A State by State Massage Therapist Licensure Guide

Where Massage Therapist Work: Differences in Work Settings

Massage therapists work in varied settings, with a diverse clientele who seek everything from general relaxation to injury rehabilitation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry employing the most massage therapists (40,900) is personal care services; this is an occupational group that also employs cosmetologists, fitness workers, and skincare specialists (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/naics4_812100.htm).

The number two industry (employing 26,970) is "offices of other healthcare practitioners". Other healthcare offices can mean many things: chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists setting up shop on their own. Number three (employing 8,310) is travel accommodation. This occupational group probably includes a small minority of the spa employees and contractors. The American Association of Massage Therapists reports that the vast majority of spas (79%) are classified as day spas.

Massage therapists work in varied settings, with a diverse clientele who seek everything from general relaxation to injury rehabilitation.

Seeking work as a massage therapist? Here is a look at some of the (many) places you may find yourself.

Spas and Franchises

Spas are among the most popular places to go for massage. Though the environment may seem leisurely, the work is fast-paced. AMTA speaks of the need to develop "spa stamina" which can include personal self-care (https://www.amtamassage.org/uploads/cms/documents/amta_spaguide0814_proof_2.pdf).

At a spa, you may be expected to make some recommendations and do a little selling. However, this is very different than making a pitch from a telephone. This clientele has the finances and the desire to bring self-care routines home with them.

Your experience may vary a good deal, depending on the type of spa. If your employment setting is a ‘destination’, you probably won't see the same clients over and over.

Franchises aren’t as big an industry as spas are, but they’re on the rise, and they can provide steady work.

Medical spas are the fastest growing segment, though they still account for less than 10% of spas. A medical spa typically offers some services that require medical supervision but has a cosmetic focus. It's a place where a person might go to get injectable dermal fillers -- though not from the massage therapist! The clientele is looking for long-term results moreso than atmosphere. Thus, the facility can seem a little more clinical.

Franchises differ from spas in that they provide a more narrow range of services, generally at lower cost to the client. They aren’t as big an industry as spas are, but they’re on the rise, and they can provide steady work.

Health Care Settings

Healthcare is an area of increasing need and increasing opportunity. The American Massage Therapy Association reports that 25% of massage therapists work at least part-time in healthcare (https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html). Settings can include hospitals and hospices. Goals can be anything from improvement of orthopedic conditions to enhanced quality of life for cancer patients.

Massage therapists who work in healthcare settings often specialize and work with particular populations. They speak of emotional rewards as well as challenges (https://www.amtamassage.org/career_guidance/detail/193).

If you seek healthcare employment, there are protocols to learn. Your role will be different as your services are included as part of a treatment plan. You’re part of a team, but it’s one that may include physicians and/ or physical therapists.

Massage therapists who work in healthcare settings often specialize and work with particular populations.

In a health setting, you may be a contractor or an employee. Expect opportunities to grow in the coming years, due to changes in demographics and increasing recognition of massage as healthcare.

Geographic Considerations

Some geographic areas employ far more massage therapists than others. The states with the highest massage therapy employment per capita are Hawaii, Arizona, Colorado, and Washington (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319011.htm).

Within states, too, there can be a lot of variation. The BLS reports that the metropolitan area with the most massage therapists per 1,000 -- hands down – is Napa, California. Runners up include Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Bellingham, Washington; Atlantic City-Hammonton New Jersey; and Olympia, Washington.

Big cities have more competition, but they also have more jobs. If you go by sheer numbers, the winner is a major metropolitan area in the sunbelt: the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area.