The Truth About a Career in Massage Therapy


A career in massage therapy can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a frustrating and disappointing experience. Though it feels great to work hard and pass the national exam, the hardest part actually comes after getting your license.

Top Reasons People Think Massage Therapy Will Make a Great Career

1. It will be easy to find a job or work for yourself after you graduate.

After you graduate, you have dreams and expectations about what it will be like to start your new career. You expect to have no trouble finding a job or working for yourself. It seems like there are thousands of people that want or need your services. You can choose to work in a salon, spa, medical clinic, massage clinic, or home office. The choices seem endless.

2. You will have your choice of workplace.

You dream of things like helping people get past their chronic pain in a medical setting, helping people relax in a spa, or maybe working in a clinic that specializes in massage. There are so many places out there that you should have no trouble finding the perfect position where you can use your skills and all of your training.

3. You will make a lot of money.

The pay is one thing that you are definitely looking forward to seeing. At $60-$80 an hour, you should be on easy street. Once you get started, you will able to make more money than you know how to spend. You start dreaming of what you are going to do with all of that money.

4. You get to help people for a living.

However, money is not the only thing that interests you. You are also excited about the chance to help people. There is so much that you can accomplish with your skills and training and you can't wait to get started.

The Hard Realities of a Career in Massage Therapy

1. It is difficult and expensive to run your own business.

In theory, it seems like a great idea to have your own business and keep all of the profit for yourself but the truth is that your profits will go towards rent, utilities, equipment, supplies, advertising, insurance, and more.

You will need a solid, repeat client base to be able to pay for all of the expenses that you will acquire when you own your own business. This takes time to build up, sometimes even years. It is a good goal to have for the future but it may be unrealistic when you are first starting out.

2. Working in a salon or spa is not always what you think it will be.

A salon or spa could be a great place to work. You will already have a client base and new treatments you can learn. If you are interested in learning body treatments, a spa could be the best place for you to work.

However, there are always drawbacks to any position. The contract is sometimes a drawback. Before accepting a position that requires you sign a contract, have a lawyer look it over and make sure that you understand what you are signing. If you are not completely satisfied with the contract, do not sign it. This is your future and you need to protect yourself.

You should know the answers to these questions: What kind of work will you be expected to perform? Will you need to help with the reception desk, take care of the laundry, sweep up after the hair stylists or such? Are you expected to perform free massages for advertising? Do you receive more than 30-50% commission?

I had a negative experience with working at a salon. I was offered a position, and I accepted since it seemed like a nice place to work and the people were friendly. However, I did not like the expectations or the contract. I was expected to work six to eight hours a day and I was only paid commission. If I had no clients I was expected to basically work for free and I had to sweep up after the hair stylists and work as the shampoo girl. This would have been fine if I were getting paid an hourly wage for my work, which I wasn't. Furthermore, the contract stated that if I quit, I would need to pay them $100 for each day that I worked so I could pay for the "valuable" training I received at the shampoo bowl. Learn from my mistake: Read your contract.

A medical clinic could be a good place to hone your skills and gain valuable experience in your field. The same considerations apply to a position in a medical clinic. What is the pay, what are the expectations, and is there a contract? Those are the need-to-know questions. Also, try to talk with someone who works there or is familiar with the establishment. They can provide you with inside information that you will not receive in an interview.

3. A career in massage therapy will not make you wealthy.

A career in massage therapy will not make you wealthy. In fact, you may need to have a second job in order to make a decent living. If you are paid on commission, you are likely to be paid anywhere from 30-50 percent of the total price of the massage. If you are paid an hourly wage, it will likely be in the $10-20 an hour range. $60-80 an hour is mostly just a myth.

4. The hours of a massage therapy career can be difficult.

Massage therapy is not a 9-5 job. Your hours will depend on the hours that the client is available. Evening and Saturday hours are almost guaranteed. Furthermore, massage is not the kind of career that you work 40 hours a week. If you try to work 40 hours a week, you may burn out quickly. The physical demands of a massage career should be factored into any decision about the number of hours you would like to work.

Conclusion: This Career Takes Work

  • Massage therapy is hard on the therapist both physically and psychologically.
  • The hours can be difficult.
  • It is not easy to find the right massage therapy job.
  • The starting pay is not as good as advertised.
  • You may need to have a second income.
  • You may not be doing what you want to do with your training and experience.

That said, if massage therapy is really want to do with your life, you will find a way to make it work. You will work the jobs that you do not like in order to get the experience. You will go through all of the interviews.

You will learn from your mistakes and do better the next time. A massage therapy career might not be exactly what you expected it to be but it is a career which can be very fulfilling for many people.

Video: The Truth About a Career in Massage Therapy

Comments 14 comments

Swedishinstitute 2 years ago

A career in massage therapy can be a great choice, especially for those looking for a non-traditional job. As the demand for massage therapists grows, there will be more and more employment opportunities. In addition, there is comprehensive, but short-term training. Upon graduation from Swedish Institute ( students are awarded an Associate in Occupational Studies Degree and are ready for a career in Massage Therapy.

True, but still worth it! 2 years ago

I love being a massage therapist, and it's a very rewarding profession that has worked well for me, in terms of my personality and life situation. With that said, Teresa Post does underscore the reality of the profession- out of 49 classmates at my massage school, I am one of only two or three who are still working as massage therapists six years after graduation.

The key is to understand that if you are the sole provider for your family, massage therapy will be a tough profession as you start out. You must have a nest egg to sustain your living expenses as you ramp up. You will need to build a client base, and this takes 6 months at best, but often, more like a couple of years. Teresa's advice about initially working at a spa, clinic, etc., to get experience is solid, and I also strongly recommend concurrently going out to find your own clients as well, so you can build your practice gradually. Of course, you should carefully review your employment contract or consulting agreement, and build your private practice ethically. Having your own clients will make your career sustainable over time.

That's the tricky part- not many massage therapists are business-minded, and massage schools don't necessarily go deeply into the business aspect of this career to make it more profitable for the therapist. However, if you can stick it out through the challenges Teresa outlines in her article, and learn how to market yourself, get some solid business skills under your belt, you can make over $60-$85 hourly. The caveat is that even with regular clients, the hours are not steady (people get sick, go on vacation, have scheduling conflicts) and marketing your services will be a big part of your ongoing focus.

Finally, I find the people who are drawn to this field of work are fantastic individuals- as you are going through the challenges of building a practice, get peer support, and cheer each other on (preferably by trading massage!).

In short, Teresa provides realistic expectations for the challenges of a career in massage therapy, so think about whether you are willing to stick it out as you build your practice. If so, you will be rewarded with work you will love, and with some grit and focus, you can be successful. Good luck!

Carol Moore 2 years ago

Need for massage therapists is increasing as many luxury hotels are providing such services to their customers. But there are also a few challenges for independent massage therapists. Promoting the business can be difficult for them. But online marketing techniques can be useful for this purpose. Such techniques can include listing your business in popular business listing sites like yelp, COC etc. You in niche directories for massage therapists like

Christopher Salley 2 years ago

One of the major challenges facing therapist now is the arrival of chain clinics which have completely low balled the market. Why pay $80 when you can go receive a massage for $40 elsewhere, and these clinics(which I despise) only pay there hardworking therapist $15 a massage! Also, speaking from a male therapist perspective; I've had to put up with 10 years of gender inequailty. I was not informed of this during my schooling, but is a major concern one should have if your a male thinking about becoming a therapist. Now I've been lucky enough to only have to work one job while making over $50K a year for 10 years now; however, expect to bust your arse for that and as Teresa stated the hours are holidays,evenings and weekends for big money. Those kind of hours can have negative effect on family and social life. Massage can be very rewarding career choice, but I want my weekends back so im moving into the Physical Therapy field. Goodluck with your choice if you decide to become a LMT.

michelle 2 years ago

I'm in a relationship with someone but he don't trust me I know I did bad in my pass change my life

dmr 14 months ago

Good information. I am in private practice for 2 years and have grown my business slowly and steadily. And I work at a wellness center two times a week as a contractor and was able to negotiate $30 per massage. They charge $45. And it's a big myth about making $50k a yr. That would be putting long hours in every week. Massage chain, I worked for one when I got out of school for 6 month for experience at $15 a massage.

After 3 years my business is growing. gross about 1000 to 1500 per month. I'm in my late 40s and left a corporate job and saved a money. My house is paid for. I barely make enough to pay the utilities, gasoline and food. I live simply. If I didn't have savings I'd be struggling and stressed out. Hope this helps.

a.k 11 months ago

i thank you so much it helped a lot on my p.o.p prisention .

LMT2000 9 months ago

It's not worth it. I've been an LMT for about 4 years now and it's the biggest mistake of my life. I wasted time in school for this profession just for it to be worthless. Everything stated in the above article is true. That's exactly how it is. If you don't believe it see for yourself. It's a waste of time and I wouldn't recommend this profession unless you enjoy struggling and not having money. Helping people doesn't pay the bills. It's a nice thing to do but in reality, when you have responsibilities, helping others isn't a good reason for income. You need to live, not just help others and downplay the fact that massage therapy doesn't not produce the income needed to live on. That's not a rewarding feeling, I don't care what anyone says. You helped someone else but your pocket are light? How are they helping you by being cheap and not wanting to pay full price for a lot of work? 60 mins of massage is worth $60+ and people want something for nothing. Then you're ripped of by spas who want to pay you $15 and expect you to see 4 -5 people per day. Biggest mistake of my life. Good luck to those who find good in this profession.

Cher 5 months ago

If you are professional and a go-getter it is very possible to make $50k working 30 to 35 hours a week. You can work at a crappy chain then work some private practice or chair gigs. Sadly, many LMTs don't know how to be business minded and sell themselves to get to $45-50k+ per year. It takes work, but you can do it. I'm 3 years in and I've done it working 30 hours per week. You do need to be GREAT, I've had many poor quality massages.... those therapists aren't going to re-book and make the big bucks.

Felicia 5 months ago

I'm a massage therapist and I make 35$ per massage plus a 10-20$ tip. I make around 40,000$ a year. 10$ an hour is minimum wage and we get paid way more than that.

Felicia 5 months ago

Mind you, I only work 25-30 hours a week and give about 20 massages a week.

Maria 3 months ago

I'm a single mother of two, and all of this is true. I live in a run down apartment and my kids of opposite gender share a bedroom. I cant even afford a car or daycare in order to work more hours or get a second job. Massage Evny and the like have completely screwed other businesses over by charging such a low price but providing considerably crappier service. Unfortunately people don't care, they jusy want to pay less money and settle. Over the past 6 years since graduation, my income has gone from about 30k per year to 20k. I thought 30k was a decent entry level salary, so my toung optimistic mind thought, "wow, imagine what I will be making in 10 years!". Ha, in ten years I'll be collecting a wellfare check if I don't start a new career.

2 months ago

Massage envy isn't the worst offender - to be a massage envy member you must commit to 60 per month for a year long contract. I've seen a lot of other spas run promos for less. Furthermore at Envy and Chiropractic offices you get 50 minutes of hands on time for an hour long session. If you do the math that makes your home practice worth 72 for 60 minutes of hands on time. On top of that therapist have no time to do any posture evaluations or any test for conditions, which is something that will make your personal practice more valuable (at least if you know what you are doing)

That said, I am a new therapist but I am better than everyone that's ever worked on me - I can't find anyone that can or will release trigger points like I can. Most therapist that have worked on me use either too light of pressure, do only a partial muscle release, or don't hang out on a trigger point long enough to do anything; in short most massage therapist suck and virtually none have a clue about how to run a practice / business.

RobV3 4 weeks ago

Great article! The pros and cons are pretty much spot on. There are a few things also to be considered if you are a male therapist or male wanting to become a massage therapist.

Most people prefer to be massage by a woman. Even thought its 2016 and people like to think they are more evolved than previous generations, but I have found this to be true. This generally leaves the only market who prefers deep tissue over gender, which will take a while to build clients. This can be further frustrated because many women can do deep tissue and in the beginning you will only be the reserve or "last resort" therapist for short notice clients. If you don't or can't do DT massage, it could take even longer.

Most places pay you for "hands on" time, meaning that even when you are there, preparing for a shift, changing out the room for the next client, or doing your SOAP notes, you aren't getting paid. Here's an example of how that reflects on your paycheck; My employer offers two shifts, long (7hrs), or short (5 hrs). There is a 15 break in between each regardless of length (we have 30 min up to 120 min) so for each there is a max number of hours you will work; a "5" hour shift is only going to pay 4 hours max, and a "7" hour shift is going to pay you 5 1/2 with a 1/2 hour break or 6 without. I dont know of any place in my area that pays you for your "down" time, but theyll ask you to fold towels, etc even though you aren't getting paid.

As nice and caring as your employers act, its still a business and money comes first. The company I am with had a studio with only 5 rooms when I first started, and upgraded and moved to a larger studio seeing they had many turn-aways. With the extra rooms available, they hired so many extra people that most therapist (people who had less than 3 years experience) ended up seeing only one or two people per day, in the hopes they'll hold who they have there until all rooms are filled for all shifts. It is worse if you were a male therapist. And in the beginning of such changes, the front desk is trying to push the new therapists to keep them there and offers them first. Of course some clients will show loyalty in certain markets, but here in Western WA, its more about availability and convenience of scheduling, and often one client sees more than one therapist.

Regardless of how much you like your coworkers or get along with them, they are rivals. As soon as you're out sick or injured, and someone sees a client of yours, there is a good chance that "friend" will try to take them away. It can be frustrating to loose a client, and it will happen even though you gave your best massage so try not to take it personally. People are weird and even when you communicate with them, and make it easy for them to tell you what type of massage, what kind of issues they want to work on, most people don't communicate so you have to develop your extra senses to make sure your are attentive to their needs.

But even when doing that sometimes its still not enough so try to just enjoy the job, and not to get caught up in the drama of others both clients and coworkers.

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