How to become a Massage Therapist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Massage Therapist do?
As a massage therapist, you may use your fingers, hands or elbows to stroke, knead and manipulate soft body tissue and bring benefits to clients, such as:
- improved muscle and skin tone
- better circulation
- relief from aches and pains associated with muscle tension, such as headaches
- an increased ability to rid the body of toxins.
Your clients could also include those seeking both physical and emotional healing, for example:
- people who are ill or recovering from a period of sickness
- adults who want to manage stress more effectively
- those suffering with anxiety or depression
- people who want to develop their ability to relax.
You could specialise in a particular branch of massage, such as:
- Indian head massage – using particular oils and techniques to relax the neck, shoulders, head and face
- sports massage – treating sports injuries such as sprains, torn ligaments and broken limbs
- baby massage – helping to calm and bond babies with parents
- body massage (also known as Swedish massage) – working on the whole body, especially the limbs and back.
You would usually begin a session by checking the client’s medical history, diet and lifestyle. During treatment, you would apply pressure to specific areas to ease tension and you may also use essential oils. After treatment, you may give advice to clients about how to maintain and build upon their general wellbeing.
Your hours of work are likely to include evenings and weekends in order to fit in with the needs of your clients.
You could work in a variety of settings such as beauty salons, health spas and fitness centres. You could also work in a healthcare environment, like a hospice or holistic medical centre.
Sessions could take between 15 and 60 minutes, depending on your client’s needs. You would carry out treatments in a quiet room, with a massage table. You may also visit clients in their homes or workplaces.
How much does a Massage Therapist earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Many massage therapists are self-employed and charge a sessional or hourly rate, which can be between £20 and £60 an hour.
- With experience and skills in a range of therapies, earnings can rise to around £40,000 a year.
You may also receive tips from clients and commission for the sale of beauty products.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To work as a massage therapist, professional bodies (such as the General Council for Massage Therapy (GCMT)) suggest you take an in-depth course of at least six months full-time or 12 months part-time. Shorter courses should be seen as an introduction or for general interest only and are not suitable as a preparation for professional practise.
Qualifications are awarded by exam bodies, including the Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT), International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) and CIBTAC (internationally recognised). You may not need any qualifications to get on to a course, but it could be useful to have a GCSE in biology or human biology, or a City & Guilds, VTCT or ITEC Certificate in anatomy and physiology; check with course providers for exact details.
- Vocational Training Charitable Trust
- International Therapy Examination Council
Some courses meet the criteria for membership of a professional body, like the Federation of Holistic Therapists, the Massage Institute and the GCMT – you should check this before you enrol.
To specialise in a particular form of massage, such as baby and infant massage or sports massage, you will need to take additional training in that branch. Check the websites of the Guild of Infant and Child Massage, and the Sports Massage Association for details.
You may be able to get into this job through a beauty therapy Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find our more about Apprenticeships, visit the Apprenticeships website.
A driving licence will be useful if you are self-employed.
Training and Development
You will have access to development programmes and networking opportunities (which may benefit your career), if you join a professional body such as:
- the Federation of Holistic Therapists
- the Massage Training Institute
- the Institute for Complementary and Natural Medicine
- the General Council for Massage Therapy (GCMT).
Check their websites for details and membership criteria.
Organisations from a variety of complementary therapies, including massage therapy, have worked to create a single (voluntary) regulatory body, known as the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). The aim of the CNHC is to protect the public by registering practitioners, setting standards for safe practice and providing a means of redress if things go wrong.
It is anticipated that health professionals and the public will use the CNHC register to check if a therapist is of sufficient standard, so it may help your reputation and business if you are registered.
Massage is one of the first areas to have access to the CNHC register. You can join via your professional body (check with them for details) or directly through the CNHC website.
- Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council
Skills and Knowledge
- the confidence to work closely with clients
- a smart appearance and good personal hygiene
- good communication and listening skills
- the ability to develop empathy with clients
- physical stamina for carrying out a number of treatments a day
- practical skills and good manual dexterity
- the ability to recognise when a client needs to be referred to a qualified medical doctor
- commercial skills to run a business
- the ability to keep accurate and up-to-date client records.
Interest in massage and other complementary therapies has increased considerably in the last 20 years. Many complementary therapies are now being integrated into traditional healthcare to complement more conventional treatments.
You are likely to find most opportunities as a self-employed massage therapist. To be successful you will need to build up and maintain a sound reputation and client base. You will also need to the ability to market your business, which may involve working long hours at first until you have established your practice.
With qualifications and experience, you could go on to train and offer other forms of massage or complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, reiki or reflexology.