How to become a successful massage therapist.
Therapeutic massage is taking on an increasingly important role in integrative healthcare, creating intense demand for licensed massage therapists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects job growth to increase 20% by 2031, with over 25,000 new jobs being added to the field every year.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for massage therapists in the U.S. was $57,060 as of May, 2022. It’s slightly higher in places like New York State ($67,640) where it can rise considerably for key specialties like sports massage (an average income of $96,072).
In other words, massage therapy is a “hot” healthcare occupation — but how exactly does one get into it? Which massage therapy schools are equipped to not only teach you the scientific knowledge behind modern massage therapies but also give you hands-on experience with therapeutic massage in a multitude of settings?
A new Message Therapy certificate program designed for integrative healthcare.
For insight into the leading-edge of therapeutic massage education, and the career opportunities it can open up, we talked to Nicole Miller, an assistant professor and director of the new Massage Therapy certificate program at Northeast College of Health Sciences. You can read an edited version of our conversation below, or listen to the full conversation in this audio clip:
First of all, how do you define massage therapy as a healthcare discipline?
If you look at how various states’ professional regulation departments define massage, you will get many different answers. What I try to help people understand is that massage therapy is a manual therapy, and it has outcomes that influence the biopsychosocial model of care — the biological health, the social health and the psychological health. Massage therapy is a spectrum, research shows it has positive effects on pain, dysfunction or lack of function, sleep, anxiety and depression, stress and more.
What range of people can a massage therapist serve, and what kind of health outcomes can they help achieve?
Everybody can benefit from massage therapy.
It can help people maintain health and function by providing maintenance services. The classic example is people who work out, benefit from massage one or more times a month. Yet we are also finding people of certain age, say over 50, myself included, who find that having massage once a month helps them stay active and reduce general age-related discomforts such as back aches or shoulder pain.
Those are mild health circumstances. Massage therapists also have role in improving moderate healthcare needs, including increasing function or addressing injuries. They can help people who've had hip replacements, or conditions like thoracic outlook syndrome, to name just two applications. And massage therapists can help specific populations. For instance, a lot of my work previously was devoted to massage for veterans and addressing service-related injuries.
That’s at the moderate level. Then, at the severe level, you might find massage therapists working as part of an integrative health care team. For instance, for the last 10 years I've worked at Crouse Health and under the direction of Dr. Christine Kowaleski and Kathleen Miller Murphy, who are the developers of the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression program there. Some of the patients are parents who live with severe anxiety and depression. On a case-by-case basis, we’ve found that psychotherapeutic goals can be achieved faster or better when massage therapy is applied to their overall care plan.
What jobs can massage therapists hold, and want settings do they work in?
There are many different opportunities for massage therapists, whether working collaboratively with primary care providers and medical specialists, helping treat their patients, or treating people on our own within our communities. As a massage therapist you might work in private practice, as part of a multi-disciplinary clinic, at a hospital or major medical center, or even for a sports team. The field is growing exponentially, so there are many different ways that practitioners can practice and also many different types of locations where they can offer services.
Given the professional settings massage therapists work in, how important is it to be certified or licensed?
It is absolutely necessary. In New York State, for example, the state requires a thousand hours of primary education in order to qualify to take the exam — and passing that requires a solid education.
As a national continuing education provider, I have traveled to other states, working with massage therapists who are already licensed to practice. And I can see the difference between states like New York that require a thousand hours of instruction versus states requiring just 500 hours or 750 hours. There's a vast difference. The states with the higher educational requirements have curriculum and content mandates that support an integrative and clinical healthcare model.
Speaking of curriculum and content, what would be your advice to students looking for a massage therapy school?
One of the things that I would suggest right off the how long have the program leaders and faculty practiced massage therapy? What's equally important is if those program managers or faculty have current and vast experiences in the field. For example, a question to ask is whether they have they worked in multiple types of settings? Are they experienced in providing massage therapy as part of integrative healthcare model?
Number two is, do they offer opportunities for off-campus experiential education and learning? Do they arrange for community-based learning experiences? In our program, for instance, students will have opportunities to complete immersion experiences at places like a VSO. A VSO is a veteran service organization which typically supports veterans who have significant service-related injuries. I plan on coordinating clinics at my favorite VSO, Clear Path for Veterans. They’ll apply the content that they learned directly to this specific patient population. We're also in the process of developing similar experiences at Crouse Health for their perinatal program, as well as for those that live with addiction and chemical dependency.
You’ve mentioned some really interesting clinical opportunities. What other things excite you about the new Massage Therapy program at Northeast College?
This program is wonderful. I’m particularly excited that the massage therapy certificate program is offered by a school that's already dedicated to health sciences. Northeast College has a talented and highly experienced group of science educators who will build a strong foundation, an architecture if you will, that will support and strengthen all student learning. This is a great example of that integrative model that I mentioned earlier.
In addition to the instruction and experiential learning experiences, the College offers cutting-edge learning resources that most massage therapy programs do not have. Consider the Computerized Anatomy Resource Lab, and its five Anatomage tables. My first time viewing the tables, I became immediately excited for our future students, knowing they were going to have an unusual experience, one very different from mine. When I was in school 20 years ago, we were allowed just one afternoon at the Upstate Anatomy Lab. I am not only relieved, but thrilled that our student will have many, many afternoons in this advanced lab.
So, how would you sum up the best way to become a message therapist?
As I've said in the past, the best educator is actually the patient, and the next best educator is your colleague. Textbooks, of course, are critical. Instruction by experienced faculty is critical. Yet true, let’s say advanced, learning takes place when you apply knowledge while working with patients, with clients, and with other professionals. That’s how you become a successful massage therapist and that type of learning is exactly what we offer at Northeast College. No matter your choice, no matter your journey or the paths you take to a massage therapy career, I wish all my future massage colleagues good luck. Get ready for a personal and professional transformation!
For more information on the Massage Therapy certificate program at Northeast College of Health Sciences, reach out to us at email@example.com or 315.568.3040.