14 Skills Needed to Be A Successful Massage Therapist

Published on July 9, 2020 by arothstein

Woman sitting on a massage table pays her massage therapist for the services

Looking for a job in a growing field? There is an increased demand for massage therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for massage therapists are projected to grow by 22-percent from 2018 to 2028. For motivated students with a keen interest in health and wellness, it’s an unprecedented opportunity. The key to success is understanding what to expect and cultivating the right skills.

What Does a Massage Therapist Do?

The human body has 700 muscles that work together to keep the body in motion, it’s a delicate balance prone to stress and injury. Massage therapists work directly with clients to relieve pain, rehabilitate injuries and reduce stress through touch and a calming sensory experience.

Manipulating soft tissue is proven to alleviate stiffness, improve flexibility and contribute to a greater sense of physical and mental well-being, while modalities such as heat and scent enhance relaxation. It’s an ancient practice dating back more than 5,000 years.

There are many types of massages, including:

The type of massage offered depends on the client’s needs and their physical condition. Each has unique benefits, such as:

Massage therapists can offer services solely for relaxation, but massage is now embraced by both mainstream and alternative medicine as an effective complementary health practice. Some doctors have referred patients for massage as a complement to traditional medical treatment.

Massage therapists work in a broad range of settings. Vocational school graduates can work for an established spa or one of dozens of national spa franchises. Some opt to work as independent contractors, serving their own clients in a rented space, while others choose to start a fixed or mobile business.

Skills for Success as a Massage Therapist

Whether massage therapists work in one location or on the go, it takes unique skills to be successful. These skills include physical stamina, dexterity, communication, active listening, compassion, problem solving skills, commitment to learning, time management, business savvy, financial management, good hygiene, open-mindedness, customer service, and a positive attitude.

Skill #1: Physical Stamina

How massages are done varies, but massage therapists spend most of the day on their feet. A full body massage can last up to 90 minutes and may require standing, bending and kneeling. Portable chair massages require moving equipment and traveling from place to place. Services are scheduled when clients are free, so some days can be long. Massage therapy isn’t a physically grueling job, but strength and endurance are a must.

Skill #2: Dexterity

Massage therapists apply pressure to soft tissues to help them relax. Techniques require pushing, pulling and kneading with the arms, hands, fingers and shoulders, but movements must be precise to have the expected effect. It’s a skill that requires upper body strength, flexibility and coordination.

Skill #3: Communication Skill

Communication influences every aspect of massage therapy, from attracting clients to describing its many therapeutic benefits. A warm demeanor and the ability to convey ideas articulately is what gets people through the door, but it’s sound rapport that converts them into customers. Comfort and confidence with conversation is a plus.

It’s also vital in the electronic age to be well-versed in communicating online, most people shop for services on the internet. Promotional material sent via text or e-mail, as well as advertising on social media platforms, are powerful marketing tools, but messages should be clear, concise and relevant.

Skill #4: Active Listening

Good communication is easier said than done, but active listening makes it more effective. The goal of active listening is less to hear what clients say than to understand what they mean. It requires being focused and watchful during conversation, paying attention to the verbal cues and body language that reflect what someone is thinking.

The actual technique calls for engaging with customers through eye contact and welcoming body language, so they feel comfortable and open discussing what they want. Offering verbal feedback based on their cues encourages them to be forthcoming.

This is especially critical when speaking to people who are not familiar with massage therapy. It’s easier for massage therapists to sell clients the right services when they understand their needs.

Skill #5: Compassion

Compassion is the art of seeing things from alternative points of view. It helps massage therapists identify the physical and psychological barriers that prevent people from getting massages.

For example, while experienced massage therapists are accustomed to close physical contact with clients, being touched by a stranger feels uncomfortable to some. Others may be reluctant to undress because of body image concerns.

The best way for a massage therapist to build a client base is to view their services through the eyes of others, to anticipate clients’ questions, establish expectations and adapt services to meet their needs.

Skill #6: Problem Solving Skill

Everyone needs something different from a massage, so no two treatment plans are ever the same. Clients may have physical limitations or time restrictions that require adapting massages for unique circumstances. A successful massage therapist needs enough clients to generate sufficient income, so improving accessibility to massage through problem-solving is critical.

Skill #7: Commitment to Learning

Like other types of science-based therapy, massage evolves. Techniques improve as researchers learn more about the benefits of bodywork. The most successful massage therapists stay abreast of new approaches through continuing education and membership in professional organizations, such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). The more types of massage a therapist can offer, the more clients they can serve.

Skill #8: Time Management Skill

Owning a business sounds glamorous, but it’s a significant time commitment. Generating revenue is always a company’s top concern, so it’s tempting to set aside small tasks such as answering e-mail and reconciling the books in favor of booking appointments.

But that eventually means spending nights and weekends at the office or the kitchen table wrapping up loose ends, which can lead to frustration and burnout. Staying caught up with routine tasks by taking full advantage of downtime is the simplest path to job satisfaction.

Skill #9: Business Savvy

Millions of Americans have had a massage at least once, and millions more would like to try it. For massage therapists with an entrepreneurial spirit, it’s an exciting business opportunity with virtually endless growth potential.

Graduates of massage therapy programs are work-ready with all the skills necessary for success, and with a little business savvy, they can be their own boss. Some massage therapists choose to open offices in a fixed location, but the initial investment can be high. A cheaper alternative is chair massage.

Chair massage is similar to table massage in most ways, except that clients kneel forward in an adjustable chair equipped with a chest pad and face cradle. Unlike massage tables, chairs cost less, they’re portable and they require less space to use. Lightweight and quick to set up, they store in a closet and fit in the back of a car for transport. And because clients stay fully clothed, there’s no need for privacy or changing spaces.

Payments can be accepted via cell phone and a mobile processing app or paid for by a sponsoring business. Portable chair massages are a perk many companies offer their employees as part of workplace stress management programs.

Skill #10: Financial Management Skill

Some businesses fail in the first year because of poor financial management. Massage therapists who work independently must maintain healthy cash flow so they can pay for expenses such as rent, utilities, and supplies. It takes a grasp of basic accounting to succeed, yet it’s not much different from managing a household budget.

An accountant can help with big picture issues, including taxes and financial planning. Still, massage therapists are responsible for tracking daily income and expenses on an ongoing basis and making balanced spending decisions.

Skill #11: Good Hygiene Habits

Some germs are transmissible through skin contact, so like health professionals, massage therapists need good hygiene habits to prevent the spread of disease. Most vocational school training programs cover health basics, including environmental cleanliness and equipment sanitation. It’s an integral part of practicing safely, and it’s mandatory in states that inspect and license massage therapy practices.

Skill #12: Open-mindedness

It’s a small world. Today’s massage therapists can expect to treat clients from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom will have different expectations for their services. Different cultures, for example, have varied customs about dress during a massage.

Massage is a professional, yet intimate service, similar to healthcare, so it can bring out both gratitude and anxiety in people. Some clients may be pleasant, while others may be socially awkward or challenging to work with, especially during the first visit. Only empathy and open-mindedness can open the door to profitable long-term relationships.

Skill #13: Customer Service Skill

Good customer service increases profits. Losing just one regular client out of ten can lower a massage therapist’s revenue by a substantial amount. Why? Because satisfied clients spend more money.

What does providing quality customer service entail? Clients rate punctuality and respectful communication at the top of the list for musts. Convenient hours, a pleasant atmosphere and a choice of payment methods are even more important.

Lack of personalized attention is a clients’ biggest concern, followed by slow responses to inquiries and unexpected charges. Massage therapy is a holistic practice, the best way to retain customers is to offer an excellent start to finish experience.

Skill #14: A Positive Attitude

Working in a people-centric industry can be demanding, it’s not easy for anyone to smile through distractions, such as illness or a problem at home. But clients pay good money for massages, and they expect massage therapists to be attentive, focused and positive.

The goal of massage therapy is wellness, so as the professional in charge of a session, it’s up to the massage therapist to set a constructive tone by being positive about the process. Results can never be guaranteed but being optimistic builds client confidence. Since most of a massage therapist’s income comes from repeat customers, it’s an essential skill that improves the bottom line.

Final Thoughts

Massage is a research-proven therapy. It’s used worldwide to bring better health to people suffering from stress and chronic pain. Millions of Americans received massages last year, but a greater number of people could benefit from more readily accessible services. Now is the perfect time for wellness enthusiasts to be part of the solution by training for a rewarding career as a massage therapist.

Did learning about the skills a massage therapist needs to be successful interest you? Ready to start a program to become a massage therapist? Broadview University developed the Massage Therapy certificate program with your future in mind. The certificate program is designed to emphasize skills and knowledge for entry-level employment as a massage therapist. The Massage Therapy program at Broadview University prepares students to take the MBLEx licensing exam offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Board (FSMTB). Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible for professional membership in such associations as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP).

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist.

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