Massage Therapist/Practitioner

The Job and What's Involved

Massage therapists/practitioners manipulate the soft tissues of the body to promote the health and well-being of their clients.

They are trained to apply a series of movements, such as stroking (effleurage), kneading (petrissage) and tapping (tapotement), in ways that are medically safe and have therapeutic effects. The aim is to release tension and stimulate the healing process.

Depending on the client's needs, practitioners may work on the whole body or focus on certain areas, such as the head, neck or back. They may work directly on the skin or through the client's clothes. Suitably qualified practitioners sometimes apply oils, lotions and creams.

Clients visit massage practitioners for a range of reasons, including:

- Relaxation
- Relief from injuries, muscle fatigue and other pains
- Stress reduction
- General well-being

Apart from conducting the treatment itself, a practitioner may:

  • Ask questions to find out about the client's medical history and general well-being.
  • Settle the client comfortably on a treatment couch or chair.
  • Talk to the client during the massage to gauge their response to the treatment.
  • Keep confidential records for each client.

There are many different varieties of massage. A practitioner may specialise in one, or use techniques from several styles. Some of the most common include:

Swedish massage: which forms the basis for most treatments and covers the whole body, especially the limbs and back.

Deep tissue massage: which uses slow strokes and deep finger pressure to release tension.

Indian head massage: which promotes relaxation through the shoulders, neck, upper arms and face, as well as the scalp.

Sports massage: designed to prevent or treat athletic injuries and to boost performance.

Aromatherapy massage: which uses essential oils to treat specific conditions.

Hours of work vary. Some practitioners in beauty treatment centres work full time, including some weekend and evening work. However, many massage practitioners are self-employed. They may also offer evening or weekend sessions to fit in with their clients. Part-time work is common.

Sessions can last from around 20 minutes for a simple head massage to two hours for a more intensive treatment.

Practitioners/therapists work in many locations including beauty salons, health spas, hotels, leisure centres and care homes. Some practise in hospitals. Others work from their own homes, visit patients' homes or practise on-site massage, which involves visiting a workplace to offer treatments to employees.

Practitioners normally work in a treatment room, which needs to be warm and peaceful. When relaxation is the aim, therapists may play gentle music or use scents and soft lighting to create a pleasing atmosphere.

Massage is usually carried out while standing and bending over the client, and so requires physical stamina. It is important to be clean and well presented. Therapists may wear a uniform.

Massage training helps therapists protect their own health by teaching them techniques of good posture and ways to avoid repetitive strain injury in the hands and wrists.

Depending on the location of their workplace, a driving licence may be useful.

Newly qualified therapists may earn around £11,000 a year. With more experience, earnings may rise to £15,000.

Specialists working in private practice may earn £40,000 or more.

Fees per session start at around £25 per hour, plus expenses, and may rise to around £60 for more experienced therapists/practitioners.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The increasing popularity of complementary therapies means there has been a growth in opportunities to practise massage. As well as being traditionally a 'luxury' treatment, it is now being used alongside conventional treatment as part of patient care in hospitals, hospices and care homes.

It is possible to practise in all parts of the UK.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers and specialist magazines/journals and on specialist websites.

Education and Training

Although there are currently no set entry requirements for massage courses, some awarding bodies, such as ITEC, recommend that applicants have at least five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications.

Short courses are available which provide an introduction to massage. However, those wishing to practise professionally usually require a diploma or certificate from a college or private massage school which is recognised by one of the professional bodies affiliated to the General Council for Massage Therapy (GCMT).

There are a number of relevant courses, including:

  • NVQ Level 3 in beauty therapy (massage).
  • VTCT Level 3 Diploma in body massage, Swedish massage or remedial massage.
  • ITEC Level 3 Diploma in massage or massage techniques.
  • City & Guilds Level 3 Certificate in anatomy, physiology, complementary therapies and massage.

Training is likely to include:

  • Anatomy, physiology and pathology.
  • Massage movements and techniques.
  • Basic first aid.
  • Health and safety.
  • Assessing a client, including deciding when massage would be medically unsuitable and when to refer for medical advice.
  • Employment law.
  • Postural analysis.

A levels in human biology, the Diplomas in society, health and development and in hair and beauty studies, and BTEC National and Higher National qualifications in health and social care may be useful. NVQ Level 1 in beauty therapy provides an introduction to the beauty sector.

Some people enter this field as a second career. Experience of the beauty sector or other alternative therapies may be useful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Suitably qualified therapists become members of a professional body. With at least three years' validated experience, they can then register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Registration is voluntary but is increasingly seen by the NHS and others as a nationally recognised quality mark.

Registration involves undertaking continuing professional development (CPD). It is important for massage practitioners to keep up to date with new techniques and products in the field. Employers and product manufacturers may provide training.

Some therapists take further qualifications, such as sports massage, to add to their set of skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Massage practitioners need to be:

  • Good with their hands.
  • Comfortable working in close contact with clients.
  • Friendly and reassuring.
  • Good at relating to people of all kinds.
  • Skilled at explaining, listening and responding.
  • Able to maintain physical and mental focus for long treatments.
  • Organised, especially if they need to keep their own client records.
  • Alert to any indications that a client might be medically unsuitable for massage.
  • Aware of health and safety issues.
  • Able to run a business.
  • Dedicated to putting in the work required to build up a practice.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience and after building up a good reputation, some massage practitioners set up their own practices.

Some train in further therapies, such as aromatherapy or reflexology, so they can offer a wider range of treatments.

It may also be possible to move into teaching massage, although this generally requires a teaching qualification.

Get Further Information

Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC),
83 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0HW
Tel: 020 3178 2199

General Council for Massage Therapy (GCMT),
27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX
Tel: 0870 850 4452

ITEC, 2nd Floor, Chiswick Gate,
598-608 Chiswick High Road,
London W4 5RT
Tel: 020 8994 4141

Skills for Health,
2nd Floor, Goldsmiths House,
Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155

Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT),
3rd Floor, Eastleigh House, Upper Market Street,
Eastleigh, Hampshire SO50 9FD
Tel: 02380 684500

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