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What does a Massage Therapist do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A massage therapist is a professional who performs massage and bodywork. The field of massage therapy is quite large, running the gamut from therapists who perform basic Swedish massage to people trained in more esoteric fields like trigger point. A massage therapist's goal is usually to relax his or her client while promoting general health and well being. Some branches of massage therapy are focused on treating specific health conditions, and on addressing congenital muscular problems.

People have been performing massage and bodywork on each other for thousands of years. A friendly human touch is believed to be important to psychological as well as physical health. Several cultures have developed their own distinctive branches of bodywork, such as lomi lomi in Hawaii and Shiatsu in Japan. Bodywork is often integrated into a greater holistic healing practice, like Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many people around the world consider massage as an important part of their personal health and beauty regimen.

As part of a massage therapist's job, he or she works with a wide range of clients. Many people seek massage therapy purely for relaxation and comfort, but some people come to a massage therapist for deeper work. A massage therapist uses his or her training to treat clients on an individual basis. He or she may work as a freelancer or in a spa or medical clinic, charging varying fees for different services. Some therapists offer additional services like facials, and body treatments to supplement their massage practices.

Training requirements to become a massage therapist vary; some regions regulate massage closely, while in others licensing is more lax. Many schools of massage offer basic certification programs which can be built upon to learn additional techniques like deep tissue massage or traditional massage like Thai massage or acupressure. Training also includes a familiarity with the anatomy and physiology of the human body, and a discussion of unique conditions which concern massage therapists, ranging from muscular tension to cancer. A good massage school also offers workshops in ethics and business practices.

This very old profession has an unfortunate reputation with some people because it is confused with another ancient profession: prostitution. Massage therapists prefer to distance themselves as much as possible from sex work, because their practices are focused on healing and professional touch. Although massage is often performed on a nude body, massage therapists do not provide sexual services. They also prefer the term “massage therapist” to “masseuse,” since “masseuse” is often a euphemism for “sex worker.”

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon154286 — On Feb 20, 2011

Can anyone tell me when the end of a massage is supposed to end at one's genitalia, because "this is the center of all stress and is where the massage has to end - including getting the client to a full sexual experience."

I have a friend who is a massage thereapist and insists this is true. I have done massage and read about massage for years and never heard or read this. It makes no sense to me to relax someone and then stress them with the stress the stress of a sexual release. Help. --Holly

By lightning88 — On Sep 13, 2010

How would I go about becoming a pet massage therapist?

Do I need to be a bodywork massage specialist first, or can I start from scratch? Do they have specific pet massage schools?

By EarlyForest — On Sep 13, 2010

Did you know that they learn more than just massage therapy techniques at schools for massage therapists?

They include all kinds of things, from how to make conversation to how to get good health insurance for massage therapists (which is so important in such a physical profession).

Some schools even offer massage therapist software that help the therapists learn the different musculoskeletal connections.

By rallenwriter — On Sep 13, 2010

A good tip for those looking for a cheap massage -- hit up a massage therapist school. Massage therapist training is very hands on, and they're always looking for volunteers to be "white rats" at massage therapy schools.

Of course, the benefits are a lot more better than what most lab rats get...

But be sure to get a registered massage therapist school, you don't want to end up somewhere sketchy.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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