Why Being a Massage Therapist is Not For Everyone

Being a massage therapist is not just a job - it's a way of life, a philosophy.

Not just for the typical reasons you might imagine – such as, an aversion to touching people – and I’ve heard that one plenty of times. Of course, anyone who cannot get past that thought would never choose to be a massage therapist (or any number of other careers that involve human contact – physical therapy, nursing, etc.). It’s all about perspective. After all, the healing power of touch has been written about almost since the dawn of civilization, and those who work in careers like this take a positive viewpoint. Physical contact with other people is not that gross, I promise! But, hey, it’s not for everyone.

Choosing massage therapy for a career is more than choosing a job.  It’s a way of life, a philosophy. One cannot follow such a path unless they have a true passion for it and everything it represents. This career isn't like the office job you can leave behind when you go home. It takes dedication to follow the path of a massage therapist, in part because of the many ways it affects the life of the therapist even when they aren’t on duty. Not everyone can handle marking “get a manicure” off the to-do list permanently! I cut my nails off and filed them smooth for the first time in less than a week after beginning massage school, and cut and filed they have remained ever since. Truly, I jest that this is any real sacrifice (though I know plenty of women who would beg to differ!), but there is so much more to it. For one, massage therapy is a physically demanding job. An MT has to take good care of themselves both on and off duty in order to maintain their own physical well-being enough to be able to help the physical well-being of others. It’s hard to help others in pain if you yourself are suffering. That means exercise, LOTS of stretching, and receiving massage on a regular basis, as well as drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy, and taking precautions at all times to avoid illness and injury.

Obviously, the bulk of wear and tear is on the hands, forearms, shoulders, and back. A key element is self-massage. I know I do self-massage on my hands and forearms on an almost daily basis. If I didn’t, those muscles would be so tight I don’t imagine they would even be functional by now! And by self-massage, I mean elbows in my arms with a whole lot of pressure deep tissue work. Because that is what it takes. But, I don’t mind, because I love what I do and that is just part of it. I know as long as I take care of myself, it’s all good. This is a career that will definitely prompt you to learn how to take care of yourself - and actually do it.

For those who don’t want to deal with that, or who don’t want to be affected by work outside of work (and I know plenty of people who feel that way), this job wouldn’t be a good choice. I know if I weren’t passionate about my career, I’d be very unhappy about any physical pain resulting from it. It’s like one of my babies – I love it and am willing to make the necessary sacrifices to watch it flourish and grow. Especially as the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices!

Reason number two: This is a career in which many have to go into business for themselves.  I mean, they don’t HAVE to, but the truth is that finding employment as a massage therapist that pays fairly and doesn’t drain you is not easy. There just aren’t many establishments out there that treat the massage therapists they employ with real consideration and respect, hence a major reason many do not last long in this field.

Massage therapy is both a science and an ART. You flourish when you are free to express that art in a way that is authentic to you, and when you find those that truly value your art.  I find both of these things to be much more difficult within the confines of an establishment as opposed to working in my own space.

When you work for someone else, you have to follow their business model. As an example, at most massage establishments there is an upcharge to use any essential oils during the session, known as aromatherapy massage. In my humble opinion, aromatherapy is an essential part of the massage and can greatly enhance a client’s experience, and it’s silly to deny that of them unless they can/will pay extra for it. I may charge extra for a specialty aromatherapy treatment, but a little eucalyptus to open the sinuses, lavender to unwind, and peppermint to help relax the muscles is fairly fundamental (unless the client wants to opt out, of course).

The downside is, running a business is a lot of work and responsibility, and will take a lot more of your time than just the time spent with clients, and you have to provide your own private benefits.  However, the freedom it allows is, to me, more than worth the effort.

Something a lot of prospective MT’s may not realize is how complex it is to practice massage therapy. When you discover, though, that massage therapy affects every bodily system, not just the muscles, as well as emotions, you can see how complex it can be. There is a lot of responsibility in a career that has such multi-dimensional effects on the human body.

There are the relationships with the clients, which I find to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. You bond with people when you're working so closely with them. But, there are also the medical aspects, as well. Such as knowing when someone is presenting with a condition in which you should NOT perform a massage. Or when someone is presenting a condition in which you must approach from multiple angles, and with multiple modalities to be effective. Also, having the sense and responsibility of referring clients to other specialists when necessary, because massage can’t fix everything.

Having a career in which you are aiming to help heal the body requires a lot of working knowledge of the human body, and a lot of science and medical knowledge as well. A massage therapist needs to be well-versed in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, pathology, and much more, and not just long enough to pass the test to get a license, but on a continuous basis throughout their career.

There's also the continuing education. Most states don't have very high requirements for this, but to be a truly effective and successful massage therapist, one must be educating themselves on subjects related to this field all the time. If you find your career and the many aspects of it as fascinating as I do, continually studying about it isn't a chore at all. But, if studying anatomy, new massage techniques, psychology, holistic therapies, and the like isn't really your thing, I imagine it would be as mind-numbing as reading a magazine about cars would be to me!

Bottom line, you have to be passionate about this career and everything it involves to do it and stick with it.  It's very involved, and requires dedication, but when it’s right, it’s amazing!

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