Massage therapy emerges as frequent second career
CHAMPAIGN — Ask Tamala Everett who would benefit from getting a massage, and she asks, who wouldn't?
Her clients bring their stress and aches and pains — and she knows after a massage, they always leave feeling better.
"Massage is good," Everett says. "More people need to be getting them for mental and physical health."
A 42-year-old former counselor with a master's degree, Everett became a massage therapist in a career change.
And that's become typical for people working in this field.
Nationally, 88 percent of today's massage therapists are likely to be female and entering the profession as a second career at the median age of 44, according to the American Massage Therapy Association.
Everett runs her own massage therapy business and directs the one-year massage therapy program at Parkland College, where she underwent her own training.
She remembers spotting the massage therapy program in the Parkland College catalog when she was working for Catholic Charities as a counselor, and doing some fitness instruction on the side. Her first thought was massage therapy would be something great to offer aerobics and personal-training clients with sore muscles, but she fell in love with the field. She still loves it.
"As much as I love receiving massage," Everett says, "I love giving massage even more."
Parkland's program takes 20 to 30 new students a year, and enrollment can be competitive, she says, though there are still a few openings for the next one-year session starting in August.
Massage therapists also work in corporate settings, such as spas, and health care settings, with most health care jobs in this area being chiropractic offices, Everett says.
Massage therapists can earn $60 an hour working for themselves, and $17-$49 working for somebody else, she says, and Parkland's graduates are generally offered jobs — though they have to pass licensing exams before they go to work.
The Parkland program runs three straight semesters — fall, spring and summer — and attracts people of all ages, Everett says. Students will specialize in Swedish massage when they graduate, but are also introduced to several other types of massage, such as deep tissue and hot stone massage.
Good massage therapist candidates are people with warm personalities with a real interest in the field, Everett says, but they don't necessarily need to be extroverts to succeed. In fact, she adds, one thing that will ruin a massage for most people is a massage therapist who talks too much.
Taught right, a massage therapist won't find the work tiring, she says.
"It becomes a flow. It becomes part of who you are," she adds.
Fellow career-changer Susan Roughton, 46, of Urbana, graduated from the Parkland massage therapy program in 2008.
She also has a master's degree — in Russian language and Russian linguistics — and had been working for the University of Illinois, but she's a people-person and was finding herself working more with documents than people, she recalls.
Now she's doing work that has a real impact on people's health and wellness, she says.
Roughton also likes the family-friendly flexibility being a massage therapist offers. A mother of two, she can set her own hours, spend time with her kids after school and do volunteer work in the community — though she also has to be available evenings and weekends when people want massages, she says.
Before she ever trained to become a massage therapist, Roughton says she had experience with getting massages herself — both for relaxation and later during pregnancy.
Now two of her own specialties are providing prenatal massage — something she's done for women in labor to help through the birth — and massages for the elderly in their own homes.
Everybody benefits from touch, Roughton says, but elderly folks in particular can benefit from massage when they're lacking contact with people in their lives.
So many problems in life are tied to stress, and it's amazing what setting aside time for a relaxing, soothing experience can do, she advises.
"It gives you something to look forward to, and it's amazing how one hour for yourself — when you're being cared for and not having to do anything else — how that can carry over into so many things," she says.
By the numbers
15: The national average number of hours per week massage therapists spend doing massage, though they spend time on other tasks related to their business.
23 percent: Projected U.S. massage therapist employment growth rate from 2012-2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
$8 billion to $10 billion: Estimated size of the U.S. massage therapy industry in 2013.