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8 Things I Wish Massage School Had Taught Me

It’s a common complaint among massage therapists…massage schools need to teach this, this, and that. And yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff that “should” be taught in massage school. And let me first say, before anyone starts writing some argument in the comments this early in the video, I know there are some fantastic schools out there that go above and beyond in their education of students, and there are a lot of students who just don’t remember jack squat from school and/or never apply some of the things they were taught. So, that aside let’s dig into some of this including what I wish my own massage school would have taught me to better prepare for this industry. 

I am right there with you. The school I went to did not at all prepare me for the real world of this profession. That’s partly why I do what I do here. And let me just say I totally get that schools can’t even really be held responsible for some of this – I mean, it’s a trade school for most of us, and their job is to get us prepared to get a license and practice…period. It’s not about all the nuances to the profession and there’s no way to fully prepare anyone for any profession until you just get out and get the experience in it. It’s like, you don’t see electricians getting mad that they weren’t taught how to run a business or this or that other thing, because the school’s job was to teach them the trade, to teach them the work. And that’s what massage school is. So we have to be realistic about this as well. But with all that said, to help out current students, recent graduates, and anyone else who might want a little more insight…here’s some of the things I wish had been covered for me and some that I know a lot of schools are lacking in that you may have dealt with. 

#1 The realities of the professional outlook

I don’t know about y’all but I know a lot of schools don’t really draw a distinction between what is charged and what you’ll make as a therapist, which are two very different things. Now, as a self-employed therapist you have a lot more variance in what you can make, and yes you can make a fantastic living in this profession. But I think it’s important that schools draw that realistic distinction between the limits of what you can expect as an employee given your area, the markets, etc. and what can be reached if you’re self-employed.  

And also, I know a lot of schools teach self-care, but I think it’s important to really drive home just how crucial it is, how short the average career is for massage therapists, and the extra avenues you should take if you were to get hurt or otherwise not be able to practice with your hands. I mean, you can do Ashiatsu or Thai to ease things up on your arms and hands. You can write educational materials to sell. You can sell retail. You can have other income streams that can help you in the case of not being able to put your hands on someone – like ya know, a pandemic, or just an injury or illness.  

On that note… 

#2 Have a backup plan, side-gig, really good disability insurance, or something in case you get hurt or sick

Now, hopefully like many therapists, you can practice for 40 years and never have any issue. But I always err on the side of caution and prepare for the worst. So I’ve been out of school for 13 years, practiced full time for 10 years of that and then shut down my business to do this full time because that’s where life was leading me. So here I am 3 years into this, and now I suddenly have all kinds of joint pain and systemic inflammatory issues – we’re thinking some autoimmune problem and I’m getting things under control currently – but if this had hit earlier in my career, there’s no way I could have worked full time. I did a 90 minute massage as a trade a few weeks back and my upper body was as tired and sore as it had been at the end of a day when I saw 8 or 9 clients back to back earlier in my career. There’s no way I could keep up that schedule, and I think that’s a realistic thing to consider – it’s not just about body mechanics when it comes to self-care and career longevity, it’s about all the other things life might throw at you. And it’s always a good idea to be prepared for whatever that may look like to you. 

#3 Legal, financial, and insurance stuff

Unfortunately, a lot of therapists are at a loss for what kinds of insurance they need, if they’re going the self-employed route they don’t know what kind of licensing and tax stuff might be involved, things like that. I think some serious time and info about some of these things, what companies are available, what kind of coverage you’ll need for specific situations, how to find a good accountant, things like that would be a huge benefit to students.  

#4 How to handle difficult clients

Now we got just a quick run-down of what to do when someone made a not-so-decent request, but that was pretty much it. I think some of that needs to really be dug deep into, and how to prevent those things, how to present your business and yourself really professionally to stop it from ever happening in the first place, things like that. And then I also think there’s all kinds of other subsets of difficult clients that need to be talked about. Those that push boundaries, they are entitled, make you uncomfortable in other ways, and all that kind of stuff. I actually just did an article for our members on the 6 types of clients you’ll face and how to deal with them. So if you’re a member with us, go over to your members’ area on the website or take a look at the newsletter in your email from yesterday and check that out.  

#5 Disinfecting and hygiene practices

This is something y’all saw me rant about a few weeks ago. The disinfecting and hygiene practices in our profession are honestly atrocious, and while some schools may be really good at teaching this and some students follow through, there is a serious disconnect going on somewhere. Like I said then, you should have always been washing the blanket after every client and you should have always had a barrier between your table warmer or padding and the linens. It shouldn’t have to take a pandemic to convince us to practice basic hygiene and safety standards. I’ll link that video in the description as well if you haven’t seen that one yet. 

#6 Male therapists often need to take a different approach 

Now, we didn’t have any guys in our class when I was in school, but having been in the field for this long now, and having worked with several male therapists, there is a slightly different approach that needs to be taken in marketing, massage styles, in speaking with clients, things like that. There’s a lot to it and I can’t unpack that all here, but feel free to reach out if you have questions. I’d be happy to help however I can. 

#7 Critical thinking

This is one of the absolute most important ones to me. Instead of teaching students what to think, you need to be taught HOW to think. In other words, you’ve got to do more than just memorize information. Knowing your origins, insertions, and actions is great for passing a test, but you have to have a serious set of critical thinking skills in order to take that information and transform it in your mind in a way that will allow you to fully assess a client who comes to you with an issue. So that you can see this is how all those muscles and nerves and connective tissue are working together to create this or that problem and therefore this is what I need to do about it.  

#8 Business skills

This cannot be overstated. If you have any intention of owning your own business, learn business skills. I mean, financials and bookkeeping, KPIs, marketing, all kinds of things that you really need to get a full grasp of if you want a successful business and not just a hobby. It’s very rare that someone can establish a really healthy, successful business by just winging it and never developing those business skills intentionally.

Hey there! I'm a massage therapist, educator, writer, and business pro helping massage therapists around the world build successful businesses. My goal is to give you everything you need to start, run, and grow a profitable massage practice that supports a life you love, all without the headaches I went through learning how to do it myself.

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