Should You Shadow a Massage Therapist Before Going to Massage School?

Many enter the massage therapy career as their second career.  In fact, in a research study conducted by one of the esteemed organizations in the massage industry, most respondents indicated they entered the massage field as a second career. Read this article to see the results of the research study.

Many of our own volunteers here at the MTSI previously were in other careers before entering the massage industry. When asked what is the one thing they wished they did if they could go back in time and start their careers all over again, the overwhelmingly popular response is to shadow someone in the profession of their interest before committing to it full time and going to school. Massage therapy is no different.

Any skilled profession requires some level of schooling or training. Attending a massage school isn’t cheap. In addition to the cost of attendance, you will also likely lock in a year of your time, which could be spent working and earning an income instead. If you are going to invest in such an endeavor, then it behooves you to do your full due diligence to ensure you know what you are getting into.

What is Job Shadowing and Why You Should Do It?

What we are recommending here is to shadow a massage therapist for a full-day, and more if possible, to truly get a flavor of what working as one is like. This process will help clarify whether a massage career is really what you want before you commit your time and money to school.

When you “shadow” a professional, you will be spending a day, part of a day, or a few days with them observing them work and interact with people they come in contact with every day. This could be their clients, patients, co workers, bosses, office secretaries, vendors, etc. If you are lucky, the massage professional you are shadowing may even ask you to lend them a helping hand.

Job shadowing will allow you to experience what a career as a massage therapist is like. It will give you an opportunity to ask questions of a professional massage therapist and reflect on the answers provided as well as your own observations. This serves several purposes. You get to validate or vindicate your decision to go to massage school, you can network with existing professionals, you get learn the “ins and outs” of the business, get career tips and pre plan the approach you want to take while in school based on your experience.

Who Should You Job Shadow and Why?

It doesn’t make sense for someone who wants to become a pilot to shadow a doctor. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense for you to shadow a sports rehab massage therapist if you want to work in a spa setting. Choose who you reach out to wisely because time and opportunity can both be limited.

You want to spend your time shadowing a professional who works in the exact field/specialty that you are interested in. Remember, the entire premise of shadowing is to learn what it is like to be in your future profession and whether you will like it.

You don’t have to stop after one shadowing opportunity. In fact we recommend shadowing as much as possible. For example, if you are not yet sure about which specialization of massage you want to focus on, you could shadow a medical massage therapist and one that works in a spa.

Moreover, you can shadow a massage therapist who works for a clinic or a private institution as well as one that works alone as their own business. This will allow you the opportunity to see what it is like to work for someone vs. running your own massage business as a sole proprietor.

Possible Barriers to Successful Job Shadowing

It is not always easy to secure job shadowing opportunities. This is particularly true in highly regulated and “personal” industries. For example, you may not be able to accompany a pilot on a flight across the country. In the massage profession, you may face reluctance of professionals to allow you to shadow because of the inherent, personal nature of the industry.

The massage field is one of the more personal fields that involve one on one interaction between the client/patient and the professional therapist. The therapist has to respect their client’s comfort level and thus their willingness to allow you to observe them being worked on.

Just keep this in mind as you are likely to get several rejections before you can secure an opportunity to shadow a massage therapist.

Tips on How to Find an Opportunity to Shadow a Massage Therapist

Most prospective students do not take the time to shadow a professional massage therapist before committing to attend a massage school. This is because most of them don’t know of such opportunities and unfortunately it can hurt them later as they end up in a career they didn’t know how it’d be like. But – you do.

The best way to secure a job shadowing opportunity is to step forward and ask. Start with your own family, friends and colleagues and ask them whether they personally know massage therapists they can refer you to for shadowing purposes. Next, contact the massage schools you are interested in attending and ask them whether they can put you in touch with some of their alumni who are now practicing massage professionally. Finally, get a massage and ask your therapist if they’d be open to shadowing or whether they know others who would.

Once you have a list of potential opportunities, carefully craft your message to them. Make it short and concise. Rehearse your message several times to yourself so that you can confidently ask when you speak to them. Contact each one over the phone or visit them personally if you can. Email should be the last resort. Be polite and sincere in your request.

Remember, it is not uncommon to have your request denied repeatedly before you land an opportunity. Understanding this fact will help reduce any anxiety you might have. Whatever the case is, always be polite and thank the person for their time and consideration even after they have denied your request. This will ensure you maintain a good relationship with them, especially if you were to reach out to them again in the future for something else.

Take That One Extra Step in Your Due Diligence Process

While shadowing may sound great, and it is, keep in mind that it alone will not tell you everything you need to know, and will certainly not make you fully feel and realize what it is like to be a massage therapist. After all, you are only going to be “in there” for a limited time. However, shadowing is that one extra step you can take during your research process to supplement your due diligence. You want to be able to look back and tell yourself that you did everything you could in researching and deciding your career path.

We understand that what we are recommending isn’t always feasible, and that’s why we recommend spending adequate time researching your field through published material such as that on this website, as well as meeting and talking to people who are in or somehow related to the profession.

If you haven’t yet, download our comprehensive massage school evaluation checklist for free here. This checklist will help ensure you’ve done adequate due diligence prior to deciding which massage school you will attend.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

Posted in Career Considerations
2 comments on “Should You Shadow a Massage Therapist Before Going to Massage School?
  1. Nav says:

    Hi

    I was wondering if massage therapy would be a good career for one who has lower back problems? My lower back muscles sometimes tighten up. And I know I need to strengthen the muscles. What do you think? Would it be a wise decision to become a RMT?

    • Neal Lyons says:

      You don’t know until you try. Try replicating the same movement a therapist would for 45 minutes and do it every so often to get a feel. To give a good massage you must be in good shape. Perhaps this career will motivate you to get in shape in order to serve others? Or maybe you will realize the physical conditioning may preclude you from this career.

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