If you envision yourself wanting to work in a warmly decorated room with soft lighting, scented candles, and relaxing music playing, a health care environment may not be for you. However, if you value the ability to collaborate alongside health care professionals over the level of customization you might have over your working environment, then a massage career path in health care could be a great choice for you.
Similarly, there are other environmental aspects of working in health care that tend to differ significantly from more “traditional” massage environments. For instance, it’s not uncommon to be asked to provide massage therapy for patients who are not on a massage table. You’ll need to be comfortable with adjusting your technique accordingly.
While many massage therapists working for themselves and running their own practices have the ability to set their schedules, this is often not the case when working in a health care scenario. Your hours will likely be determined by someone else, and you may have significantly less flexibility.
On the other hand, working alongside health care professionals as part of an integrated team can be incredibly rewarding. Additionally, roughly half of all massage clients seek out massage for specifically medical reasons. As a result, there’s significant room for growth if you opt to pursue a massage career that involves working in a health care environment.
Working at a Spa
When we think of more “standard” or “traditional” careers in the world of massage therapy, one option that typically comes to mind is working at a spa.
If working in a health care environment can be characterized by a focus on healing patients with potentially serious illnesses at the expense of much concern for aesthetics and environmental considerations, practically the exact opposite can be said of working in a spa.
Of course, this isn’t to say that a massage therapist at a spa isn’t focused on helping a client with some ailment that’s troubling them. It’s not uncommon for a client at a spa to mention that they often suffer from neck pain, or that their low back tends to give them trouble. More often than not, though, a client at a spa is there because they’re looking for relaxation and stress relief. For this reason, creating the right environment is a critical part of providing the client with the services and satisfaction that they’re after.
When working at a spa, it’s not uncommon for the administrative staff there to take care of all the details for you. It’s rare that you have to worry about booking your own appointments, collecting payments from clients, doing scheduling follow-ups to confirm that a client will show up at the agreed upon time, and so on. You may not even need to supply any of your own materials or supplies, as many spas will provide these for you.
Spas can actually vary considerably from one to the next in terms of size, style, and scope of services. The clientele that frequent these spas will also differ accordingly. For example, a client at a day spa may be popping in for a relaxing day off to try and recharge before the work week. At a resort or destination spa, you’ll be working with clients who are enjoying an extended vacation. Finally, a medical spa might focus on a particular condition or set of conditions — effectively resulting in a client population that presents with fairly similar issues from one person to the next.
There’s definite room for growth as a spa therapist. You’ll be gaining a considerable amount of experience as a massage therapist, of course. But, in addition to this, you’ll have the chance to observe how an effective spa business is run. It’s possible to go on to start your own massage therapy practice — or even your own spa — down the road.
Working in Sports Massage
Were you a high school or college athlete? Do you love the idea of diving deep into the physiology of exercise and competitive sports? Does the idea of helping an athlete achieve peak performance — potentially winning an event thank to your assistance — excite you? If so, a career in sports massage could be a great option for you.
While it may be true that massage therapists in private practice, working at spas, or assisting in a health care environment can all tend to employ fairly similar techniques as part of their practice, this isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to sports massage. Working as a sports massage therapist requires a superior knowledge of anatomy and physiology, along with the specific needs of athletes as opposed to non-athletes.
Working with athletes can be both demanding and rewarding. On the one hand, the needs of a competitive athlete may be greater and more pressing than those of a casual massage client: maybe they need to heal an injury from practice in time for an upcoming event, and they’re counting on you for help. On the flip side, though, it can be refreshing to work with clients who are so aware of their own bodies. Additionally, treating a recent and acute injury in an athlete often makes for quick and satisfying results: whereas the typical massage client may not follow your advice between sessions, a professional athlete is likely to stick to your instructions word for word.
If you’re interested in working in this field, you may want to look into supplementary CEU courses in sports massage. They can help provide you with the training you need to be successful.
Starting Your Own Practice
Of all the potential career paths for massage therapists, starting your own practice is quite possibly the most attractive for many. And, on the surface, it may not even seem that intimidating.
Why is that? Well, on the one hand, the statistics seem to point to significant growth in massage therapy. In fact, numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a 26% growth in massage therapy jobs between 2016-2026, which is “much faster than average.” With so much increased demand for massage, starting your own practice may seem quite doable.
On the other hand, the American Massage Therapy Association, or AMTA, reports that approximately 80% of massage therapists pursue massage as a second career, and that roughly 50% of massage therapists continue to earn an income from a second profession.
So, what’s the takeaway here? On the one hand, the profession is growing rapidly. That’s good for business. On the other hand, though, it’s important not to be deceived by that growth statistic. Many massage therapists are doing it part-time and are therefore dependent on supplementary income to make it work. As a result, jumping straight into the debt and responsibility associated with starting your own practice can be incredibly burdensome for massage therapists with little to no experience.
Remember that starting your own practice comes along with a lot of other responsibilities. You’re not just a massage therapist: you’re a business owner, a marketer, a scheduler, a receptionist, and more. If you intend to grow — which many massage practices eventually do — you may also end up being someone’s boss. Make sure that you’re comfortable wearing all of these different hats before diving into self-employment as a bodywork professional.
Getting Your Massage License
Now that you have a better sense of the career options available to you, you’re probably anxious to get started! First, though, it’s important to remember that you’ll need to meet your state’s licensure requirements. In the vast majority of states, this means passing the MBLEx test. Bamboo™ offers the most effective (and affordable) MBLEx test prep that you’ll find anywhere. To learn more about our competitive pricing, click here.