Design a Job You Love!

Questions to Guide You to Your Professional Niche

By Cindy Williams
[Classroom to Client]

As part of my liaison role with Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), I spend a significant amount of time traveling to massage therapy schools across the country speaking to students who are about to graduate and supporting their transition from student to professional. When I mention that the massage profession has a vast array of employment opportunities, students light up with interest, as if a great secret is about to be revealed. While entry-level massage programs teach the essential starting points for a career in massage therapy, there are many ways new therapists can use their skills, knowledge, and interests to be of service to others in ways they may have not learned or imagined.
Designing the perfect massage job is a fun, creative, and self-explorative process. Whether right out of school or already in practice, you can find your niche within the massage profession that brings your gifts into their fullest light. Here are 20 questions to help anyone find that niche.

Employee or Self-Employed?

The most obvious and general questions to ask yourself are:
• Do you want to work for someone else or be your own boss? Depending on your answer to this and the following questions, you can determine which avenue is right for you.
• Do you want a flexible schedule that changes from week to week and works around your personal life?
• Do you mind having an income that fluctuates from week to week?
• Do you like talking to people, marketing yourself, and inviting them to schedule an appointment at your office?
• Can you keep track of income, expenses, and records related to money?
• Are you interested in building your own website, designing marketing materials, developing and tracking promotional campaigns, and writing policies and procedures for your business?
• Does being a businessperson in conjunction with being a massage therapist excite you?
If you answered yes to most of the above questions, self-employment is a great option for you. If you answered no, you will likely be happier letting someone else do the marketing, scheduling, bookkeeping, policy creation, and business management, and be best suited as an employee focusing your effort toward your hands-on work.
Keep in mind you can do a blend of both as you test the waters. Just be sure you discuss any restrictions or agreements with your employer, such as noncompete clauses that require you to market to clients outside a specific distance away from your place of employment.

Your Ideal Work Environment

There are many environments in which you can provide massage therapy. It is a perfect complement to the medical/clinical environment and is also perfect as an ongoing wellness practice purely for relaxation and stress relief. Following are some questions to help you determine which appeals to you most.

Medical/Clinical Environment

• Do you like to develop detailed treatment plans for each client to set short- and long-term goals for progress?
• Do you like SOAP charting to track a client’s progress over time?
• Does analyzing a client’s posture, range of motion, and movement patterns as a way to plan treatment appeal to you?
• Do you enjoy researching pathologies in order to gain current knowledge and offer education, resources, and best approaches for your clients?
• Does supporting injury rehabilitation interest you?
• Do you want to work with a team that might include athletic coaches, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and chiropractors?

Wellness Environment

• Does releasing clients’ stress and muscle tension without the need to prepare detailed treatment plans sound appealing to you?
• Do you prefer simple charting systems that don’t require you to track a client’s progress over time?
• Do you like to add creative flair, like the use of aromatherapy, hot towels, rice bags, and soft music to enhance the client’s relaxation experience?
• Would you prefer to generally reduce stress or work with specific injuries or pathologies?
• Do you like to creatively plan treatments that please the senses and promote mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness?
• Do you want to work with a team that might include skin care specialists, cosmetologists, dermatologists, yoga instructors, and spiritual coaches?
If the medical/clinic environment speaks to you, you can seek out work at a chiropractic office, massage clinic, physician’s office, nursing home, hospice care, pain management clinic, physical therapy office, rehabilitative center, hospital, sports medicine clinic, or with a sports team.
If the wellness environment sounds more pleasing, you can find work at a day spa, cruise ship, yoga studio, resort spa, hot spring spa, or beauty salon.  
For each environment, you will likely want to continue your education to prepare for specialized offerings. For example, in the wellness environment, you might offer hot stone massage, body wraps, paraffin treatments, and body scrubs. If you work in a medical office, you will want additional training in anatomy, physiology, specific injury techniques, SOAP charting, medical terminology, and insurance billing. The bottom line is, if the tasks within the environment call to you, follow the call.

To Specialize or Not to Specialize?

Massage therapists have something to offer just about anyone. You may decide you want to work with a variety of client types, or you may choose to make a difference for a special population. As you read through the following list, notice if any of these tug at your heart and create a spark of excitement.
Are you interested in specialization for any of these groups?
Burn victims
Cancer patients
Clients with chronic pain
Clients with HIV/AIDS
Clients with injuries
Mental health patients
Pregnant and/or postpartum women
Seniors in assisted-living facilities and/or memory-care facilities
Survivors of abuse
Terminally ill

Several of these special populations are untapped—or better said, untouched. We have great gifts to offer, and the benefits are very rewarding for client and therapist alike.

What If You’re Not Sure?

Sometimes it is difficult to know if you will like a job until you are in it. Job-shadowing and informational interviews are great ways to try a job on for size to see if it fits before making a commitment. Contact someone who does the kind of work you are drawn to and ask if you can do one or both of these activities with them. Job-shadowing involves spending a day alongside the massage therapist observing what they do and how they work with their clients and other team members. An informational interview involves asking questions about their day-to-day work, what they like about it, what the drawbacks are, and if they can offer advice about how to enter into the chosen environment.

You Are the Designer

What will best serve you, your life, your passion for massage and bodywork, and your ongoing journey as a professional therapist? Is your current career path tailored to your evolving personal interests and goals? You are the designer of your life and your career, so ask these questions to ensure you are designing a career you love. After all, when you love what you do, it no longer becomes work. It becomes service to your clients and to you!

Cindy Williams, LMT, is a graduate support liaison for ABMP and has been actively involved in the massage profession since 2000 as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor. She maintains a private practice as a massage and yoga instructor. Contact her at