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Massage as a Career: What Does It Take to Be a Great Therapist?

As holistic healing becomes more popular in our society and as individuals turn to more rewarding initial and second careers, the massage therapy industry is seeing a solid flow of students, graduates and therapists in the massage field. The American Massage Therapy Association® estimated at the beginning of this year that there are 300,000 to 350,000 massage therapists and massage school students in the United States. And, the U.S. Department of Labor in 2012 reported that it expected employment for massage therapists to increase 20 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Colleen O'Connor, massage therapist for nine years and studio owner at Elements Louisville East for seven years, believes that it takes a mix of solid massage technique, business sense and client intuition to successfully approach massage therapy as a career.

Adopt the Ability, Attitude to Learn, Grow

The first step to starting out in a career as a massage therapist is similar to many other industries in that you need to choose the appropriate education, hands-on training and testing paths that will lead to earning all of the requirements in your specific field. The AMTA reported this year that there are more than 360 accredited schools and programs in the United States and the average amount of initial training for massage therapists is 642 hours.

The specific certifications and training requirements for massage therapy typically varies from state to state. So make sure that you research what is required in the state you choose to practice in before embarking on the journey of becoming a massage therapist.

“You shouldn’t dive into becoming a massage therapist without doing your due diligence,” advises O’Connor. “It’s important to find a school that fits your philosophies and how you envision receiving your training. Visit the schools, audit the classes, talk to teachers and call graduates to see if they were able to go out and get a job after graduating.”

Even after you finish your preliminary massage education, the best therapists that O’Connor has seen excel in the industry are those who are dedicated to growing their toolbox of knowledge through ongoing training and experience. The type of people that O’Connor looks for when hiring new therapists are those who have positive attitudes toward lifelong learning and training, as well as those who are accountable, dependable and willing to work through the Elements service path.

“It’s attitude more than aptitude that makes a difference to me when I’m looking to bring new therapists on board,” says O’Connor. “As long as you have a good foundation and understanding of how the muscles run throughout the body and a good working knowledge of anatomy and physiology, we’re willing to bring people in and train them on how to succeed as a therapist.

"One of the things I love about being a studio owner is watching my therapists grow and becoming more confident in themselves as they progress through their careers.”

Gather In-Depth Knowledge of the Internal Body

The art of massage therapy can lead to therapeutic transformations for clients and therapists. But gaining an interest and expertise in the scientific side of the anatomy and physiology of the human body is what can lead to extraordinary results.

Massage therapists not only need to have in-depth knowledge of how the body’s muscular system functions and connects, but also realize how all of the interconnections associated with the nervous system, circulatory system and overall body mechanics work together as well. And, O’Connor says it’s important for therapists to understand that they don’t fix conditions, but rather help facilitate the healing process for both the mind and body.

“The idea of massage is great. But when you actually see how massage works with a client who wasn’t able to bend over when they came into the studio but then leaves a session being able to tie their shoes, that’s an amazing feeling as a therapist,” shares O’Connor.

“It’s very powerful to be able to provide that type of experience for our clients and to see the direct results of your efforts as a therapist.”

Dedicate Yourself to Happy, Healthy Clients

A career in massage therapy is about having a vision and passion for helping facilitate the healing process for people’s mental and physical ailments. But what some may not realize is that your success as a therapist also hinges on your ability to build clientele and manage the business aspects of massage.

The bottom line is if you don’t have happy clients, then you can’t make a living in massage. And typically the side of your brain that is passionate about the practice of massage is different than the business-minded part of your brain.

Both when you start out and as you progress through your massage therapy career, it’s important to adopt a strong business sense so that you can make the proper decisions that will lead to health and happy clients, as well as the growth and prosperity of your career.

Becoming a great massage therapist starts with setting the foundation of a solid education and dedication to growing your business as you help heal your clients. If you take all of these elements into consideration, you will be well on your way to setting yourself up for a successful career in massage therapy.

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