11 Tips for New (and Not-So-New) Massage Therapists

By Sharon Livingstone

I conducted a survey of 100 massage therapists, and asked for their top tip for newly graduated massage therapists. Typically, they offered three or four tips – massage therapists are a generous bunch. In no specific order (it’s in reverse order, I can’t help it, blame it on chronic OCD), here are their top 11 answers:

11. Learn from others

You’ve spent your college year(s) learning from books, Google and a fixed curriculum. It’s time to listen to real people who are out there in darkened rooms with oil on their hands or in stinky, sweaty dressing rooms with oil on their hands.

Work in someone else’s clinic. Learn how they operate: what do they do well, what areas could they improve on? Let someone else take the risks while you’re improving your technical skills and getting “hands on” experience.

10. Listen to what the client tells you.

OK, it’s pretty easy to assume we know how to treat a client based solely on their presenting issue. See sore shoulder, treat sore shoulder. It’s frustrating to discover that jigsaw puzzles don’t always come with the pieces numbered. Much like our clients don’t arrive toting their personal instruction manual or even an Ikea inspired diagram with complex arrows and an allen key.

Throw out the assumptions and pay attention to what the client says, what their desired outcomes are and understand their lifestyle before creating a treatment plan.

9. Listen to what the body tells you.

Take everything the client has told you and discard it.


However, the conscious mind of the client can sometimes be masking an underlying issue. “Treat what you feel” was the advice my mentor gave me as a fresh graduate, only a month out of the massage school oven. Sometimes it can be what you observe as the client arrives for their treatment or the pattern of breathing as they’re on the treatment table. Be observant to what the body says and does, as well as what the client says.

8. Be Ethical

We all love a bit of a gossip but perhaps don’t discuss your clients with others without permission. Be honest with clients and refrain from denigrating other healthcare professionals. Making false claims about what your treatments can do (like “curing” or “fixing”) doesn’t fit within ethical practice.

Under this umbrella also comes putting your client before profits: insisting a client return for multiple treatments without a clinical reason is not cool.

And follow the AMT Code of Ethics – that is cool.

7. Work on your Business

This is the most shocking thing to discover: We are not JUST a massage therapist.

You’ll see massage therapists quiver at the thought of a spreadsheet or working on their marketing – “I just want to massage” they cry. Well, tough luck. Giving a great treatment is only one part of being a successful massage therapist. We’re business owners, we have a brand to create/protect, we have profits to make and clients to attract and keep.

Take a course on business management, learn about marketing, understand how best to advertise, utilise software for diary management and accounting, employ an accountant. Ignorance aint bliss. Being capable as a business owner is how you’ll earn a living wage. Or part of it.

6. Set and Maintain Boundaries

Let’s get serious here. In the therapeutic relationship, the massage therapist has a position of power. Massage therapists are responsible for ensuring that the power imbalance is not exploited. AMT’s Code of Practice specifically discusses Professional Boundaries.

Other things to consider are setting strict clinic/business hours, and not responding to text messages or emails, answer calls etc. out of these hours.

5. Maintain Your Passion For Your Job

This one seems straightforward. If you’re not loving your job, how are you going to provide best possible care to your clients? Perhaps it’s time to read Number 2 below.

4. Be Mindful In Each Treatment

Mindfulness has more buzz than our declining bee population. I still haven’t got a clue what mindfulness actually is. And I asked Google. I think it involves meditation or navel gazing. If you can let me know in 10 words or less what mindfulness is, it’d be greatly appreciated. Or ignored.

3. Find Your Niche

Massage school kinda churns out clones. Individuality isn’t encouraged because the curriculum has to be followed. But once you’re set loose from classes, discover your unique selling point(s). Don’t be like everyone else. A larger tool box does not mean a better therapist. Find your area of expertise and focus on that.

2. Self Care

Personally, this is my number one tip. Unless you take care of yourself, you can’t be an effective therapist. There’s plenty you can do to make sure you don’t burn out or lose your passion for your job (point 5). These are some suggestions from massage therapists – add your own:

  • Get a massage
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat well
  • Hang out with people who make you happy
  • Have hobbies that don’t involve bodywork
  • Take holidays
  • Limit the number of clients/day and days/week
  • Set aside time without your phone/computer
  • Sleep
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Get into nature – touch a tree or a rock
  • Spend time alone
  • Use a mindfulness app (if you’ve figure out what mindfulness is, of course).
1. Keep Learning

This is obvious, especially as a member of a professional association where it’s a requirement of membership. But it’s good to keep up with all areas of the industry from policy to research findings. Read what AMT sends to you via email. Read the AMT blog. Stay informed.

Also, information changes, research is constantly being undertaken and treatment protocols are regularly updated. Think critically and always be curious.

Other suggestions for new therapists were:
  • Trust your intuition
  • Avoid complacency
  • Keep it simple
  • Be a good example to your clients (practice what you preach)
  • Learn to refer
  • Be honest.

What would your top tip(s) be for a new graduate?

About the Author

Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but discovering job satisfaction came from helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller, who daydreams of walking across France again.


(All images except author photo are courtesy of Pixabay.)

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  1. Karenlee Thompson
    03/01/2018 - 12:20 pm

    Great tips Sharon and some of them, I think, are intertwined. For example ‘Learn from others’ mixes well with ‘Self care’. Sometimes when you receive a massage or some other treatment, you learn something new and you might also find yourself steered in a direction to ‘Find your Niche’. A less than satisfactory treatment from someone else can give you a boost to ‘Maintain Your Passion For Your Job’ which, incidentally, leads into ‘Mindfulness’ (I think?). I was once feeling a little stressed and decided to go for a basic relaxation massage. The therapist’s state of mindfulness (in the sense of ‘the quality of state of being conscious or aware of’ [10 words!] the client on the table) was a little lacking and, after being prodded and lightly stroked, the boredom and disinterest seeming to seep from the pores of the therapist, I felt I should have clarified that it was me who needed relaxing. LOL. ‘Keep Learning’ is probably my favourite as it applies to all areas of our lives.

  2. Annie Merlino
    26/05/2018 - 9:19 am

    I really love how well you broke down the findings into bite size chunks.

    Your style of written word speaks to me in a way that I actually can embody the wisdoms you share and have a laugh too.

    Mindfulness is an interesting concept as it implies my Mind-will-be-full and as such I’ll be less likely to be present to the client and that to me is an oxymoron, and perhaps why the word ‘Mindfulness’ can be a trigger for people. So for me I prefer to ensure I am ‘Present’ and clearly I enjoy living “Mind-less-ness-ly’…

    Oh and your blog style made it simple to want to read and so I’ll be using your layout as a guide to do some blogging. Thank you for modelling this too me.

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