A much-kneaded change

You can’t throw a rock in Asheville without hitting a massage therapist.

OK, maybe that’s a tad exaggerated — but people inside the holistic-health loop can verify that therapeutic massage therapy is one of the country’s fastest-growing professions.

The three local massage schools crank out upward of 150 graduates every year — contributing to the tidal wave of alternative-health-care practitioners descending on this area.

And for those on a quest to disengage from the corporate matrix — or just searching for a more fulfilling job — massage has a lot to offer.

Just do it

Take Brenda Walker. Seated behind her desk booking one appointment after another, the co-owner of Asheville Massage Therapy Associates’ prosperous Pack Square clinic is a textbook case for success.

With waterfalls whispering in the background, ethereal art lining the walls, and three spacious treatment rooms, her third-floor aerie is bustling with healing hands. But Walker wasn’t always a thriving neuromuscular and prenatal-massage specialist.

She loved her job administering a 64-bed residential facility for people with mental disabilities. But in the early ’90s, she felt the stirrings of job-related discontent: She was ready to move on.

“It was time for me to do a career change,” Walker admits frankly. “But to be honest, actually, I’d never even had a massage when I started thinking about becoming a massage therapist.”

Still, she sensed that massage might be the right career choice. She knew that she wanted to stay in the health field, wanted to continue working one-on-one with patients — and, maybe most importantly, wanted to be the master of her own universe.

So in 1993, Walker packed in her day job and enrolled in the Sarasota School of Massage Therapy’s six-month, 625-hour program. Walker insists that future earning potential wasn’t on her mind back then: “It was just something I felt really drawn to do. I didn’t give the money much consideration.”

Nonetheless, the field’s earning potential is phenomenal: A hard-working therapist can rake in a lot of dough. After less than a year in school, a practitioner can expect to earn at least $40 an hour: Not many professionals make that kind of money at the beginning of their careers (at least not in these parts).

Along with the financial perks, the autonomy the career provides can also be very appealing.

“There’s still [the] stresses of being your own boss, but it’s not the same as dealing with a bureaucratic system,” Walker reports candidly. “Compared to what I was doing for a living, I consider this my semiretirement, and I don’t have to take this work home with me.”

The initial outlay to get started is relatively reasonable. In this region, schools charge between $4,800 and $8,000 for the basic program — considerably less than a bachelor’s degree from a state college would cost. Yet with so many therapists flooding the local market, is there really enough work for everyone who wants to practice?

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