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The Truth About a Career in Massage Therapy

In this article, you'll learn the pros and cons of pursuing a career in massage therapy.

In this article, you'll learn the pros and cons of pursuing a career in massage therapy.

Is Massage Therapy a Good Career?

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 5 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 be 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.

Massage therapist jobs

Massage therapist jobs

4 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 to 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 hairstylists, 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 hairstylists 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.

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 really is what you 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 that can be very fulfilling for many people.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Greg on October 10, 2019:

Every job is like this!

Ashley Bergin from san francisco on February 13, 2019:

I plan on offering reasonable pricing (around $40 range) to collect new clients, and/or people who resist getting massage due to its high cost. My price points alone will be an easy draw for new customers. Luckily, offices are fairly inexpensive to rent in my area at $300 -$400 per month, and usually include utilities. In addition, I’ll have a small shop set up in the room with my hand-made lotions, oils, jewelry.

What I’m loving is that I can make my own hours, and no longer need to be a slave to office work that seems to be slowly draining my soul. Plus, I’ll offer add-ons, essential oil therapy, hot stone, feet-only, back-only etc. I can schedule shorter sessions after long 1 hour sessions to give my body a break. A friend of mine worked at a casino spa, and Massage Envy and had many horror tales to tell. They really don’t care about their employees at all, so they’re underpaid and overworked. She burnt out after only 6 months. This friend didn’t really take care of herself physically, so I think it took an especially big toll on her. The emphasis of healthy eating, plus doing toning exercises is invaluable.

There’s 1 year left until I graduate (have only taken 1 class per semester, since I’m working full time at the office). I’ve already started buying supplies and room décor gradually – from China lol – so I’ll be stocked up on everything I need before I begin, without breaking the bank. In about 6 months I’ll start designing my website & scheduling calendar, so they’ll be ready to go. I feel that with some planning and self-discipline, this will be a great career move for me. Despite all the negative things I’ve heard, I’m excited!

Massage on July 18, 2017:

Being a massage therapist is extremely taxing physically. Expect to only work part time. While it's true that you will be able to easily land a job, watch out for the lies that massage therapy schools tell about expected income. Massage schools are selling you education and will tell you to convince you that massage therapy is a great career. Trust me, it's not. With the licensing fees and money spent on MANDATORY continuing education, you can expect to not make a lot of money. On top of that, the positions you are offered will not involve any paid time off or benefits. If you are offered benefits, your health insurance will be crappy. Massage therapy is a bullshit profession.

Richard Todhunter on December 19, 2016:

Fully agree that being a massage therapist is no longer worth a career to pursue. Its a race to the bottom and strongly urge people to not waste there time. After being a massage therapist for many years have seen a steady decline in income to point where the price of admission is no longer worth the price of admission. Don't waste your time.

Sara on November 16, 2016:

The article forgot to mention the men who will come in and either diddle themselves or expect you to do it and then completely freak out on you when you tell them you don't perform that service and they need to leave. Some places expect their therapists to put up with a lot from these men (and no, not all male clients are like this, but you remember the ones who are), some places protect their workers. One girl I was in school with was told that if the guy wanted to whack off, she was to let him as long as he didn't try to touch her. I'm sorry, that's an entirely different profession. But a lot of owners could care less about you.

I had classmates who worked for some decent places, but most were either in high end spas that booked them back to back during the busy season, with 5-10 minutes to wait for the client to dress, take them out to the front desk (without rushing!), go change the sheets on the table, maybe get a drink or go to the restroom, and be refreshed and ready for the next client. These are the same high-end places that will charge an extra 20% to clients for gratuity - meaning they generally don't tip you since they think you're getting a 20% tip, but in reality the therapists only see 1/4 to 1/2 of that "gratuity". Some places will teach you to make up your tables in multiple layers so that you can just peel the top 2 sheets off (the fitted and flat sheet) and have another layer underneath to make it faster to change out the tables.....until someone inspects this operation and you're in trouble because it violates sanitation laws.

As others have mentioned, many places will only pay you while you massage, but expect you to be there for 8 or more hours a day "just in case there is a walk-in", and in the meantime do other work such as laundry or cleaning up for stylists or other jobs WITH NO PAY. One girl in my class quit her first job after 2 months of being expected to be there 10 hours a day and getting paid only for 2-5 of those hours because she was a "subcontractor" even though she wasn't allowed to leave during the times she didn't have clients, had to use their supplies and sheets (and pay for them as well).

It's a business that's totally overloaded with workers, so most (not all) employers will take complete advantage of that. Expect to barely make subsistence wages, get no benefits, and even if you get a "good" job in my area at a high end spa, expect to make almost no money during the cold months. If you live somewhere that there is year-round tourism because of the weather, you will probably fare better at these types of resorts. But if its seasonal, you're going to starve for part of the year, all the while having to scrape up the money (and beg for days off) for mandatory continuing education "classes" (classes you pay for and must attend to get credit, but don't have to prove you actually learned anything - yet another ripoff in this industry).

I'm not saying nobody should do this job, but if you're considering this, please be very aware that you will probably not make a lot of money, particularly for the first few years, that there are dangers in this job from people who assume you are a prostitute, and get furious that you're not, and you will have a lot of out of pocket costs for insurance (health and liability insurance) and con-ed classes.

RobV3 on September 25, 2016:

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.

B on August 01, 2016:

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.

Maria on July 17, 2016:

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.

Felicia on May 22, 2016:

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

Felicia on May 22, 2016:

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.

Cher on May 15, 2016:

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.

LMT2000 on January 17, 2016:

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.

a.k on November 04, 2015:

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

dmr on August 25, 2015:

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.

michelle on May 26, 2014:

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

Christopher Salley on February 23, 2014:

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.

Carol Moore on February 19, 2014:

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

True, but still worth it! on February 12, 2014:

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!

Swedishinstitute on January 07, 2014:

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.