Massage Therapy Business Tips

The Truth About What It’s Like Being A Massage Therapist

updated on

May 14, 2024

The Truth About What It’s Like Being A Massage Therapist

Being a massage therapist offers a unique blend of challenges and rewards. If you're curious about the reality behind this career, you've come to the right place. This article will uncover the truth about what it's really like to work in this fulfilling field.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The key benefits of being a massage therapist.
  • Common challenges faced in this profession.
  • Insights into the day-to-day realities of the job.

Let's dive into the pros and cons of being a massage therapist and explore whether it might be the right path for you.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Being A Massage Therapist?

There are a lot of great things about being a massage therapist, like the fulfillment that comes from helping people, flexible hours, and professional autonomy. On the flipside, it’s hard to build a client base without experience, and you only get paid when you have clients on your table.

The Pros Of Being A Massage Therapist

Being a massage therapist is a rewarding career. You spend your days helping people who really appreciate you. You don’t have to work long hours, the work environment is pretty chill, and there will always be a demand for your services.

Helping Others

The number one reason most people choose to become a massage therapist is because they want to help people. If you’ve ever had a massage that completely changed your mood, relieved stress or cured a pain you’d been suffering from, you know how impactful massage therapy is.

As a massage therapist, people are almost always happy to see you. In fact, you’re often the best part of their day. What you do makes a real difference in their life, and you get to actually see the benefits of your work. It’s a job where you’re thanked often, and people you just met feel compelled to hug you. 

Flexible Hours

You won’t work 9-5, Monday through Friday, as a massage therapist. In fact, it’s unlikely anyone expects you to work a 40 hour workweek. You’ll make more on the hour than most other professions, which means you don’t need to work as many hours to earn a good living.

Being a massage therapist means shorter shifts, which leads to flexible hours. Nontraditional work hours make it easier to build your schedule around the needs of your family, energy level, and other obligations. People need massage morning, noon, and night, 7 days a week; so there’s a shift that will work with your schedule.

Growing Job Market

Salon and spas used to be where most people went to get a massage, but that’s not true anymore. Today, there are so many job opportunities for massage therapists, in a variety of settings. That’s because massage therapy is now widely accepted as a way to maintain health and recover from injuries.

Job opportunities for massage therapists entering the field are plentiful, including positions in chiropractic offices, medspas, massage clinics, rehab centers, day spas, and more. Not to mention, many therapists eventually go into private practice and start their own business.

High Demand

We need more massage therapists. Currently, there are more people interested in receiving massage therapy on a regular basis than there are therapists to fulfill that need. In recent years, self-care and prevention have moved to the forefront of health & wellness. Many people use alternative therapies to prevent and manage health issues.

It’s become commonplace for healthcare providers to recommend massage therapy to patients as part of their wellness plan. All this emphasis on wellness has created a huge impact on the massage therapist job market. People really need you.

Work Environment

When you’re a massage therapist, you get to choose what kind of setting you want to work in. You can work in an upscale spa or resort, a medical setting, massage clinic, or even out of your home. The diversity of workplace options for massage therapists is vast.

That said, there’s one thing all these workplaces have in common: their low-stress environments. You’re providing a service that only works when clients are relaxed, so your work space is pretty zen. Your clients aren't the only ones that benefit from that calming vibe. 

Multiple Areas Of Speciality

Every massage therapist has a different touch. That’s partly because all massage therapists get to choose the path of their education. Being a massage therapist is different for each individual because there are so many massage modalities to choose from.

If you imagine yourself creating massage therapy treatment plans that help someone recover from an injury or manage pain, there are many massage specialties that do that. Alternatively, you can go into sports massage and work with athletes, or specialize in prenatal massage and spend your days with expecting moms. The possibilities are endless.


Massage therapists have a lot of autonomy because they need it to do their job well. Many companies give massage therapists a fair amount of control over their schedule and workload; so they can manage their energy. Therapists that start their own practice, of course, have total control over their schedule and protocols.

Beyond scheduling, working one-on-one with clients gives you the freedom to base treatment on your own experience and unique skill set. You’re the expert in the room, and your recommendations and insight are the basis of client care.

The Cons Of Being A Massage Therapist

A career in massage therapy is fulfilling but challenging. Its physically demanding nature limits how many clients you can see - and finding clients isn’t easy when you’re just starting out. It will take time and effort to establish a strong client base, build your skills, and streamline operations.

It’s Hard On Your Body

Massage therapy is physically demanding. You must learn to manage your energy, leverage your bodyweight, use good body mechanics, and limit the number of clients you treat to prevent injury. Successful massage therapists are mindful of all these factors, as it’s the only way to sustain a practice long-term.

Taking care of your body is paramount in a career where you use your body to take care of others. You don’t have to be unusually strong to be a massage therapist, but you do have to use your body effectively and efficiently. These are skills you can learn, but there will be some growing pains in the beginning.

Your Hours Are Limited

It’s not possible to provide massage therapy 40 hours a week. For starters, it takes more than an hour to provide a 60 minute session. You need time in between sessions to clean, write SOAP notes for treatment plans, and rest your body.

Full-time massage therapists see 20-25 clients a week, on average. Some therapists see more, but that’s not sustainable for most. Some therapists see fewer clients to lessen the stress on their own bodies. This is very individual, but this decision directly impacts your income. Massage therapists often get paid commission or a flat fee for service, which means they only get paid for the time they spend with clients.

The Occasional Challenging Clients

If you’re going to be a massage therapist you must learn to set and manage boundaries. Massage therapists work in a very intimate environment with their clients. Establishing trust is essential to the therapeutic relationship. That involves respecting your client’s personal boundaries and maintaining your own professional boundaries.

Most massage clients will be wonderful people, who you enjoy working with. However, you’ll also have to learn how to deal with difficult clients. Massage therapists have to set boundaries on their time for their own well-being. Writing a cancellation policy, upholding a strong code of ethics, enforcing company policies (which are hopefully clearly stated on a signed consent form) are all responsibilities of massage therapists. Fortunately, problem clients are rare in massage therapy, but you’ll undoubtedly have a few uncomfortable encounters to manage.

Establishing A Solid Client Base

Attracting new massage therapy clients is the hardest part, at the beginning of your career. In most cases, your employer will market your services for you, but that’s not always enough to build a reliable flow of clients. If you’re working on commission or get paid a flat fee for service, much of the responsibility to obtain and retain clients falls on you.

This will take time. Your income will vary week to week, at least until you have a steady flow of returning customers. Getting clients to come back requires more than doing a good job. You have to build relationships with your clients. That’s what builds loyalty, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Not every client will be a good fit for you, and you need a lot of clients to fill your schedule every week.


Cancellations and no-shows cost you money and waste your time. This is a fact of life for massage therapists who only get paid when they actually see clients. If someone doesn’t show up for their appointment, that leaves an unpaid gap in your workday. You need to be prepared for that variable income and learn how to reduce cancellations and no-shows.

For massage therapists without a cancellation policy, last minute cancellations can be a real problem. However, if you have a cancellation policy and a way to enforce it, it’s less of an issue. If you work for yourself, you have control over how cancellations work, but if you’re employed as a massage therapist, that’s up to your employer.

Licensing And Continuing Education

If you’re serious about being a massage therapist, you have to invest time and money into your education. The process for getting a massage therapy license varies by state. Most states require 500-1,000 of education from an accredited school. Then, you’ll have to pass a licensing exam, and pay a renewal fee to maintain your license to practice every year.

The skills needed to be a massage therapist go well beyond what you learn in your initial education. In fact, many states require massage therapists to complete continuing education to maintain their credentials. Learning new modalities, developing interpersonal skills, and becoming more business savvy is an ongoing process for massage therapists. The learning never ends, but is that really a bad thing? We don’t think so.

Real Advice from a Massage Therapist

Massage therapy is a career path that gives you a lot of freedom, connection, and fulfillment…but you don’t get all of that on day one. It takes a lot longer than you think to hone your skills, build relationships with clients, and learn your limits. That last one is a hard pill to swallow when you’re just starting out and need to make money. Don’t push yourself to do more than you can comfortably do, or your career will be cut short.

If you want to build a successful practice and a long career as a massage therapist, work for someone else before starting your own business. Touch a lot of different clients, trade massage with other therapists, and take as many CEUs as you can afford early on. You’ll learn more doing this than you did in school. And the truth is, you don’t know that much when you finish school.

Once you start retaining clients and have really developed your skills as a massage therapist, think about starting your own practice. This is the most profitable and rewarding path for most massage therapists. It’s also the most common path, and not as hard as you think, especially with the right practice management software -  at least, that’s been my experience.

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