Massage: A Career at Your Fingertips

Massage: A Career at Your Fingertips

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by Martin Ashley

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How to open and market a massage practice, retain clients, and handle the financial and legal aspects of the business are just a few of the topics covered in this comprehensive guide to a career in massage therapy. Addressing the practical day-to-day as well as the formal components of running a business, this guide provides candid, grounded advice from 50 massage


How to open and market a massage practice, retain clients, and handle the financial and legal aspects of the business are just a few of the topics covered in this comprehensive guide to a career in massage therapy. Addressing the practical day-to-day as well as the formal components of running a business, this guide provides candid, grounded advice from 50 massage practitioners. Beginning with an overview of the profession, this handbook offers a thorough orientation to the business with specific advice on ethics, professional associations, governmental regulations, licensing laws and zoning requirements, insurance coverage, and sources for equipment and training. How to professionally handle clients who seek sexual massage or are survivors of abuse, the challenges unique to male massage professionals, and the politics of massage are also addressed.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Chock full of down-to-earth information and advice . . . should be required reading for anyone seriously contemplating a career in massage therapy." —Massage Therapy Journal

"This book will guide students most efficiently towards their educational and career goals." —Deane Juhan, author, Job's Body

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A Career at your Fingertips

By Martin Ashley

Enterprise Publishing

Copyright © 2006 Martin Ashley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9644662-5-8


Is a Career in Massage for You?

Massage can be a delightful career. Your clients regard you as the person who gives them relaxation, helps relieve their pain, and assists them in improving their health. You have freedom to set your own schedule, and can earn a good living with a clear conscience.

Massage can also be a frustrating career. You have great skills and desire to help, but clients are not calling, bills are piling up, and a client has asked you for sex at the end of a massage. You may wonder whether the whole thing is worth the effort.

If you are considering pursuing a career in massage or bodywork, it is worth your while to spend a little time now examining what lies ahead and whether it is what you want. You will find information throughout this book that will help you get a fuller picture of what it is like to be a massage professional. However, certain pros and cons should be set out at the start.

First item: Money.

Many people are lured to the idea of a massage career by some simple arithmetic. The local massage therapist is charging $60.00 per hour. Eight hours a day times $60.00 per hour comes to $480.00 per day, or $2,400.00 per week. Eureka! How can I get into this!?

It is true that there are a few massage therapists whose economic picture is like the one in the last paragraph, but they are the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of massage professionals have a very different story to tell.

A recent AMTA member survey revealed that 57% of full-time practitioners earned less than $30,000.00 per year. A similar survey by ABMP found that the overall average for practitioners was $23,194.00 and the average first-year income was $7,700.00.

Although some massage therapists do quite well financially, it has been my experience that those who enter the field for the purpose of making a lot of money are not happy in the field. They either do not succeed in massage, or become so absorbed by their desire to succeed financially that they are basically unfulfilled human beings even though they earn large amounts of money.

The people in the field who are financially successful and happy are those who got into the field out of a sincere desire to help other people, who have good skills and who have the determination necessary to achieve success.

Those who keep at it and succeed in establishing massage careers report an extremely high rate of career satisfaction regardless of their income - the same AMTA member survey quoted above found that more than 50% of respondents were "extremely satisfied" with their careers.

Second item: Drive and motivation.

What massage has in common with other professions — such as law, medicine and accounting — is that the professional has to attract a following, a clientele, in order to earn a living.

True, there are jobs available in which you can work for an hourly wage or on commission, but these situations are usually regarded as "entry-level" positions, or situations in which you can gain experience before you are truly established in the field. Jobs where some person or institution brings you a clientele are seldom well-paid jobs; your employer might take up to 70% of the amount paid for your services.

Therefore, to succeed in the long run, you will need to establish yourself as an independent professional with a substantial client base. Every client is an individual who could choose any massage practitioner, but chooses you because of what you have to offer. To be worth choosing and to be well-known and respected take time, dedication, and organization. Know before you begin that this is the path you are choosing for the long run when you choose a career as a massage therapist.

Third item: Commitment.

From reading this far, you are getting the idea that massage is not a field you just drift into and easily start making money. Getting started will be easier if you have substantial experience in a related hands-on therapy field or a solid reputation in your community. Otherwise, you can expect that during your first year or two after massage school you will have a limited income from massage, and will be spending a fair amount of time promoting yourself in an attempt to become established.

Therefore, make a commitment to your massage career. If you approach the field in a mature way, it will be a rewarding choice for you. However, if you approach it with a half-hearted commitment, you are likely to abandon your attempt to create a practice before you reap the rewards of the marketing and promotion you do.

Making a commitment to your career means making some commitment to a place. That is not to say you must settle down in the first place you practice massage, but ultimately you should make a pledge to yourself to spend at least three years in a location as a massage therapist. If you don't take that step, you don't do justice to your chances to have a successful career in the field.

Still interested?

If none of this scares you off, you probably have a good chance of making it as a massage therapist. Other chapters will provide you with strategies and techniques that will enable you to minimize your frustration and maximize your success as a professional. If you are making the decision to undertake a career as a massage professional, may I extend a warm welcome to you, and a wish that you enjoy all the ups and downs and in-betweens that await you...


The Massage and Bodywork Field

Its Time Has Come

Massage is an ancient art that has been having a renaissance during the last 50 years in the United States. Many types of massage have been developed, and many types of closely and not-so-closely related therapies have evolved in recent times. In an attempt to clarify this sometimes confusing picture, I offer the following discussion of massage and definitions of various terms.

What is massage, anyway?

In one sense, the term "massage" deserves to be many words, because one word cannot be stretched enough to include the various therapeutic techniques practiced by people who call themselves massage therapists. Consider these categories:

Wellness massage, for preventative general health;

Relaxation massage, to remove the results of stresses of daily life, including "on-site" or chair massage;

Pampering (or beautification) massage, to provide a sensuous, pleasurable indulgence or as an adjunct to beauty services. Spa massage is the fastest growing segment of the massage industry today.

Sports massage, for training, preparation and recovery from exertion during sporting events;

On-Site or Chair massage, brief clothed massage done in a wide variety of settings, such as fairs, airports, business offices and conventions;

Pain relief, to relieve muscle soreness, minor injury pain, headaches, or the like;

Rehabilitative massage, for recovery after physical injury such as broken bones and stroke;

Medical massage, as an adjunct to medical treatment for illness, such as depression, cancer and AIDS;

Chiropractic adjunct, to enhance the effectiveness of chiropractic adjustments;

Personal transformation massage, to explore emotional or psychological issues or to produce shifts in consciousness.

"Bodywork" and massage

Confusing the matter still further, many people also include "bodywork" in the term massage. Such hands-on therapies as shiatsu, Trager, Rolfing, polarity, and at least 60 other forms of bodywork now available are sometimes referred to under the umbrella term "massage," especially in the Western United States.

In order to make the information in this book easier to organize and use, I have drawn a distinction between "traditional" massage, and other newly-formed kinds of hands-on therapies. With apologies to those who prefer a definition of "massage" that includes a broad spectrum of bodywork styles, I have settled on the other, perhaps more conservative definition.

In this book, the term "massage" is used to mean traditional "Swedish" massage, or systems very much like it. Swedish massage is characterized by the five strokes effleurage, petrissage, friction, vibration and tapotement. Other systems that work with the body are called "bodywork." The following definitions are offered for clarification.


Please note: There are no "official" or widely accepted definitions of the terms "massage" and "bodywork." These definitions are offered to clarify the meanings of these terms as used in this book.

Massage. The application of touch by one person to another, using manual techniques of rubbing, stroking, kneading or compression (effleurage, petrissage, vibration, friction or tapotement), when done to produce relaxation, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, athletic preparedness or recovery, health improvement, increased awareness, or pleasure.

Bodywork. The application of touch by one person to another, to produce relaxation, pain relief, injury rehabilitation, health improvement, increased awareness, neuromuscular re-education, or pleasure, using any techniques other than those used in massage (see definition of massage, above). Bodywork does not include chiropractic, osteopathy, or any other system which has an organized licensing structure and grants the title "doctor" to its practitioners. (See the Bodywork Organizations and Trainings Directory starting on page 221.)

Massage Practitioner. Any person who publicly offers massage in return for money.

Massage Therapist. A massage practitioner who has received training in the theory and practice of massage, and is competent to use massage as a means of promoting pain relief, injury rehabilitation or health improvement.

Bodyworker. Any person who publicly offers bodywork in return for money. The following definitions clarify the meaning of several words used in the above definitions:

"Compression" does not include static pressure applied to one spot (as in shiatsu and trigger point therapy), but does include pressure that increases and decreases or moves along the body, such as tapotement and friction.

"Health improvement" includes mental, psychological, emotional and spiritual health, as well as the health of the body's immune system, or any other system of the body.

"Pleasure" means the enjoyment of the sensations in the body, but does not include sexual arousal or stimulation of sexual organs.

Recent growth of massage — factors involved

In 1960, the average American had one of two associations for the word "massage." It was thought of either as a prelude to sex or a health club rubdown, heavy on the "karate chops." These images still remain for some people, especially older people whose personal experience of massage has been one or the other of these types. However, the last fifty years have seen phenomenal growth of legitimate, therapeutic and scientific massage. Today, for the first time in American society, massage is considered a conventional treatment for stress reduction, pain relief, treatment of medical conditions and emotional and physical well-being.

Several societal trends have facilitated the rediscovery of the ancient art of massage. The hippie movement in the 1960s, and related consciousness-raising activities, opened doors for massage as a tool for self-exploration and personal transformation. The explosion in fitness activities during the 1970s and 1980s brought acceptance for massage as both a wellness modality and a sports training aid.

In the 1990s, the widespread promotion of chair massage, (also called on-site or seated massage) introduced massage to huge numbers of people who would not have been comfortable undressing to experience massage. Chair massage went into workplaces, shopping malls, storefronts, airports, street fairs, health fairs, and many more locations. It played, and continues to play, a major role in making the general public aware of the benefits of massage, and making it more attractive to a mass market.

The medical community's view of massage has begun to shift as well. Early on, massage was considered an "alternative" treatment - something a patient might choose instead of medical treatment. More recently it has been referred to primarily as a "complementary" therapy - meaning one that adds to or supports other medical practices. The trend now is toward "integrative" medical clinics, which include massage and other modalities with conventional medicine under one roof. Many universities now have such integrative clinics, and hundreds of private integrative clinics have opened across the United States.

As a result of all this growth, massage schools have proliferated (one person described it as an "algae bloom"), the membership of massage organizations has skyrocketed, and massage has evolved from a service for the wealthy to a service accessible to and used by the general public.

The change has been taking place at a different pace in different places. In some parts of the West coast, massage has been popular for so long that there exists a surplus of massage therapists. In contrast, many remote or rural locations still have very little activity in the massage field. However, in most of North America, large numbers of people either have recently become aware of massage, or are ready to be shown for the first time how wonderful and therapeutic massage can be. Most areas are continuing to experience a steady, even dramatic rise in the popularity and availability of massage.

What does the future hold?

People have been doing massage for many thousands of years. Massage was something people were doing before surgery was ever performed, before medicines were prescribed, before science was even conceived, before almost any other human activity you can name. It has lasted these thousands of years because it is good. Much like gold has been the investment of choice throughout much of history because of its inherent value, massage is a part of human culture that has stood the test of time because it has real value for people.

Because massage is a service with inherent value for people, it does not need to have a market created for it in order to be in demand. Instead, massage is naturally in demand as soon as people release the artificial barriers they have against using massage services.

People's barriers to massage

These barriers are 1) anxiety about nudity and about one's own body, 2) fear of making contact with another person or oneself, 3) a belief that spending money on oneself is indulgent or wasteful, and 4) fear of the unknown.

These are significant barriers, but they are the sort of things people tend to outgrow. The more sophisticated our society becomes, the more irrelevant these barriers will seem to the general population. The general societal and scientific acceptance of massage will help these barriers continue to come down in the years to come.

Another issue is affordability. The 1980s saw an increase in income for many, and facilitated the growth of massage in part by creating a larger group of people who could afford it. Price is a factor for many people. The economy experienced a downturn immediately after the World Trade Center tragedy, but most massage therapists felt little or no effect on their practices. Even so, the economy will necessarily play a role in how much massage continues to grow in popularity, and the profession can aid the growth of massage by not pricing itself out of reach of most people.

Finally, the payment for massage services by insurance companies, if widely available, would open a whole new market for massage services. A certain number of potential massage clients will receive massage only if it is covered by their medical insurance policy. Currently, insurance reimbursement plays a minor role in the overall picture of massage therapy, but that factor might be poised to increase sharply. Whether that will change in the near future is one of the topics touched on in the next chapter.


Excerpted from Massage by Martin Ashley. Copyright © 2006 Martin Ashley. Excerpted by permission of Enterprise Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Martin Ashley, JD, LMT, is a practicing attorney and massage therapist. He lives in Somers, New York.

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