How to Become a Professional Massage Therapist
Massage therapy is a growing career field with immense potential to help others and have your own business.
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2 Years

The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Massage Therapist

You have a passion for helping others, compassion to help ease their pain, and love to work with your hands. All these converge in a career in massage therapy.

More and more medical care facilities offer massage therapy as integrated medicine. That means the career opportunities in this field are growing. So, are you wondering how to become a massage therapist?

Massage therapy is a medical profession where the practitioner manipulates the muscles, connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and skin with varying degrees of movement and pressure. You can help clients reduce stress, relieve pain, and increase relaxation through massage therapy.

Continue reading to learn how to become a massage therapist and join the nearly 400,000 other certified therapists in the United States.

Basics on How to Become a Massage Therapist

You have decided that helping others with their stress and pain is your career path. Here are the basic steps.

  • Graduate from a post-secondary education program in massage therapy.
  • Apply for licensure or certification depending on where you will practice.
  • Pass any required exams.
  • Join an established medical practice or start your own.

It doesn't seem like there are many hurdles between you and your dream job as a massage therapist. However, there are more details in each step you need to consider.

Graduate From a Massage Therapy Program

Enrolling in a massage therapy program is the first step on your journey to helping people. Looking ahead to where you will practice, you may need to ensure that your chosen program meets state standards.

That said, there are many colleges, universities, junior colleges, and career schools that offer programs in massage therapy.

A program can range from 300 to 1000 hours of instruction in classes and practical training. The length of time to completion depends on the program and how many massage techniques you learn.

Consider an extended program that will include more methods and techniques. As a result, you will feel better prepared for a broader range of client needs and issues.

Estimated Costs of Massage Therapy Programs

Short, certificate programs cost about $4,000-6,000. An Associate Degree in Massage Therapy program will be closer to $10,000-25,000.

Skills You Will Learn

The exact set of skills that you will graduate knowing depends on the program. Here is a list of many massage therapy skills.

  • Deep tissue massage
  • Swedish massage
  • Sports massage
  • Shiatsu massage
  • Thai massage
  • Prenatal massage
  • Geriatric massage
  • Acupressure and reflexology

Imagine yourself knowing how to treat clients' various pains and stresses with these techniques. Study diligently and graduate from your program. Then you'll be ready for the next step.

Get a License

Licensure and certification are common standards in many professions. Governments and private practitioners benefit from these types of requirements.

Certifications and licenses assure high quality and professionalism across the field. They also instill confidence in clients that they will receive superb services.

License requirements vary by state.

States That Do Not Require a Licence for Massage Therapists

We will list the states that do not have a licensing requirement for massage therapists first because it is a short list.

  • Wyoming
  • Kansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Minnesota
  • Vermont

If you plan to practice in one of these states, they will not require you to obtain a license from their state Department of Health or medical licensing board. However, you may consider getting a national certification to give you an edge over other massage therapists with no credentials beyond their diplomas.

We'll talk about national certification below.

States That Require a License for Massage Therapists

The states not mentioned above have a list of requirements for obtaining a license to practice massage therapy. California, Indiana, and Virginia have a state certification program.

When you practice in a state that obligates you to have a license or state-issued certification, make sure you attend an accredited program accepted by your state. Most states have a license application process after you graduate. You'll likely have to pass an exam for your license too.

State Licence Application and Exam Costs

The cost of filing for your license and taking the exam varies by state. Typical application fees are about $100-$150. You'll probably pay an annual license renewal fee for about the same amount. Exams can be $200-300.

Get Hired as a Massage Therapist

Directly after graduation, you may want to join a practice to gain experience under some seasoned practitioners. Give yourself an edge in your job search by having national certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

Get NCBTMB Certified

This national certification will instill confidence in any potential employers due to the high standards expected by NCBTMB. Here are the basic steps.

NCBTMB In a License State
  • Verify your current state license
  • Pass the Board Certification Exam with a Scale Score of 410 or better.
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Agree to uphold NCBTMB's standards of professionalism and code of ethics.
NCBTMB In a Non-License State
  • Graduate from an NCBTMB assigned school.
  • Pass the Board Certification Exam with a Scale Score of 410 or better.
  • Pass a criminal background check.
  • Agree to uphold NCBTMB's standards of professionalism and code of ethics.

Start Your Own Practice

Fresh from school or after gaining more field experience, you might be ready to be your own boss. You'll already be familiar with the tools of the trade, but here are supplies you must have.

  • A place to practice
  • Massage table
  • Massage chair
  • Pillows, linens, and towels
  • Oils, creams, and lotions
  • Candles and music to create ambiance
  • Storage space
  • A way to wash linens

A remarkable aspect of massage therapy is that you can set up a small private practice almost anywhere. Rent and insurance will vary by location, of course. But running your own massage therapy business could be the most enriching career you'll experience.

In Summary

Massage therapy is a growing career field with immense potential to help others and have your own business.

There are a few integral steps to take, such as graduating from an accredited program, obtaining a state license, and possibly getting a national certification.

Once you've done the necessary preparation, you can work for an established practice or decide to start your own.