Thai Massage is rapidly growing in popularity and can be a very rewarding career. However there are some important considerations which Thai Massage therapists need to be aware of.
There is lots of information and training available, but not much is written about the challenges that practitioners can encounter. Those issues can make the difference between a successful career and a failed one.
The positive side of a Thai Massage business
There are two sides to being a Thai Massage therapist. New practitioners might see mostly one side – the positive side – which is very real:
- Meaningful work with decent income
- Holistic, positive, and beneficial healing work
- Interaction with many interesting and wonderful people (clients and fellow therapists)
- The ability to have one’s own business
- Setting one’s own working hours
- Contributing something of value to the world
Challenges of a Thai Massage career (physical)
And here is another side which is generally not so obvious in the beginning, but which can make or break your career.
The fact is that massage in general is a short-lived profession for many practitioners. It has a high drop-out rate. But if the benefits are so great, why would therapists burn out or lose interest in their work? Let’s begin with physical reasons:
1 – Watching out for your thumbs
Thai Massage therapists are typically taught how to use their thumbs to apply pressure on feet, arms, back and legs.
This is a potentially dangerous work habit since overuse of thumbs can stress the joints and cause damage to the point of developing long term inflammation. This can lead to a painful and chronic condition.
Often it is already too late when the condition becomes so obvious that the practitioner finally decides to do something about it.
I am speaking from first hand experience. When I started out with Thai Massage 20 years ago, I overused and burned out my thumbs in the process.
It took me over a year to reverse the condition. On the positive side this is what influenced me to focus on more therapist-friendly Thai Massage training.
As a result of my painful learning process I developed a more gentle and therapist-friendly style of Thai Massage which makes much less use of the thumbs.
This training can be found in Thai Healing Massage Academy’s Complete Thai Massage Online Training Course. It has helped thousands of students over the last 20 years to learn Thai Massage in a way that does not stress their bodies.
2 – Watching out for your wrists
Similar caution needs to be used with the wrist. Thai Massage uses a number of positions where pressure is applied with the hands bent at a 90 degree angle. This can cause similar problems. Again the solution lies in modifying the techniques.
3 – Watching your body mechanics
Another area of physical problems is incorrect body posture. Thai Massage is very physical, using lots of moving, lifting and stretching. I have seen many practitioners who suffered from back pain, mostly as a result of incorrect techniques and bad body posture.
What is the solution?
All those potential problems can be prevented by having a good understanding of correct ergonomics and by adjusting techniques to different body types, especially for big, heavy or stiff people who are much harder to work on.
One of the big advantages of Thai Massage is that you can do many techniques without using your hands at all, and instead use other body parts like forearms, elbows, knees and feet.
At Thai Healing Massage Academy we have focused on creating more therapist-friendly training styles like “Heavenly Head Massage” and “Thai Rocking Massage“. Both use elements of Thai Massage, but they are more gentle and much less thumb-intensive.
Challenges of a Thai Massage career (non-physical)
Managing your energy
Now let’s talk about psychological or energetic challenges. Some massage clients use their therapist as a sounding board for their life’s story, marital issues, or physical and mental problems.
Then the therapist is put into the involuntary role of counselor or psychotherapist which he or she has not been trained for.
Some people have a natural ability to handle this role, but others can feel drained by it. Some clients are trying to fill their energetic deficiencies with the therapist’s energy. It is a form of “energy theft” and can be draining.
There are ways to protect oneself from such “energy drainers”. The therapist has to maintain a high energy level. There are many practices that can help with this, like clear intentions, positive affirmations, meditation, visualization, or energy practices.
The other way to be unaffected is to shut down energetically, but this comes at the expense of losing the attitude of loving kindness and empathy.
Not all therapists are affected by energy drain. Some are naturally full of strong energy, but some do need to work at protecting themselves.
Healers and business
Another challenge is that someone might be a great therapist but a lousy business person and marketer.
Independent massage therapists have to find clients, especially when they are starting out. This takes skills that have nothing to do with massage.
Examples are advertising, building a social media presence, collecting email addresses for follow up, collecting testimonials, creating a website, and understanding therapist-client psychology.
Studying massage techniques is only a first step. Many people go to Thailand to learn Thai Massage, but it is good to know that the schools in Thailand teach absolutely nothing about those additional skills.
Massage schools in western countries may sometimes teach marketing skills, but for the most part therapists need to educate themselves about this. Luckily there are good and free resources available with such information, but it is important to realize that there is more to a successful Thai Massage career than learning the actual techniques.
Spa work: the solution for some, but a limitation for others
One way to avoid all that is to work in a spa environment where the therapist does not have to find or cultivate clients. But there you trade the creative freedom of an independent massage practice for a real job with fixed hours, a boss, spa politics, and a lower hourly pay.
In a spa the therapist cannot cultivate clients and build relationships like in a home business. There is less creativity and more structure, but no business skills are needed.
Unrealistic financial expectations
It is true that therapists in western countries charge much higher hourly rates than what people make in an average job.
Hourly rates can vary from cut-throat offerings of $30 to $200 for expensive spas or excellent in-demand therapists.
Average hourly rates are somewhere in the $50 to $100 range, depending on your location and the competition in your area.
While this sounds like a pretty good income, the fact is that the majority of massage therapists do not make lots of money, and many are just scraping by.
Why is that? It is one thing to charge a certain rate, but it is another thing to fill your practice with people who are able and willing to pay you these rates.
While this is certainly possible, it generally does not happen quickly. It takes time to build up your clientele.
If you are self-employed, this can feel like quite a struggle in the beginning. You will need a financial cushion to get to the point of making a good living with your Thai Massage.
If you work for someone else, you will have to share those hourly rates with your employer, meaning less income, but probably a more steady stream of clients without having to make a marketing effort.
There are Thai Massage therapists who make a good living, but they have developed above average skills over time.
How to succeed with Thai Massage
If you just learned a few basic sequences, and that’s what you do in every session to every client, chances are that you will not have much success in your practice.
What’s the secret to success in Thai Massage? It is to stand out by specializing and developing unique skills.
If you are able to address your client’s conditions effectively and better than the average therapist, then you are on your way to success.
These unique skills are not just about learning more techniques. They include:
- Better communication skills
- A higher degree of sensitivity
- A more refined sense of touch
- A better energetic connection
- The ability to work WITH clients, and not just ON them
- Better marketing skills
People tend to remember and appreciate unique and effective therapists, whereas average practitioners are easily forgotten.
Excellent and unique Thai Massage therapists can command higher rates and generate a very good income, but this is something which generally does not happen easily and quickly.
How to acquire those unique skills
We provide online training courses that cover not just regular full-body Thai Massage, but specialized therapeutic work for many conditions and areas of the body.
We train students not just in technical skills, but in many other areas like excellent body mechanics, a more refined intuition and sensitivity, better communication skills, and the development of a wonderful touch.
Making an informed choice
Thai Massage can be a great hobby or a rewarding career. My intention is to help budding therapists to make informed choices by highlighting rewards and challenges.
For me the rewards have always outweighed the challenges by far. Thai Massage has turned into my life’s career and mission. It has provided me with inspiration, satisfaction, many wonderful moments, and a good income. I hope and wish that you will be able to do the same – maybe with the help of the resources we provide at Thai Healing Massage Academy.
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.
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