Massage Internship: Learning all the Roles of a Massage Therapist

Tim Sullivan is a yoga teacher and massage therapist in training. You can find him at and

I swore I wouldn’t bring Spiderman sheets to internship. This was our first time to really step into the role of massage therapist and I so wanted to be professional. I’m talking paying clients, full sessions, full strangers, no-holds-barred general public. Yes, everyone is bound to be a little nervous. All the therapists-to-be are trying to remember where to find the paperwork, what to put where, and how to notate that move we kept just calling the “dance of the ulna” in class.

The first day, I remember fiddling with my tube of massage cream trying to get the product down to the bottom of the tube so that it wouldn’t come out in that loud farting noise when I squeezed it. My first appointment was in 10 minutes and there I was, couldn’t get the tube closed again, hands already slippery as can be, huddled in the corner of my stall. Everything seemed so important to have perfect, everything, except, you know, the therapy part.

I got the tube to work, more or less, and went out to meet my first client. After a short interview, upon his request, I wrote down my plan to give extra attention to his trapezius and address, to the best of my ability, some lower back pain he was having. I told him to start on his belly, face down, under the sheets. Okay, deep breath, slid the curtain closed.

With any new career, I always am surprised by the number of hats we have to wear. When first looking into massage school, I remember picturing a meditative space with me, gliding gracefully over some incredibly blissed-out person on the table. You forget to factor in the role of LMT business person, or LMT marketing director, or LMT nutritionist, or LMT psychiatrist, LMT book keeper or LMT massage cream tube mechanic. And yes, much of that is out of our scope of practice, but in minor ways, these are hats we’ll be asked to wear. It’s one of the things that is so frightening, but ultimately, so incredibly engaging about the profession.

After checking to make sure my first client was ready, I open the curtain and sure enough, there he was, face up on top of the sheets, not under, in his tighty-whities. “All set,” he said. Okay, get him under the sheets, effleurage, petrissage, this is the easy part. It’s all down hill from here.