Back massage

Massage therapy training: what does it take to train as a massage therapist?

10 October 2017

Considering a career as a massage therapist?

Massage therapy training can lead to an incredibly rewarding career. However, if you're thinking of training as a massage therapist, naturally you may have questions about the time commitment, skills and experiences required to get started along this career path. We recently chatted with Jack O'Neill, a student who has completed a massage training course at City Lit. 

Jack O'NeillJack O'Neill

Jack now runs his own business and volunteers across several sites in London. Jack decided to take early retirement, but started looking for massage therapy courses in London after deciding the quiet life wasn't for him...

What was your background before you started training as a massage therapist?

I had an interesting route into massage therapy.

I worked as a headmaster for 16 years, but opted to take early retirement in 2015.

After retiring, I bought a place in Ipswich with the intention of ‘escaping to the country’ after living in London for several years, but I didn’t really enjoy the slower pace of life.

I started going back into London a few times a week, and after a while a few massage therapist friends of mine suggested I should try some introductory taster courses in massage and anatomy and physiology at City Lit. I’m someone who always likes to add another string to my bow, and I thought it might be a good way of earning some pin money, so I decided even at 55 it wasn’t too late to give it a go.

After completing the initial tasters, I took my interest in massage a step further by signing up for the ITEC Level 3 diploma in massage fast-track course.


How did you find the demands of the massage therapy course?

Initially, I had wanted to sign up for this course straight away, but the massage team at City Lit advised me to start with the introductory courses.

I’m glad I did, as this gave me the grounding I needed to meet the more demanding pace of the fast-track course. It also made both the theory and practical elements of the course much easier, already having that initial understanding of the physical demands of training to be a massage therapist.


What tips would you offer to anyone thinking of training as a massage therapist?

Learn how to manage your time mostly – and really listen to your tutors, as they provide some invaluable advice and offer insights into their own experiences of massage therapy training. They give you great guidance and really help ensure each member of the class can meet their deadlines. Farrah (Idris, massage tutor at City Lit) was brilliant throughout.

Also, I’d advise any students thinking of training as a massage therapist at City Lit to really take the business plan assignment seriously. It was only after approaching my work from a business perspective that I realised I could actually turn this new skill I had acquired into a viable business opportunity. Don’t skimp on the time you dedicate to the plan – it became my trusted model and has guided me ever since in setting up my own massage therapy business.

It helped me identify places I could work, the costs, the marketing, the drawbacks and scope out my pricing strategy. It also encouraged me to remain agile in my approach treating massage therapy as a business – for instance, I recently changed my prices, which has seen an encouraging spike in business.


What is the most rewarding thing about a career in massage therapy?

At the end of the course, I started volunteering at a number of London organisations. It’s rewarding work which I would encourage any massage therapist to do, but it also opens up new opportunities, helps you to network, and helps you build invaluable industry experience

In terms of volunteering, I am currently a Massage Therapist for the Positive Health Programme at the YMCA - Massage Therapy for members who are HIV positive, on one afternoon a week. I also work as a Volunteer Massage Therapist one afternoon a week at St Joseph's Hospice - massaging patients at end of life on the Hospice wards.

Finally, I work at St Joseph’s Hospice (paid part-time) two days a week as Namaste Care Coordinator managing dementia care support for people. I’d encourage any massage therapy trainee to volunteer in all sorts of different areas and see what works best for you. I’ve found being altruistic also naturally helps open doors to other opportunities, so you really have nothing to lose.


And tell us a little more about your new massage therapy business is going…

It’s going really well.

I started my own massage therapy business, Holmas Massage, in February 2017 and am slowly building up a good client base - virtually all clients re-book.

Business has been really healthy, often people now have to book as far as a week in advance. I operate from clinics in Oval, St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney and at the Central YMCA near Tottenham Court Road as well as Home visits in the Oval area.

It can be difficult work, but after all the massage therapy training, I was under no illusions, I knew it would be physically demanding. Eight months on from the course, it feels very rewarding to have a great little business and an interesting new career, particularly after my original plan to retire!

I would also advise anyone thinking of starting a massage therapy business to do a deep tissue course. It feels to me this is something you have to do to make a decent living as massage therapist, as over 90% of my clients request it.

The final element to making it work is building a reputation. Trust is important in this industry, so I became a professional member of the CTha (Complementary Therapists Association), and took out professional indemnity insurance. I’d also recommend completing a first aid at work course and gaining an enhanced DBS certificate, as this helps you to put clients at ease.


What would be your final piece of advice for anyone contemplating a career as a massage therapist?

It’s never too late to try it, even if you have no previous experience in the industry.

At the age of 55 I have now started a new career – I never really expected things to happen the way they have happened, but I’m really enjoying it. Now four of my fellow students from my course have also gone on to set up their own businesses, which shows you the opportunity offered by entering this industry.

If you want to make it work, work really hard and don’t try and cut corners. Put the leg work in and it will pay off.

Jack O’Neill is a fully qualified massage therapist and a professional member of the CThA, and the owner of Holmas Massage,


Massage therapy courses in London

Completely new to massage therapy? Considering a career change and interested in massage therapy training?

Our Massage: an introduction (access to level 3) course is an ideal starting point.

Browse all massage therapy courses at City Lit.