How to Become a Massage Therapist: Healing Touch

Massage therapy is physical, personal, and often spiritual. Massage therapists use various hand-on techniques to manipulate the soft-tissue muscles of the body in order to stimulate circulation and relieve tension. Massage therapy is often used to reduce pain and stress, treat overworked muscles, and rehabilitate individuals after injury. Becoming a massage therapist can be an excellent way to start an independent business, supplement your income on a part-time basis, fill a gap between longer-term professional commitments or add variety to retirement after your formal career.

Massage Therapist Education Degree Requirements

Massage therapists can specialize in over 80 massage modalities, and most practitioners are trained in more than one approach. A massage therapy program can either result in a certification, which takes from six months to one year to complete, or a two-year associate’s degree. In addition to extensive hands-on practice, a typical massage therapy program will have courses on massage theory, anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology (the study of motion and body mechanics). Since so many massage therapists operate their own businesses, business management is often a frequent topic, and ethics courses are also critical in instructing students how to professionally handle the demand for close physical contact with clients.

Training standards vary by state and by technique, but education and certification matte—most states require that training programs be approved by an independent accrediting agency, and certification may demand 500 hours of study and practice. Two national bodies administer tests required or accepted by most state boards: the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. Additional standards and legal requirements vary significantly from state to state, and if you are interested in pursuing this career, you should thoroughly research legal requirements for licensing in your area.

Becoming a Massage Therapist: Career Outlook

For massage therapists, variety is the name of the game, and depending on the kind of work environment you prefer, you may end up working at a spa, hospital or out of your home, traveling to clients, serving on the training staff of a professional sports team, helping elderly manage chronic pain or working with pregnant women and infants. It is quite likely that, as a massage therapist, you will work in several different settings to serve a wider client base.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that massage therapist positions are expected to grow by 19% through 2018. About half of all massage therapists work part-time, although adding in time for business functions like billing often pushes a self-employed massage therapist past 40 hours a week. As in any part-time independent work, there’s a trade-off between freedom and flexibility on the one hand, and opportunities for advancement, benefits, and security on the other. Median hourly wages (tips included) ran about $17 an hour in 2008. Top earners in the field, who tend to own their own business and have built an extensive client network through personal initiative, can look forward to seeing $33 or more an hour.

Whatever you choose to do in the field, massage therapy places a premium on sensitivity, comfort with your own body and the bodies of others, and people skills. In addition to these mental attributes, massage therapy careers can also be physically demanding, requiring long hours of standing, repeated motions that can lead to repetitive stress injuries without proper precaution, and significant physical exertion.

In all, massage therapy demands hustle from people who want to make it their career or a significant addition to their livelihood, but if independence, building relationships, and using your body are important to you, then massage therapy can be a perfect fit. To learn more about how to become a massage therapist, search for a massage therapy school, and request for more information today.