Before you read this…just a disclaimer. I’m not an English teacher or a professional writer, but I have something to say so I’m going to. Please forgive me for my grammatical errors etc.

Chocolate-chip-cookie-crumbs-on-plateBack in 1990 when I started massage therapy school, one of our instructors told us this: “After your first quarter of school, charge $25 for a session, once you complete second quarter charge $30 per session, after third quarter charge $35 per session, and once you graduate you should be earning at least $45 per session and up.”  And so…that is what I did. By the time I graduated I had a full clientele, all paying me $45 per hour and up. That was in 1992. Since then, the regulation of our industry has evolved. Now we educators must teach our students to start practice only after completing their training. They must follow the proper post-graduation professional protocol of being tested and acquiring licensure and insurance before hanging their shingle.

I do believe strongly that as educators of this holistic art we have a solid responsibility to teach our students the value of this work and encourage them to go use their new skills, and be compensated appropriately. We also need to prepare them to expect to invest a reasonable amount of effort in order to launch their new business endeavor, and they must be equipped with proven business strategies upon graduation.

Today, we (meaning everyone at my school) tell our students that they should hit the ground running, earning no less than $35 per hour including tips. $50 would obviously be better, and, If that is what they are being compensated, the client, the table, the linens, the cream, the facility AND the marketing should all be provided for by whomever they have a contract with. In other words  if you walk in, do the work, make a positive impact on the quality of your client’s lives, and leave with $35+ per hour in your pocket that would be reasonable. We also teach them that they need to build a bridge to their dream massage practice and that this will take some time. Often some of that time may still be devoted to some other type of work to make ends meet while they build their growing practice.

Now I know that there are cost of living indexes (my perspective is from Denver, Colorado), and I also know there is inflation. I get it. What I don’t get is how today a massage therapist can be taught by their school that earning $17 or less per hour is okay. I also don’t understand how a school can NOT teach a student what their work is worth and this is what unfortunately I am coming to realize is a confounding trend in the massage therapy education world. Yes…This is based largely on assumption because there are thousands of massage therapists in the U.S. accepting substandard wages. It must have something to do with the education they received.  If it does not, PLEASE feel free to enlighten me. I’m not talking about ALL schools, just MOST Schools and by MOST schools please feel free to assume I also mean CORPORATE OWNED CHAINS of schools.

There is a reason the term “burn out” is on our National Board Exams. It’s a real thing. Massage Therapist simply cannot do more than 30 hours per week of massage without burning out. Having been a person who has provided over 18,000 massages during my career, it is my opinion that 25 massages per week is pushing it, and 4 per day is reasonable. That is 20 hours of physically, emotionally, mentally, focused labor and does not include set up, break down and interview/intake time.

If you don’t understand burn out…this is what I mean. Burn out is when you give so much of your energy away to your clients that your body hurts and you don’t have any energy left for your own life and loved ones. Burn Out usually determines a very short career life for a bodyworker. Thousands of Massage Therapists suffer from burn out each year and leave our industry for another career. Thousands, after only 3-5 years.

We also must consider the impact on the public receiving massage therapy from therapists who don’t know the value of their work, and who are pushing too hard to make ends meet. Believe me…it is not good. People get hurt, or simply receive lousy, unfocused, resentful work.

Here is some math: 20 massages, multiplied by $17 plus $10 average tip equals $540 per week, equals $28,080 a year GROSS and does not include any vacation time.  I understand that $28,080 gross per year probably sounds great for a part-time gig to a young adult who still lives at home and does not have a mortgage or dependents. Mature adults on the other hand will probably struggle with this marginal income. A Massage Therapist earning $25 plus $10 average tip will end up with around $36,400 gross. That’s a start but still not appropriate in my reality.

Let’s face it, massage therapy in the U.S.  has become really weird (not in a good way) in terms of values and money over the last 6 years. Most who argue that point have not been around long enough to see this story unfold, or they are benefiting from the change in one way or another.  Some industry leaders, and/or people who seem to know a lot about corporate America and/or economics say that converting massage therapy into a service type employment model where the employees work for a scanty hourly wage and tips is the natural evolution of massage therapy. I really hope not and I say phooey!

I’ve been around long enough to see this strange trend arrive and take hold and I don’t like it. I don’t have to like it, and no one is going to convince me to like it. I find the people who like it are not necessarily the people working for these marginal wages, but people or companies benefiting financially in one way or another from the hard labor of massage therapists who have not been taught the value of their work or business strategies to integrate their skill with income manifestation.

If you are an educator and you are in some type of relationship by endorsement, or job placement arrangements or any other type of mutually beneficial relationship with a company that is taking advantage of, or burning out massage therapists, you may want to take a good hard look at your ethics.I stand on the side of the therapist. Those are the people who I serve. I am always going to champion the Massage Therapist, not the big corporations and under-payers who are benefiting from their hard work.

I know, I know…I’ve heard it all. Proponents can sugar coat this thing and make it sound like these organizations paying $17 and less per hour to our graduates are a benefit to our industry. The usual suspect’s commentary is “students right out of massage school are green”… “Green students need experience”…. “Many students don’t have what it takes to start their own business”…. “some massage therapists are just not good enough to earn more”… as far as I’m concerned, it’s a bunch of rubbish. If any of those statements are true for you and you are an educator, then you did not do your job to prepare your graduate for this industry. Another big argument is that the overhead is SO high for bodyworkers that in the end they make more working for these preposterous wages. This is a LIE.

A lot of these under-payers will have reward programs and incentive plans…trips to Mexico and even provide scholarships and make huge donations to our industry organizations. Smoke and Mirrors. Those funds should have gone into higher wages for the bodyworkers so they can pay their bills.

As long as there are Massage Schools promoting, partnering with, or supporting companies that pay marginal wages for massage therapists’ hard work, the massage industry and the public consumer will suffer.

As long as there are Massage Educators who do not understand the value of what we do, and fail to pass proper values on to their students who then go on to work for marginal wages…the massage therapy industry and the public will suffer.

In summary, this is what I’m trying to get across.

  1. There is an influx of unethical massage under-payers who are not compensating massage therapists appropriately in order to increase their bottom line.
  2. These organizations or individuals are burning those therapists out, and those therapists are hurting clients because they are burned out.
  3. Careers end prematurely due to burn out.
  4. The schools are at fault for not giving their students proper business training, and proper training on the value of their work.
  5. Some schools and industry leaders are in the pocket of some of these unethical massage under-payers and that is why they are shining a positive light on the organizations and partnering with them.
  6. Because of this trend, the normal wage for massage therapists has been driven down, and now we see chiropractors, health clubs, resorts, etc. following suit by underpaying massage therapists.
  7. In order to survive, therapists in their own practice have had to lower their rates in order to be competitive.
  8. The public is getting a very twisted message from this trend regarding the value of massage therapy, and are receiving a lot of borderline bodywork.
  9. This is the modern disease of our industry, and consistently points to the educators who need to do the right thing by educating their students on the value of their work, so they will refuse substandard wages and the employers will need to raise their wages to attract and retain talent.
  10. There is only ONE positive as I see it. Massage Therapy is becoming accessible to the mainstream.


Employers, Please pay higher wages.

Consumers, Please understand that you may be paying only $49.50 for a massage, but your therapist is earning $17 or less for the session. Please consider going directly to the source and avoid the middle man for your bodywork so the person who is  touching you receives the bulk of the fee. There are many wonderful massage therapists out there who will not work for those types of wages. Don’t you want to work with them?

Massage Therapists, please do not accept substandard wages. Just say “no thank you” and go to the next interview. If need be, do something other than massage and patiently work toward your goals…your practice will build and you can find people who honor your work with appropriate compensation.  You may want to explore some remedial business education if your school did not provide that for you in your program.

Educators, please teach your students that they deserve to make a very decent living as a massage therapist, and equip them with proper business skills and reasonable expectations. Please do not endorse or do any job placement with any under-paying employers.

Associations and Leaders, please do not associate with under-payers for fiscal support. You can find another sponsor who is not depleting the industry you love and represent.

To be clear: I am not talking about ALL franchises. I’m not talking about ALL educators. I’m not talking about ALL employers, only the unethical under-payers. And I’m not addressing ALL Associations and Industry Leaders.

Thank you for reading this. I know this is a very hot topic, and I don’t wish to offend anyone.  My goal is to be supportive to this industry that I love and cherish. The under-payers are never going away. You can count on that, but we educators can be instrumental in educating our students about the value of this work, avoid direct participation with these organizations, and promote higher standard wages for the bodyworkers.

I have been blessed as a therapist by all of my clients and deeply appreciate the privilege I have to share this art with my students.  Massage Therapists don’t just slap on cream and rub. We touch lives and share our hearts. The value of compassionate professional nurturing touch is extraordinary. The people who sign up to do this work should be treated with professional respect and compensated appropriately.