“So what do you want to be when you grow up?” asks my Auntie to my five year old self.
Looking her straight in the eye, I thoughtfully respond, “I want to be a muscular therapist. I want to rub oils and lotions onto mostly naked people to make them feel better. I want to learn to lie about what I do to men I meet in clubs and bars when I get older because they won’t be able to wrap their brains around this idea in any sort of adult fashion. And don’t worry, “ I say to my Auntie’s horrified expression, “I’ll always answer kindly to those people who ask me well into my forties if I’m still doing ‘that massage thing’ as though it’s been a cute little hobby of mine all along akin to making shrinky dinks.”
Disclaimer: The above is not a true story, but wouldn’t it have been cool if it was? And I would just once like to respond like this to the next person who innocently asks me if I always knew that I wanted to be a massage therapist. Because, well…just because.
No one knows that they want to do massage for a living until it happens. That could be changing a little as it’s as viable a career choice as cosmetology these days. But in the 1970’s? No way. When people ask how I got here, I always say through a long line of confusion. I always wanted to be dancer. Or lawyer. Or psychologist. But mostly a dancer. So I got my BA in psychology with a minor in modern dance. And then I became a waitress….for a really long time. Because I had no idea what I wanted. And then I decided I should be an astrologist or maybe an herbalist or maybe an acupuncturist and that distilled itself down to massage because going back to massage school was affordable and geographically desirable. And voila – 23 years later, here I am still practicing massage.
And whether luxury or necessity, purchasing therapeutic massage sessions is expensive. Call it an investment in your health (which it is) or call it an exclusive service (which it can be), it means having to have disposable income equal to half a week’s groceries or so. I receive fairly regular massage because I barter sessions with other therapists. If not, I wouldn’t be getting it as often as I’d like. Or would I? Why is massage so expensive and does it have to be?
Though I have no regrets with my career choice, it’s not always easy and it much more involved and expensive to maintain than you would think. For starters, most states require licensing. That costs between $50 – $200 annually. Many therapists like myself are licensed in more than one state. And if you own your own business, you need a $100 – $200 a year establishment license. In order to be state licensed you frequently need to be nationally certified. The initial cost of that is $250 and $85 every two years after that. In order to maintain these licenses and certifications, you need to take continuing education. You need approximately 12 credits a year and the price varies widely depending on the courses. I’ll base this on my last workshop which was 32 credits and cost $800. Yes, I took more than is necessary for the two year period and the credits don’t carry over, but it was an oncology certification that I will actually use as opposed to choosing something convenient and cheap like say an online course about ringworm (yes, they really do offer this for massage therapists) that, fingers crossed, I won’t ever, ever need to know. Oh and then there’s insurance which generally comes through a professional association. Mine is the American Massage Therapy Association which is $235 a year. I personally am also a member of a chamber of commerce like group – $110 year and of the Society for Oncology Massage – $75 year.
I’m not going to factor in initial schooling since it’s not an ongoing expense, but will just mention that the current rate if you’re thinking about going to massage school, is in the ballpark of $6000. – $10,000. An average massage therapist might see about 20 clients a week. That sounds so great, right? Full time pay for only part time work? If only! Those 20 hours are what is bringing in actual money. There’s also many hours behind the scenes that are part of the career, but not paid out in real time. Things like scheduling appointments, returning phone calls and emails and texts, writing newsletters, creating and maintaining your websites, record keeping, book keeping, supplies, creating marketing materials, doing the actual marketing, staying current with social media and blogs (shockingly, no one will be handing me a check for sitting here doing the research and writing this post!), etc. And laundry. Endless, endless laundry!!
Now if you work in an office for yourself, you pay for rent, supplies (linens, oils, tissues), web hosting, domain name, paper products etc. Costs for this stuff can be anything, but let’s say rent is a modest $400 month, web-site $20, supplies $25. I’m not including start up costs like furniture and office equipment. And if you have children there is child care that you pay for whether or not your client forgets about their appointment. Being self employed, there are no paid sick days, vacation, jury duty days, personal days, discounted movie tickets, company dinners or picnics, health insurance or any other benefits. There are so many other ways to incur costs as well, like online booking programs, advertising, linen services, conferences/summits, and on and on and on…
Now if you’re still with me and your eye haven’t glazed over, I want to mention the current massage landscape which is making it really difficult for independent massage therapist to maintain 20+ clients a week. When I first started doing massage in 1993, it was very difficult to find a job. This legit touchy feely stuff was still new and a little suspect. Then, it got really great as people discovered the benefits of massage and the demand was high. Now there are massage franchises popping up on every corner like laundromats in the big city. They have a fantastic business model with membership based programs which give the consumer a monthly massage for approximately $50. But their therapists are only making approximately $17 an hour so it’s mostly new grads with high staff turnover.
And then there are Groupons and the like where you can get a weekly massage for around $35 a session if you’re willing to travel around and never see the same therapist twice. The franchises make up the difference in price with volume and the fact that many customers won’t use their allotted massage every month. And look closely, a lot (not all) of the Groupon businesses will end up going out of business or take a long time to be able to honor your appointment because one therapist can physically see only so many clients a week. There is something to be said of finding and sticking with a massage therapist who is experienced in the kind of massage that works for you. Someone with whom you know what to expect and feel comfortable with. And that person will get to know you and will remember that you hate to have your toes massaged, but you like country music and having the heating pad on your back. Personally, if I cut back on take out coffee and clip coupons for my groceries especially for the easy stuff like toothpaste and cleaning supplies, there’s my monthly massage money. So, I guess I would get regular massage if I wasn’t able to trade sessions. How about you?