By: Monica Caulfield, Licensed Massage Therapist

Today I want to discuss what it takes to have a successful massage therapy career. Many factors can contribute to this most deserving professional path.

We will look at the number one reason why I think massage therapists choose their career path, what I wish I had known before entering into this profession and what factors were most important to me when I decided on which massage therapy school to attend. I will also address what essential classes I felt were important to master, how to avoid burnout and how many hours it took to complete my schooling.


Many times, I have been asked if there was a particular moment or idea that pointed me toward a career in massage therapy. Although I could argue that every experience lead me to follow that path, there is one trait that I hold dear to my heart. And this quality seems to permeate the massage therapy business and thank goodness it does. Can you guess what it is?

In my mind’s eye, it’s compassion.

Some say that compassion means, “to suffer together.” But compassion is also the ability to listen to someone’s pain and have an innate desire to alleviate that suffering. For me, nothing is so powerful as understanding what is traumatizing a client and having the tools at my disposal to eliminate or significantly reduce their pain. Looking back over the years, it’s obvious that this is the number one driving force for future massage therapists who dive into a massage avocation.

When a client presents themselves to you with low back pain or a whiplashed neck, it is essential that you care enough to do everything in your power to relieve further suffering. How motivated are you to do this?

The fundamental question to ask yourself is this: What is directing me to a massage therapy career? If your answer does not include a deeply driven desire to help others in a meaningful way, massage therapy is not for you.

Without a high degree of compassionate caring, that you frequently act on, massage therapy will feel like too many people are whining about too many things to you. Be sure that when you consider a massage career for yourself, that you effortlessly possess a compassionate heart for others before embracing this profession.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL: What I Wish I Had Known

What I wish I had known before embarking on the path of massage therapy is how physically and emotionally demanding it can be. Little did I know that to do excellent bodywork, the therapist has to be feeling 100% healthy in mind, body and spirit. Just try and do a full day of massage therapy with a runny nose, after an argument with your spouse or while you are worrying about paying your health insurance bill. To allow healing to take place for your client, it is imperative that the therapist is free of anxiety, stress, and worries and is feeling physically able to complete the treatment. Yes, perhaps you can manage to give a massage session when your allergies are flaring up, but I believe that true healing is only possible when the client and therapist are working together in unison in the present moment. Remember, living in the past or future is not conducive to helping a client heal in the present.

Early in my career, I realized that every time I drank a glass of wine, my body would develop sinus congestion and it lingered for at least four days. I came to a place where I had to decide what was most important to me. Did I want to feel congested every time I worked or did I want to feel clear headed and focused? To me, this was a no-brainer, so I stopped drinking alcohol. I had no idea that I would need to do this to complete my job as a massage therapist, but I’m so glad that I did. After spending my resources of time and money in massage school to launch my career, I wasn’t willing to throw it all away to cloudy judgment and distraction. I was able to stay present with my clients, as I was feeling alive and well!

IT’S ABOUT TIME (and money…)

Speaking of the time and money of massage school, let’s chat a little bit about this. Many new massage schools have popped up over the years, and it’s become harder and harder to navigate the pros and cons of each school. When I attended massage school, I knew what I was looking for. Because my state had a very challenging state board test, I chose a school that had the highest rate of passing that test. So it was easy for me to determine where to go. Nowadays, there are many factors to consider: The cost, the amount of time involved, the state in which to practice massage, the classes offered, the career guidance and the challenge to your body of practicing massage every day. One rule that my massage school had that I thought was an excellent idea was this: we had to practice massage therapy on individuals at least 4 hours a week outside of class and receive massage therapy at least 2 hours a week outside of class. I think this was a brilliant move on my school’s part. Requiring students to practice weekly outside of class was thorough, ingenious and responsible. But requiring students to receive massage weekly was enlightened, imaginative and brilliant. I remember that every time I was lying on a table receiving massage, all I could think of was that going to massage school was one of the best decisions I ever made. When you are receiving massage weekly for over a year, you realize how important this work is. I believe it makes for low attrition in school and gives each student the kinesthetic wisdom to continue classes to completion. If possible, find a school that offers this.

I attended a massage school that lasted for a year, was approximately 750 hours of in-class time and cost about $4,000. But that was in 1989-1990. Many massage schools still offer approximately 750 hours of classroom time but now the average cost to attend school is around three times what I paid. It’s still worth it though, in my opinion.

IT’S YOUR LIFE and Your Education

Most massage schools teach core classes steeped in Swedish techniques such as effleurage and petrissage, as well as anatomy and physiology, ethics and elective classes. Access what elective classes are offered at the school and determine what your interests are in massage therapy. Do you lean toward light energy work like Cranial Sacral and Reiki or do you prefer Deep Tissue Therapy and Neuromuscular Therapy? Realize that whatever kind of massage therapy you prefer, is what you will be drawn to learn. Find several professional massage therapists and get as many massages from them as possible. Then find a school that offers what interests you. It’s a year of your life. Make it count.

I believe that it is important to learn many massage techniques, as you will use them all, based on who your clientele is. One client may not be able to handle any deep work; another has come for Reflexology, and another client needs deep, penetrating Para-Spinal work. In 25+ years of being a massage therapist, you can imagine how many hours of continued education I’ve had. All of it provided me with something new to draw from, keeping my work interesting and fresh.


As soon as you graduate, you are ready to hang up your shingle, whether that means opening your own business or working as an employee. Most of the time you can set your hours and have the flexibility to come and go as you please. This is the thing I love about being a massage therapist; I can set my schedule. If I want to go on a 2-week vacation, I just mark off the time. If I want to work long hours before or after my vacation to catch up, I schedule this. If I want to see my child’s play, I mark myself off for that time. Massage Therapy has given me the time and space for flexibility at the workplace.


You need to remember that burnout can occur. Sometimes it’s because you have overdone it to your body. You’ve scheduled too many clients in a week. Now your hands, or thumbs, or entire body feels like you have been run over by a truck or you have no extra energy to devote to your family or friends. Other times, burnout happens when you have not received enough massage yourself, or you need to take a class to learn something new because your burnout is mental. Burnout is physical, mental or emotional. When you develop burnout, and you will because we all do, figure out what you need to get through it. Cut back on your hours, find a continuing education class that you’ve been meaning to attend, or get a massage for your health and well-being!


A massage therapy career is not likely to bring you fame and fortune, but at the end of the day or the end of your career, when you look back, what you see may surprise you. The joy and satisfaction that comes from helping people heal themselves has no boundaries. It is a thoroughly worthwhile endeavor for anyone with an abundance of compassion, waiting for a positive way to share this with others.

About the Author

Monica Caulfield has been a licensed massage therapist in the state of Washington since 1990, but has been practicing massage since the early 1980’s. She has mastered Neuromuscular Therapy, Deep Tissue, Cranial Sacral, Cranial Decompression, Visceral Massage, Reflexology, Pregnancy Massage, Hot Rock Massage, Tuning Fork Therapy and various detoxifying spa techniques.

She is a nationally certified reflexologist with the American Reflexology Certification Board as well as a Washington state certified reflexologist.

Monica created and owned a Massage and Day Spa and managed it for 17 years, providing clients a distinct and varied way to relax and rejuvenate.

Monica is about all things “alternative”. In her world, alternative is mainstream. She created a line of flower essences from her hometown, studied and passed a national test in Iridology, attained a level 2 distinction in Evolutionary Astrology with renowned astrologer, Steven Forrest, attended herbal medicine school and is a Reiki practitioner.

Monica is a world traveler, spending 2015 traveling for 8 months researching ayuvedic treatments in India, Thai Massage in Asia and reflexology and astrology in Europe and New Zealand.

She has written a book about how to successfully become a massage therapist and has a thriving massage, reflexology and Evolutionary Astrology practice.

Monica can be reached at [email protected] and look for her upcoming website revamp at