Massage therapists work in the field of body manipulation to provide relaxation and promote healthy functioning of the body systems. Through the use of pressure they target the skin, joints, muscles, and connective tissues. Massage may also be used to address the lymphatic and gastrointestinal systems. With a history dating back to ancient China, Japan, Greece, and Egypt, the practice of massage is both an ancient healing technique and a vastly varied one. Currently, there are in excess of eighty different recognized massage techniques. Massage therapists typically use hands and elbows, but different techniques require foot and whole body involvement. Styles of massage therapy include Thai and Swedish, other techniques included in bodywork include reflexology, acupressure, and trigger point therapy.
Although there are a wide variety of settings from spas to health care clinics that employ massage therapists, many are self-employed and may work part-time as a second job. Wages vary considerably based on full or part-time practice and place of employment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median hourly wages were almost $17.00 in May 2009. Rates of pay range from less than $8.00 to more than $33.00, with the middle fifty percent of hourly pay falling between $11.00 and $25.00. Many therapists work only part-time as a second job so yearly earning can range widely. Gratuities make up a portion of earnings for most massage therapists.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Benefits for self-employed and part-time therapists are minimal. The highest paying positions are in specialty hospitals, dental offices, junior colleges, civic and social organization, and outpatient care centers. Wages vary by region with the top paying states being Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Delaware, and New York.
Training and Education Requirements
Massage therapy requires a high school diploma and specialized training at a massage therapy school. The main coursework involves anatomy and physiology so that the massage therapist has an extensive knowledge of the human body, each organ system and tissue, and their functions. Kinesiology gives students the required familiarity with how human motion is achieved and how the physics of the structural system of the body. Pathology, or the study of disease, and nutrition are also studied. Various forms of massage and related bodywork techniques can lead to one or more specialties from the many techniques that are recognized. Ethics and issues of practice, along with the history of massage are also included in most curriculums. Interpersonal communication skills are of great importance when dealing with clients and coursework generally includes this area.
In addition, since many massage therapists are self-employed, a strong foundational basis in business helps guarantee success in running their own businesses. Tax laws, financing, budgeting, accounting principles, and marketing are all areas that entrepreneurs must have a firm knowledge of.
The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) is one of the independent agencies that has the task of accrediting schools offering courses in massage therapy, assuring that the schools that hold their accreditation comply with the most current professional practices. Well over 100 schools are accredited by this association, recognized by the US Department of Education. Other schools are accredited by state governments. In order to receive licensing in most states, the massage school attended must have accreditation. Some states further require massage therapists to stay current by taking continuing education courses.
Many schools offer day, evening, and weekend classes to fit the schedules of working students. Coursework leading to certification can generally be completed in under a year.
Continuing education for massage therapists include an Associate of Occupational Studies degree requiring approximately six months of additional study. Core classes consist of advanced bodywork, medical massage, trauma and how it affects the body, and other advanced learning. Different areas of specialization may include canine massage, sports and orthopedic massage, and massage techniques specific to life stages including pregnancy and geriatric. Specific areas such as these can also be awarded in advanced certificate training. Many bodywork techniques fall into the massage therapy category and offer wide ranging choices for continuing education work.
Job Description and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were over 122,000 massage therapists in 2008. Of these, well over half were self-employed. Of the self-employed, most run their own businesses or may work as independent contractors for spas, health clinics, and other facilities. Physicians and chiropractors may hire full time massage therapists or contract with independent therapists. Spas, sports centers, and upscale hotels also hire massage therapists.*
This is a career predicted by the BLS to grow faster than average with a 19% increase between 2008 and 2018. An aging population and a general increasing trend towards seeking complementary and alternative health services helps ensure that this profession will continue its growth. Licensing has lead to more respect for these services and their providers.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Massage therapists work in a variety of conditions, from temporary chair massage in a shopping mall or hospital setting to up-scale spa environments. Many massage therapists have mobile services, traveling to nursing homes, patients’ homes, or sporting clinics. The self-employed purchase their own equipment including massage tables and chairs. They must also carry liability insurance purchased through one of the massage therapist associations.
As of 2009, there are certification and licensing requirements in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Although each state’s requirements are different, most call for between 500 and 1000 hours at an accredited massage therapy school. Passing the National Certification Exam in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is required by many states for licensing. Most accredited schools fully prepare students for this exam. Due to the speed at which laws change, check with individual states and local governments for the most recent requirements.
Professional associations include the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), the International Massage Association (IMA). and the Massage and Bodywork Association.
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