The Incredible Shrinking Profession: What’s Going On?

Here are the number of graduates from massage schools in the United States from 1998 to 2012 courtesy of ABMP, which surveys every State approved school every two years. It’s easy to see that this profession is crashing: From a high of over 70,000 new therapists entering the profession in 2004 to less than 40,000 just eight years later.

Massage schools are definitely hurting. They are graduating the same number of students as they did in 1998, but at that point in time there were 700 fewer schools! So classroom sizes have shrunk dramatically and schools everywhere are being forced to close their doors.

Vendors, both product suppliers and CE providers, are finding themselves with a lot fewer therapists to sell to. No doubt associations are suffering too as their growth slows or even backslides.

What the heck is going on? Why have the number of therapists entering the profession dropped by almost half in eight years? Enrollment in all colleges and universities for all other programs continues to climb upwards. Why aren’t people choosing massage career option?

Please provide your thoughts in the comment section below…

Eric Brown of BodyworkBiz (an online massage business resource) also owns Thermal Palms, Relax to the Max, World Massage Conference and Massage Therapy Radio. Sign up for the free BodyworkBiz massage marketing newsletter at


You can now find me on Twitter @ericupsidebrown
Erik Dalton Techniques at Indiana State University | Eric Brown, BodyworkBiz Blog - 2 years ago

11 thoughts on “The Incredible Shrinking Profession: What’s Going On?

  1. Perhaps the word has finally gotten around that the main myth perpetuated by some of the more unscrupulous school owners is not true…the old “You’ll be making $75 an hour as soon as you graduate.” Instead, they’re making $17 an hour at Massage Envy. I can make more than that waiting on tables.

  2. I think a possibility might be that there are so many franchises nowadays that are in a way cheapening the practice, making people see the profession as not so lucrative, not a good way to make a decent living. So they go to school for something else that they believe will better support themselves/their families.

  3. It is true that many go into massage school thinking that it is an easy $70 an hour, but in theory it is much less. I went back to massage school well into my 30s and can tell you that I was ready for the career change. So many of my fellow students who were fresh out of high school, really had no clue what they wanted to do with their lives. Mom and dad hounded them to get out there and become something. For whatever reason these individuals chose to go to school for massage. The bottom line is that even though many still graduate school as a massage therapist, many do not stick with it. I have only been out of school for 3 years, graduated with a class of 45, I can now count on both hands the number of my fellow classmates that actually practice. The numbers of graduates doesn’t acurately reflect the number of therapists who actually go into practice. It is the same in any field really, people think something sounds cool and exciting, but then they move onto a new career, or a new line of work, one that slowly takes their massage training away from them.

  4. The economy has hurt many families. If people are losing their houses because of foreclosures they are not able to pay for massage school tuition. All of the lenders are much tighter on loan applications. Even the federal government is reviewing student loans for massage therapy because of the number of defaults. Since the economy has been down for a long time less people are spending money on massage therapy. In Florida the State legislature changed the auto insurance coverage so they are no longer covering massage therapy or acupuncture treatments. If doctors offices cannot bill for massage therapy it has a negative effect on employment. Things are slowing down for a combination of reasons.

  5. While the issues are very real, the chart doesn’t show “shrinking” or much less a “crash” of the profession, just an acceleration and deceleration of its growth. This will hit those who sell to entry-level practitioners the hardest, but isn’t necessarily bad for the profession overall — massage therapy as a profession is seeking its right place and size. There are, sadly, some casualties along the way. If you’re providing something valuable to those who want and will pay for it, you’re fine.

  6. I am around a lot of young Massage Therapists in their twenties, and other new grads, and they aren’t happy with the opportunities once they graduate. Word of Mouth spreads fast. Everyone knows someone who went to massage school who isn’t doing massage and they know why. Poor wages and inability to have the lifestyle that they seek.

  7. It’s likely a combination of some of what has been mentioned above. I would be curious to know how many of those enrolled in 2004 how many actually intended to practice versus now. In my class of about 20 in 1995 there were several students that were just there to learn massage for a hobby, and at least two who realized it was not for them. Just thinking with the current economy there are probably less of the “learning for fun” group. And probably less of the wasting their parents $$ group.
    Do you have any numbers on the actual amount of MT’s in the states? I found 250,000 total, on ABMP website I believe. I wonder of those that do graduate how long do they last?

  8. I recently graduated and have my licensce. I am in my mid thrities and I can definatly say that the decrease is because the younger generation of students all around me had the mind set that they were going to be handed everything they needed and that t was not going to require them to actually get up and do some work.

    The crowd complained and growned when they had to do a massage and when it came time to do our business class and marketing they were all like oh I dont want to do that.. I will just go work for Massage Envy instead. I just shake my head and continue on.

    As far as people saying there are no jobs out there… (and I know different demographics and clientle make a difference) but I refer back to this article I read somewhere that said something like Congradulations you graduated with a sea of other Massage Therapists and they all know the basics that you do.. what did you do to set yourself apart. .. I thought about that constantly through school and became certified in Thai Massage as well along side going to school for Massage. Before I graduated I had people looking for me to give me jobs and clients calling me to give them massages because I had shown the drive and interest in my career field.

    In summary, people must realize that this is a career where you are going to have to work, you are going to have to sell yourself and your skills. Along with that specializing in something and setting yourself apart from every massage therapist on every corner.

  9. The classmates I went to school with were not even interested in massage. Only a small portion of us truly wanted to be Licensed Massage Therapists. I honestly don’t know why these people entered massage school in the first place. They all chose to go back to school for something different, or take any sort of job they could find. It really takes heart to be in this profession. If you don’t absolutely love massage, it isn’t the right career choice. I feel sad that my classmates are doing other things after they’d worked so hard. But I’m very happy to keep at it and it’s a “calling” to me!!

  10. I agree with all of the above postings…it’s all of it, as well as how much passion and interest you have in serving others. It takes a special person to be a teacher, social worker, etc. Getting the education is only ONE small part of the whole. Being a massage therapist in heart and soul is finding your calling, developing a personal touch, continually marketing. All while keeping up with the array of local and Federal laws.

  11. Why aren’t people choosing massage career option?

    In my opinion, massage is not marketed to middle, high school and college students like other health career fields.

    My high school daughter recently registered for a health career summer camp. Massage therapy, chiropractic and other complimentary health fields were not listed as options for health career choices. I asked the camp director about massage therapy and she said it doesn’t qualify for the camp because “it is not considered a hospital based program.” Of course I shared with her that many hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic and Duke University included massage as part of their offerings. However, this information didn’t seem to change her mind.

    Okay… so the simple conversation with the camp director really got me thinking and upset too. As a massage therapist with more than 20 years in the business, I felt that my input mattered little. It seems that the health care industry does not see massage as a health science career field, and therefore does not encourage students. Just check out student organizations like HOSA, (Future Health Care Professionals). Maybe I missed it, but I looked through the complete program for the 2013 National Conference and could not see one word mentioned about massage as a health career. But it is interesting to see what is promoted for health career fields to some of the smartest students in the nation.

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