Getting the Most from your Massage Career

I became a massage therapist because the holistic aspect really interests me... One thing I love about massage is connecting with my client's energy to make them feel positive and raise their self esteem. In this article I am going to explore my role as a massage therapist and the useful things I have learnt. Hopefully you can benefit from my experiences.

How to avoid physical pain and burnout in massage therapy

One of the most valuable things I learnt whilst studying massage at college was the ability to massage without using my hands. It sounds bizarre, as I'm sure the word 'massage' conjures up an image of a therapist kneading with their fingers and thumbs. So many colleges these days will teach you the basic effleurage, petrissage and even tapotement, which feel nice on the client but in reality are going to get you nowhere.

In 2012, I entered a competition called 'UK Skills', its basically just that- a competition between beauty therapists that are still in training which is judged on the precision, skills and knowledge of the competitors. I had to go to extra tuition which taught me various ways to use my elbows, forearms and palms. I couldn't believe how I felt after performing massage this way, you don't get the dull numbing sensation that often happens when you put the pressure on your thumbs and fingers. I haven't looked back  since.

Our posture, stance and dexterity was judged in particular: this ensures the massage is done the correct way- not just to the client, but so it will not harm the therapist. Posture is everything!

I know so many older massage therapists that have had to end their career early due to back problems and repetitive strain injury. Keeping your back straight, bending your knees and moving in rhythm with the massage accommodates the alignment of your vertebrae and  reduces your risk of having pains and problems in your back, allowing you a long and healthy career!

Growing your knowledge as a professional

Many people learn massage on standard beauty courses these days. You will learn the basics at college, and are likely to study: anatomy and physiology, how massage affects the body on a cellular level, and health and safety in addition to your practical lessons.

However, the real learning starts on the job with personal experience and guidance from your senior therapists.  Get to know how your body feels after a massage and discussthis with your colleagues, as they will be able to help you and give you tips. As I said above, you will not survive for long if you don't look after your own body!

Most top spas include professional ranges of products such as Elemis or Decleor, where these products are used for the treatment and then retailed to the client afterwards.

These famous and popular brands usually have their own signature routines in massage, facials and body treatments and therapists can be sent over to a specialized college to learn this over a course of days. These courses always include seminars on products and retailing, as  these are vital for the spa to make money. Studying hard for these tests is essential, they don't just pass everyone!

If working at a spa which offers alternative therapies you may even get to learn things like Thai massage, hot stone massage or Ayurveda. Learning these things on the job would probably not get you certification but would offer an extension to your knowledge. There are thousands of private courses available for therapists who want to extend their expertise and try different types of massage therapy.

Boosting commission levels

Usually massage therapists are on minimum wage and have to work long hours - it is NOT an easy job! However, there is a potential to earn quite an attractive little income from your commission if you are motivated and focused and put that little bit extra into your treatments!

It is useful to discuss in depth any problems the client may have during the consultation. Tension in the shoulders is a classic, and if worked on properly can make you feel like a new person! Pay attention to this during the massage as you want them to feel amazing and request you again. Therapists who constantly have fully booked columns and client requests are likely to earn incentives from the spa manager such as commission or free products.

You can also earn commission from your retail sales, although this is hard in massage as we tend to not use anything other than oil on the skin. However, it is a body treatment and all clients tend to have body hang ups, so if they mention it, use this opportunity to sell them something to get rid of cellulite or that is firming/toning.

Ensure you are product aware, as clients will want to know what is in these products and how it will benefit them, for example caffeine is included as an active ingredient in many products to boost circulation and reduce cellulite!  Enthusiasm about the product also helps as it will convince the client it really works and isn't just a fad like many products on the market these days.

Broadening your horizons by take your massage services abroad

You will find massage is very common in holiday resorts nowadays. The type of people that visit resorts want to relax, pamper themselves and get away. Spa and massage retreats are literally everywhere, which creates an opportunity for massage therapists to see the world.

Travelling can be costly, so working whilst on your travels is  an excellent way of funding it and some places even throw in accommodation and food packages.

The internet is great for finding massage jobs abroad as you can secure yourself a job and accommodation before you land. There are so many different options:  Hotels and holiday tour operators always need massage therapists for their spas. The work is seasonal so the Mediterranean coastal areas recruit in the spring to be ready for the summer.

European and American ski resorts recruit in autumn to be ready for winter. It is an advantage for ski work if you possess a sports massage qualification- people get injured and strain their muscles all the time on the slopes so need the body conditioning. The best thing about these jobs is that if you do both summer and winter work then you can work all year round, with about a month off between seasons.  Apply in good time, as there are usually lots of eager applicants that may beat you to it, these jobs are very competitive!

These establishments usually expect you to work 5-6 days on, with one or two days off, to enjoy the activities the company provides. You could be jetskiing off the coast of Cyprus or hurtling down the piste at full pelt in the French Alps!

You could apply to work with Steiner, the company who operates the spas onboard all luxury cruise ships. They will train you at their specialist Elemis school in London for 3-5 weeks and send you to work on the ship for 9 months.

Hours are long (typically every 7 days on, 1 day off), but you have no expenses whilst you are onboard and they have an excellent commission structure too. I know Steiner therapists who have come back off the American cruises with around $15000, enough to start your own small business! Therapists who work on cruise ships get jobs easily when they come back as employers know how hard the work is and respect them for this.

There are many other different options.

Countries that are predominantly Muslim such as Dubai employ mostly English therapists so that they can massage both men and women. Places that are hot and sunny year round such as Australia will recruit all year round and it is easy to get into the country if you possess a relevant qualification, massage included. High-class restaurants, bars and clubs offer Indian Head Massages whilst the client is seated at their table in places with VIP clients such as Ibiza, Miami and the South of France. The earning potential is amazing as there is usually no price but a 'tip what you think it's worth' condition.

Please note- you should be extremely careful if wanting to work on your own or self employed abroad, some male clients take the word 'massage' the wrong way and think it means something else... You should always be on your guard and never work from home if possible.

Taking care of yourself

To be a massage therapist, your body must be physically fit. Time is money, and most spas will not give you long breaks to prepare yourself. In an average day for a full time massage therapist, expect back to back massages throughout the day with a short break for lunch of maybe one hour. As I said earlier, your elbows and forearms are excellent for this as your fingers and thumbs will just not be able to survive it!

It can also be emotionally exhausting too as you connect to your client on a holistic level. Clients who tend to visit for massages come for a relaxing treatment to relieve them of the stress and strain of day to day life. If I pick up on clients negative energy, I try to dispel it using the power of my mind and shaking my hands at the end (whilst the client is still lying face down!).

The importance of customer service and attention to the finer details in 5 star establishments

Imagine you were the client, you have come to the spa to escape and are spending lots of money on your treatment. You would want to be treated like royalty! So it all starts with customer care. These clients expect perfection and nothing less.

Your demeanor towards the client matters a great deal, you should be softly and correctly spoken (i.e. do not use slang). In different countries, they sometimes get very offended if you walk into the treatment room before showing the client in. You should always allow the client to walk into the room first with a gentle hand gesture as a matter of courtesy. I have a client persona - I tone down my Yorkshire accent and try to be as well spoken and gentle as I can. 

In my time as a massage therapist, I've come across clients making diva demands for all sorts of things that aren't included in the treatment or spa package.

The spa manager usually deals with this but as a therapist, you also have to be able to accommodate. Some may want specially fragranced candles, some may want a warm green tea with fresh lemon waiting for them as soon as they come out the room, some may want hot towels infused with rose water! In my opinion, if it is something that the spa can offer you should never turn it down, the client will usually be very appreciative and are likely to offer a generous tip for your thoughts and actions.

Therapists should always take a pride in their appearance and look immaculate. Therapists working in the top spas always look well groomed and usually have their hair in a bun and off the face. Their makeup should be natural and clean but often they wear lipstick to cross promote makeup that is being retailed.

Clients get put off by therapists who don't look the part and I would not want to be touched by a therapist who had dirty hands or bitten nails with scruffy cuticles. Nails should however be kept short and rounded as there is always a risk of scratching clients with long or artificial nails. I cannot stress enough how important this is - we live in suing culture nowadays and you could land yourself in a lot of bother over a tiny scratch!

You must remember as a massage therapist that you are representing the spa and any brands they may be working with. Be helpful and approachable and product aware. Take a pride in your appearance and have a positive attitude towards the client. These tips will stand you in good stead when applying for jobs.

Good luck!

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