How to Become a Massage Therapist
Massage therapy is being increasingly used by Canadians of all ages to get relief from a variety of physical and emotional challenges. It’s used for pain management, to improve joint mobility, circulation and immune system function and to promote mental wellness. According to Mike Nurse, Director of Admissions at Toronto’s Sutherland-Chan School of Massage Therapy, the increased need and demand for therapeutic massage therapy is good news for students who are studying to enter the field.
“While I believe the ‘golden age’ of massage therapy is still ahead of us,” says Nurse, “the job prospects have never been better.
Graduates are “finding it easy to get employed”
“Massage therapy is clearly part of modern healthcare today,” says Nurse. “In recent years, the massage therapy job market has continued to expand and almost all of Sutherland-Chan’s recent graduates are finding it easy to get employed.”
Registered massage therapists assess the soft tissue and joints of the body and provide treatment of physical dysfunction by manipulation to maintain or rehabilitate physical function or relieve pain. Massage therapy has also proven to be effective in alleviating a number of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Increased utilization of therapeutic massage therapy “is a result of increased acceptance of Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) practices,” says Nurse. “Massage therapy sits at the intersection of mainstream medicine and CAM, so doctors refer clients to massage therapists and insurance companies include it in health and wellness plans.”
Therapeutic Massage versus Pampering Massage
The proven benefits of therapeutic massage therapy distinguish it from the pampering massages that clients receive in a spa or salon—a distinction Nurse feels is important to make. Sutherland-Chan teaches massage therapy “from a clinical therapeutic approach,” says Nurse.
“Anyone teaching it as part of the health and beauty industry is not teaching massage therapy,” he adds. “The person who does your nails may massage your hand but that is not massage therapy. The person who gives you a facial may massage your face but that’s not massage therapy.”
Students who undergo the kind of rigorous training at institutions like Sutherland-Chan graduate with the qualifications to work in hospitals, nursing and long-term care homes, medical clinics, and for health and fitness clubs and sports organizations. Also, unlike those who work in the spa and salon industry, the therapeutic practice of massage therapy is regulated in three provinces—Ontario, B.C. and Newfoundland—with the rest, says Nurse, “on a journey to regulation.”
Regulation requires students to follow a prescribed education and sit for required exams. Once those requirements are met, the government—not a school or individual–decides if you qualify as a massage therapist. Each province has its own Scope of Practice that clarifies what is and isn’t defined as massage therapy. Prospective clients are encouraged to look up a massage therapist’s credentials to verify that they’re members in good standing with their province’s Massage Therapist Associations.
Is Therapeutic Massage Therapy The Right Career For You?
Nurse describes the ideal candidate for a career in massage therapy as “anyone seeking a career in a regulated health profession, who enjoys working with people or who is attracted to a flexible and portable career.”
Registered massage therapists are in a great position to be self-employed, but a strong business sense is necessary to build a successful practice. Everything from supplies, clinic rental fees, web site design and marketing will take a bite out of the profits. For those interested in taking the self-employment route, Sutherland-Chan offers business classes that teach employment and self-employment skills as well as courses that cover the legislative and regulatory knowledge required of practicing massage therapists.
Nurse does have some sound advice for students who are thinking of entering the profession.
“Research, research, research,” he says. “Talk to registered massage therapists. Talk to grads. Visit schools. Get local knowledge from those that hire RMTs.”
If you’re interested in a career in therapeutic massage therapy, here are just some of the schools that offer diploma programs: