Medical Massage Therapy Career Outlook — Pros and Cons …
Is Massage Therapy Still A Viable Career Choice? …

Viability of a Clinical, Medical Massage Therapy Career

If you’ve been reading various web pages on massage therapy as a career, you’ve most likely seen a wide range of opinions about it; some positive, some not so positive, some outright negative. We’ll try to outline for you the major and most important pros and cons about the massage profession, and what we think about them.

And some minor ones too, as much of the time, it’s the “little things” making or breaking a job or career. And it is, of course, different for everyone. What some people see as a positive “feature,” others see as a negative “bug.”

We’ve both (the authors of this article) been in the massage world for nearly forty years each, and have directly, personally experienced many aspects of it. Hopefully, we can give you some objective perspective on the industry, helping you determine whether this is a good career choice for YOU … or not.

We want happy and successful students graduating from our schools. The last thing we want is students for whom this is not a good career choice.

“We” are David Scott Lynn (DSL) and Kyle C. Wright (KCW).

KCW is founder of the Schools of Advanced Bodywork (SAB) (Charlotte North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida) and also his original five schools, the Southeastern Schools of Clinical Massage in three states (sold to an educational company in 2007).

DSL is founder of many of the core therapeutic principles adopted by Kyle into his curriculum, and taught currently at the SABs and formerly at the Southeastern schools when Kyle owned them.

(It appears the Southeastern Schools management abandoned much or most of what KCW and DSL contributed to the curriculum. Therefor, they were no longer delivering the more overtly clinical, medical and structural aspects of the work.)

KCW of course is widely experienced in many other therapeutic approaches, and adds significant depth and breadth, especially extensive clinical / medical experience, to the curriculum and style & method of teaching.

KCW has owned eight massage schools over the years, and knows a thing or two about running them, as well as dealing with the successes and challenges of literally thousands of students. (Well over 12,000 — that’s twelve thousand! — last time we checked!)

DSL has been more “behind the scenes” in various aspects of the field. He’s more the “mad scientist,” spending much of his time reading thick and expensive medical textbooks and various studies. He’s always looking for more information and understanding on how such things as therapeutic bodywork and yoga (conscious stretching) practice and therapy actually work, and ways to validate them with medical science.

This usually leads to better evaluation and treatment strategies, or avoiding not so good ones.

DSL reads those books so you don’t have to!

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you have. If you like, you can direct your questions to one of us, and we’ll get back to you with an answer ASAP.


So, we’ll have several articles on this overall topic of Medical Massage Therapy Career & Business very soon. This is the first one. … Let’s take a look at what’s being said out there on the more commonly found web pages regarding the viability of massage as a career choice, along with our comments:

Is Massage Therapy A Viable Career Choice?

— Massage Therapy Career Outlook Pros and Cons —

The Following is Quoted FROM: Natural Healers

“Is there demand for this career?”

“As more health care practitioners view massage as an important part of overall patient wellness, the demand for skilled massage therapists has grown. With massage now recognized as a legitimate way to treat injury and mental health issues, places other than spas will look to hire massage therapists.”

“Is this a growing field?”

“According to BLS* data, employment for massage therapists is predicted to grow by 22 percent through the year 2024. […]

(* BLS is Bureau of Labor Statistics)

“For comparison, the average predicted rate for employment growth for other careers is only 7 percent through 2024, making massage therapy a faster-growing field. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions.”

OUR COMMENTS:

Massage Is Not (YET) Widely Accepted As Highly Therapeutic for Medical Conditions and Clinical Settings By Orthodox Medicine

We see orthodox medical doctors, and medicine in general, beginning to more often recommend massage and bodywork to their patients on a more frequent basis. Even more doctors are using massage therapy for their own afflictions, or just managing tension and stress.

More health consumers, the end users, are getting the idea that massage might help them. This increases demand.

HOWEVER, some recent statistics show a DECREASE in people using massage therapy.

We feel that’s because many therapists are NOT trained in how to use and apply clinical / medical massage & bodywork, especially structural bodywork, in an effective and efficient way. The feedback we and our graduated students receive is almost exclusively that it WORKS really well for most of their clients, and most of their clients say no one has ever worked on them the way we teach our students to work.

Based on many efforts by a number of people to bring medical massage more to the forefront of potential choices by Clients, we feel the trend is about to reverse again, and more people will discover the value of soft tissue therapy for many medical conditions.

We believe this overall trend is in its infancy, and just now getting ready to enter a more rapid and expansive growth period.

This will be driven more by grass roots, consumer exploration, education, and demand than any “enlightenment” of the medical, osteopathic or chiropractic professions. And it is up to massage & bodywork therapists to provide the education — the “enlightenment” — to health care consumers. Supported by education from therapists, it is mostly the consumer who will drive the increased demand, not the medical profession.

We Think An Explosion Is Coming In
Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Services

— You Can Only Keep A Secret For So Long —

So we see a BIG pent up yet mostly unrecognized demand for what clinical & medical massage therapy can do, the average health care consumer just doesn’t know it yet. …

Nor do most physicians.

But all that said, you can only keep a secret for so long. And the secret of the effectiveness for massage and bodywork for many health care issues is finally, though slowly, getting known. The message about massage IS getting out.

Therefore, with all the pent up demand and various factors just touched on above, we see a potential high growth in application of massage & bodywork therapies coming very soon. In fact, it’s already started. It’s been growing, but very slowly, for many years.

The key will be for each therapist, and their schools, and their associations, to increase their efforts of educating the public, of getting the word out about the many benefits and successes of properly administered massage & bodywork therapy.

Part Of The Problem is REGULATIONS and Conformity

One of the great achievements of the American Economic Paradigm was to free the creativity, innovation, and productivity of the American people. Yet this became stifled. Massage therapy schools became more focused on conforming to “educational standards” imposed on them by licensing boards and organizations.

Rather than focusing on “pushing the envelope” of innovation and creativity, the schools became more focused on teaching pretty much the same as what everyone else was teaching. Yes, there was / is some leeway in what and how they teach, but you look at the catalogs of most schools and they are very often very much the same.

DSL Says: I recently attended a massage school considered to be one of the best therapeutically oriented schools in the country. I was, on a regular basis, amazed at how often they did not teach extremely relevant and fundamental material to the students. This was material I was teaching in massage school 25 years ago, and with about half the number of hours available for teaching.

A few times, I attempted to address this issue, but was promptly “discouraged” from doing so. I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut rather than “rock the boat.” I attributed this, in part, to the “corporate culture” at the school, and their apparent need to maintain conformity with other schools under their umbrella. … Yet it seemed very short sighted to me.

SO … We feel those therapists who more fully embrace the educational and marketing aspects of their practices, keep pushing the limits on educational content and excellence, AND become more highly skilled at administering highly therapeutic techniques, will prosper beyond what the “average” therapist will achieve.

Programs such as Dr. Michael Koplen’s Chiropractic and Medical Massage Integration can be of great service and help in that direction.

How you can gain those highly therapeutic skills is the MISSION of David Scott Lynn’s DSL Method and Kyle C. Wrights’ Schools of Advanced Bodywork. And accelerating getting that message out to the general public is the topic of a separate article.

Back to more Quotes from the Literature out on the web:

“How much competition will I face for a job?”

“You’ll likely come across the most competition for jobs at high-end spas. Since these facilities are generally more expensive, there may be a higher pay rate, as well as greater opportunities for generous gratuity.”

On Becoming A Massage Therapist

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, reports that the “burn out rate,” that’s massage therapists leaving the profession due to issues like pain, exhaustion, and other more-or-less physical issues, is “estimated at 50 to 88% within the first 3 to 5 years after graduation.” The statistics indicate “over 50,000 students enrolling per year with 45,000 that leave the field annually.”

OUR COMMENT: This “burn out rate” indicates a reduction of supply in therapists.

On one hand, it is scary to think how many people leave the massage field so soon. Yet simple Laws of Supply & Demand say that if this is so, those students who become therapists and also learn how to take care of themselves, and how to avoid injury (preventive self care), will not suffer this fate.

DSL Says: In the massage school I attended recently, very little attention was paid to this. Yes, they taught us a few things, but in my view, no where near enough.

Interestingly, one market opportunity for a clinical / medical massage therapist is getting a reputation for saving the careers of many of those in the field whose body has given out on therm prematurely.

PLEASE SEE our webpage on Self Care and how therapists can better take care of themselves and avoid — or get treated for — the injuries many therapists (we believe unnecessarily) incur from their practice.

MORE from Massage Therapy School Information:

“One of the more attractive aspects of this profession is the income (whether a salary as an employee or profits as a business owner) you can earn relative to the time and resources you invest in your training to become a therapist. Salaries [have] been on the rise due to the sheer demand for the services, the professionalization of the industry and recognition by insurance companies as a health treatment for certain injuries.”

OUR COMMENT: It is remarkable that massage therapy, in only 500 to 1,000 hours of training, can provide a comparatively high income to highly motivated therapists willing to become more highly skilled than most graduates. Yet the skills and legal requirements can be achieved in as little as six to twelve months, sometimes less on a more intensive basis, with a relatively low expenditure of funds.

For Example: a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) position could be considered roughly comparable to the status of a massage therapist.

“Physical therapist assistants made an average salary of $54,330 in 2014. They made a similar wage to occupational therapy assistants, who brought home $57,260 in the same year. Physical therapists, who often work in a supervisory role, made more than physical therapist assistants with a mean wage of $83,940.”

Physical Therapy Assistant Information

The PTA goes to school for two years, or 5 semesters of an accredited associate degree program. Tuition can cost form $5,000 to $20,000, depending on whether attending community college or higher end a private college (comparable to massage school costs). Yet their pay is about $18 to $30 per hour, also comparable to many massage therapists with only 6 to 12 months education TOTAL. Yet motivated, self employed massage therapists can earn $75K or more, some of them well over $100K per year.

Yet because so many massage schools have produced so many new graduates, the law of supply & demand has been driving hourly wages for some therapists down considerably. That segment of the industry is becoming commoditized.

As a thing or service becomes more common, the price or wages tend to go down.

The trick is to NOT be one of those commoditized therapists subject to the market dynamics — the immutable Law of Supply & Demand — driving wages down. (Over the centuries, some people successfully suppress that law, for a while. But in the long run the law always wins, as can be seen in the United State’s medical system today.)

“The biggest disadvantage is inherent in the profession, in the sense that if you were to stop practicing massage in just a few years after graduation, you will have spent a significant amount of time and resources in becoming a licensed therapist in the first place.”

OUR COMMENT: This is true. However, the ratio of investment to return is MUCH lower if you leave the massage profession compared to many other fields, such as a physical therapy assistant, with much higher educational time and costs during that time.

And we see it as our job to make sure YOU are NOT one of those commoditization or burn-out statistics!

“Pay & Salary”

Bureau of Labor Statistics

“The median annual wage for massage therapists was $38,040 in May 2015. [$18.29 per hour]”

OUR COMMENT: This is somewhat misleading. It is true that many therapists are receiving less than $20 per hour, and some of the “better paid” up to $30, even if working in the more “commoditized” end of the industry. This is a natural effect of longer term market forces.

Yet many therapists make $50 to $100 or more per hour, and work a LOT of hours, IF they want to. This might not be the majority of therapists, and certainly not the average. Yet it’s a significant number who are doing far better than $20 or $30 per hour.

It mostly depends on how motivated you are to go out and get your own clients, and achieve the skill levels allowing you to solve more complex soft tissue issues and problems clients might show up with.

The Primary Focus of the DSL Method Trainings & Coaching and Schools of Advanced Bodywork is providing you with the necessary, marketable therapeutic skills, and the marketing skills as well. (The more in-depth marketing training is a continuing education course, but at Kyle’s SABs, they get you started in the 500 hour program.)

“Job Outlook”

“Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Continued growth in the demand for massage services will lead to new openings for massage therapists.”

OUR COMMENT: The question is whether that growth will be more in the commoditized (lower wage) end of the industry, or the more exclusive, higher earning end?

And as we’ll discuss below, there has been an “unexpected downturn” in the number of massage school graduates and those who stay in the profession after graduation.

“Pay” (continued)

“The median annual wage for massage therapists was $38,040 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,860.”

OUR COMMENT: Again, this might well be the average. But there are many exceptions.

“Most massage therapists earn a combination of wages and tips.”

“About half of massage therapists worked part time in 2014. Because therapists work by appointment in most cases, their schedules and the number of hours worked each week vary considerably. In addition to devoting hours giving massages, therapists may spend time recording clients’ notes, marketing, booking clients, washing linens, and conducting other general business tasks.”

OUR COMMENT: If you choose the massage profession, the only question is, which end of the marketplace will you aim for? The lower end, or the higher end? If you’re in the higher end, you’ll be able to pay to have those sheets washed for you!

If you’re in the higher end, you will probably NOT be receiving tips. “Regular” massage is seen more as a “service” industry, whereas clinical / medical massage is more overtly a health care profession, similar to physical therapy.

“Job Outlook”

“Employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Continued growth in the demand for massage services will lead to new openings for massage therapists. … Employment projections data for massage therapists, 2014-24”

ON THE OTHER HAND (pun not intended):

Massage Today Online

“School Developments”

“Over the last 25 years, the number of massage schools has grown to approximately 1,600 schools. The 2008 market collapse and resulting recession have had a dramatic affect on all massage school programs. Whether sole proprietor, career training institute or corporate-owned school, enrollments have dropped significantly. […]”

“In summary, we have 300 fewer schools in the massage universe since 2009. Student enrollments are down 18.8% since 2011, and down 50% since 2005. We have 50% more schools then we had in 1998, yet we are educating a similar number of students. More schools and fewer students make for a highly competitive and fractured market.”

OUR COMMENT: This trend was offset by what some people consider to be a “debacle” in the industry. Many of the traditional, small, “Mom & Pop” schools — usually owned and operated by long-time, well experienced, highly skilled massage therapists — were bought up in the 2000s by a comparatively small number of “big box” or “corporate” educational companies.

Most corporations did this as a purely a financial opportunity derived from the availability of federal funding. Schools qualified for federal funding were seen as “cash cows” and became a target industry for the corporate “bean counters” who were only concerned with how many dollars could be generated. They had approximately ZERO real appreciation for massage / bodywork as a healing art & science, and had even less appreciation of, let alone ability on, how to train effective and valuable therapists.

This is an example of how “financialization” can destroy an industry, and often does. Especially if it’s on the way to commoditization! Commoditization plus Financialization can lead to some very BIG problems, especially when those pesky Laws of Supply & Demand enter the picture.

Because massage therapy is not like McDonalds or Burger King, or a laundromat, where pretty much anybody can take an order or operate the machinery, the newly corporatized massage industry got caught in a bind. They had NO IDEA what massage was really about, nor how to train great therapists.

Mr. Ralph Stephens, a long time massage therapist, national educator, and former AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) board member, wrote that increasing numbers of spa owners were considering closing down their massage departments because they could not find great therapists. They were getting too many complaints from patrons of their spas or clinics.

This article in Massage Today, an on-line publication, written by Ralph, appeared way back in 2008. Quoting the opening paragraph …

“The backlash against our profession has finally begun. I was asked by a resort spa to do special medical massage training for its staff. In the conversation, the spa manager confided that it is getting harder to sell massages to guests. The reason he gave was that guests have received too many lousy massages at resorts and spas. They have either been injured or received a less-than-relaxing rubdown that did not help them at all, so they have written off massage. Therefore, these affluent guests, who can afford our services out-of-pocket, are writing off our profession as worthless, or worse, dangerous. This is the beginning of the backlash against the massage profession. I am surprised it has taken so long.”

OUR COMMENT: The UP-side here, of course, is if many spa and clinic owners have had a more difficult time finding great therapists to “wo-man” their facilities, this is a market opportunity for very well trained and skilled therapists who can “do the job” Clients want and expect.

If you are trained at one of the Schools of Advanced Bodywork, you can certainly “do the job.” If you are already a therapist, and want more education along these lines, please check out DSL’s On-line Training & Coaching or his Live, In-Person Programs.

ONE PROBLEM:  So many people will do ANYTHING to avoid having to do more effective and efficient marketing. Yet if you want to make massage therapy a viable career choice, and have a higher income, this is one process you might have to embrace. Or hire a good marketing firm, which will cost some money. Otherwise, you might have to settle for commodity pricing and wages.

Even so, even $20 to $30 per hour is a pretty good wage for most people, compared to many of the jobs out there.

“Shock Waves” in the Industry

“Despite these challenges, many schools have adapted and enhanced their programs to meet the needs of the 21st century student and the current marketplace. Yet, many graduates still struggle to establish an economically viable practice in these weak financial times. Interestingly, we also hear from many spa and massage franchise owners that there are not enough quality massage therapists. The somewhat contradictory nature of these developments can be bewildering and they merit some meaningful discussions between schools, educators and employers.”

“How can we have so many schools, yet so few “quality” therapists? Looking over the data from the 2013 survey, four of the five categories of schools have less than 25 students per year and even the career schools average only 85 graduates per year. I speculate that these smaller programs have only one or two teachers in the classroom and the teachers may not have extensive teacher training but are rather content experts; a successful therapist in town.”

OUR COMMENT: This quote tells us what Ralph Stephens warned us about back in 2008 is just as valid today, if not more so. Very frequently, schools hire recent graduates who’ve never had a practice to teach their classes. Many of them have not had much real experience upon which to teach effectively.

“This scenario has played out many times over the past decade as massage schools expanded into Corporate/CC/University settings. [CC = Community College.] These schools tend to hire content experts with some experience in the field and then recruit from alumni when seeking replacement teachers or teaching assistants. Teacher pay is not known to be more than $25/hour at most colleges and universities. Teachers in these small career training or community colleges are operating without much peer support and tend to have a high turnover rate.”

OUR COMMENT: When choosing a school, the education and experience of the teachers can be the make or break factor as to whether you are successful or not in your career as a massage therapist.

The Schools of Advanced Bodywork and Kyle C. Wright are very careful to ensure the highest quality teachers in the industry. To learn more about DSL’s teaching skills, you can start with his Testimonials from massage therapists.

On Massage School Accreditation

“Growth within the massage education industry has ended. Will your school thrive, survive or close? Could acceptance of voluntary accreditation and the imposition of strict standards for licensure, training and enforcement create more consolidation, weed out weak schools and force the remaining schools to step up their game? Massage as a ‘growth’ center peaked back in 2010, and has been on a downward trend ever since.”

OUR COMMENT: More than a few schools have closed in the last several years, leaving their students hanging without ability to complete their education. And often without return of their funds.

MORE COMMENTS FROM DSL

How we see it is the “Big Box Schools” pretty much destroyed the integrity and quality of the industry. I (DSL) recently attended a corporate massage school, a full course of 720 hours. It has a reputation of being among the best schools in the industry and country, especially for therapeutic massage and bodywork.

I (DSL) was, frankly, very disappointed by what they did NOT teach us. Stuff that’s been easily available to the massage industry for nearly 30 years, relatively easy to understand, far more relevant to practice than much of what they taught us, and in our belief critical for true, deep understanding of the profession. Yet it was all nearly ignored. This is stuff I was teaching 25 years ago, when it was not well known, if at all. But in the ensuing years, that information should have become widely available to new massage therapists.

Yet, many graduates from a number of schools around the country have told me they were disappointed in what they did not learn, and thought they should have. They knew enough to know there was something missing from their education. They just did not know what it was.

To be fair, many of the students of the school I attended WERE able to give a VERY good, standard, relaxation massage only after five weeks of school. But at the end of the program (about 7 months), many of my fellow students admitted to me in private that when it came to the therapeutic side of the work and developing reliable strategies, they really had no really good idea of what they were doing nor why.

Delivering a basic massage stroke is one thing. Just “doing the routines” can produce certain limited results in some situations. But truly DEEP understanding of how the body functions, and how massage & bodywork work, is a much higher level of thinking, feeling and being.

The main thing going to that school did for ME was validate that what I was teaching in massage schools beginning in 1989, and KCW adapted for his schools in 1993, is just as necessary and valid today as it was back then.

Kyle C. Wright has continued to refine the process of teaching top quality therapists ever since.

DSL has also continued developing and refining the work.

Thank You For Reading Our Page …
on the massage therapy career outlook pros and cons!

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David Scott Lynn (DSL)

Beginning at 13 years of age, DSL's been involved with alternative philosophies & practices most of his life. Becoming a yoga teacher in 1976, then a hands-on bodyworker in 1981, he developed a unique & highly effective form of Yoga / Bodywork / Whole Health Fitness & Therapeutics. … David wrote the chapters on a wholistic philosophy & physiology of bodywork & stretching for the textbook Structural Balancing, published by McGraw-Hill, Inc. in 2010. … He is the author of Simple Steps to Let-Go Yoga, available at: www.letgoyoga.com/simple-steps/ … Several other e-books and e-courses are soon forthcoming at www.letgoyoga.com/dsl-publications/ … David consults with Kyle C. Wright on massage school development at the Schools of Advanced Bodywork at http://kylecwright.com/structural-balancing-a-clinical-approach/co-author-dsl/
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