When I started writing this article, I planned to catalog at least three of the several reasons every new massage therapist should work at a massage chain after graduation. But really, future massage therapists only need one reason: You don't know it all.
I'm a part-time, new hire at a massage chain, and I've provided therapeutic touch to 17 bodies so far—that is, 17 different bodies with different needs, ailments, triumphs and purposes. I went through an internship in massage school like most massage students, and I felt well-prepared—until now.
What happened? After graduation, I started a private massage practice. That was the reason I went to massage school: I wanted to work for myself when I wanted to work. And I did. I provided excellent Swedish massage sessions to anyone who came looking for one. But my clients were few and far between, and as a result, the experience I had been building on during my internship stalled out in the real world.
I learned the hard way that when it comes to learning how to be a competent massage therapist, running a private massage practice does not compare to just doing massage—not marketing, billing or scheduling, just massaging one body after another every day.
You Can't Read Experience
You can memorize human anatomy and physiology. You can read every book there is about shiatsu or fibromyalgia, and you would know a lot of things. But without tangible experience with how a body responds to therapeutic touch, you haven't learned how to be a massage therapist.
Why? Changes happen under your hands that a book can't truly describe to you. And because the bodies of a teenager, soccer mom, senior and oncology patient each respond differently to pressure, stretching and long, slow effleurage strokes, you need a lot of bodies to experience what it means to be a massage therapist.
Massage chains can provide this opportunity to you better than any other employer, especially if that employer is you. Finding clients is what they do.
I am amazed now at how much I am remembering, relearning and improving on by simply touching as many people as I have, as quickly as I have, at the massage chain where I'm employed. I'm also humbled by how little I know.
However, I do know this: There is a reason it is called a massage practice. After the classes are over, internship hours are complete and your state-issued massage license is in-hand, you don't know it all. So get your hands on a lot of bodies, and start practicing.