Massage therapist

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Eileen, early 30s

What does a massage therapist do?

While being a massage therapist sounds relatively straight forward, Eileen, who has been in massage for over ten years, believes there's more to it: "A massage therapist is trained in therapy with soft tissue or muscle, and it's different from a chiropractor or an osteopath in that there's no manipulation of the skeletal structure. You can be working with people for relaxation and stress management, or rehabilitation purposes, or specific injuries."

For Eileen it's a job that has let her travel, massaging cruise-ship guests in the Mediterranean, back-strained fishermen in Carnarvon, Western Australia and Melbourne's stressed-out executives. "It's a great skill to travel with because you always take your hands with you wherever you go, so there's always going to be some opportunity to work."

How did you become a massage therapist?

While many people make a career change into massage therapy after pursuing other jobs, Eileen has pursued the profession since high school. "I discovered massage as a teenager when I was living in Thailand as part of student exchange. The Thai family I was living with used massage as an integral part of their family life and interaction."

Since then Eileen has studied massage in both Perth and Melbourne, and in the last five years has started her own practice, going into businesses as well as visiting clients in their homes and offices. "Most of the people I treat are in high-stress jobs so I work some odd hours working around their schedules."

What's a typical working day involve?

Working in her own business means that Eileen has to be very flexible to ensure she keeps her loyal clients. "I usually work from 1 pm to 6 pm and then in the evenings I might see another client. I have my mornings free which is really nice. Most people enjoy their massage in the latter part of the day, except today when I saw a client at 7.15 am in his office."

What are the people you work with like?

"I've had patients who've come to me and said that they would love a massage, but they can't stand to be touched, or they're very ticklish people," Eileen smiles. "So then the role of the therapist is to make sure that person is comfortable and oftentimes they're really surprised, because you get them into such a deep state of relaxation."

One of the most important parts of Eileen's job is tailoring the massage to individual needs, which she does with a consultation before a massage begins. "You'd ask a client their medical history and whether they've had any injuries, because someone might have had a recent fracture or a back injury. You also ask them if they have any areas of pain." Based on this consultation, Eileen gives her clients a massage that is sensitive to their needs and removes pain from current or previous injuries.

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

"You need are a certain degree of sensitivity and be able to read what the clients' needs are," Eileen acknowledges. Clients might may be uncomfortable (or even ticklish) at first, so Eileen has to change the way she'll handle them. People skills make a good massage and mean clients will return again.

"You also need to have good time management," Eileen offers. "Plus if you're going to start your own practice you need to develop business skills, and doing a small business course is a good idea."

Getting skills in massage usually means doing a course, especially those accredited by the Australian Association of Massage Therapy which will allow you to practice as a therapist. Courses are generally a year of full-time study, but Eileen recommends "doing a short course through TAFE or a Council of Adult Education (CAE) so you get a sense of whether it's something you enjoy and something you could do for living."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).