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How to Become a Massage Therapist in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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If you are interested in becoming a massage therapist, you need to find a quality massage school. A massage therapist usually needs to be licensed and must pass board examinations. There are many steps to becoming a massage therapist, such as finding a school, taking courses, participating in clinical hours, passing an exam, and applying for licensure.

Steps to becoming a massage therapist

Some people want to work with others to help them feel their best, to help them recover from illnesses, and to help them improve their pain. Some people already work in a field, like in holistic nursing, and want to expand into additional areas to help their patients more. Massage therapy could be a good option.

If you want to become a massage therapist, you should know that there is some significant training involved. Depending on the kind of massage you want to perform and who you want to work with, you may need special licensing through the state massage therapy board where you’d like to practice.

Any prospective massage therapist should know that getting a license is a requirement in most states. Other than in Vermont, Minnesota, Kansas, or Wyoming, you will need to attend classes and pass an examination to get your massage license before you can practice. You will also need to invest in insurance before you work as a massage therapist, both for yourself and your clients, if you intend to be a freelancer and open your own business. If you work for an overhead company, then you may not need this coverage.

How long does it take to become a massage therapist?

The length of time it takes to become a massage therapist depends on a few things. First, you need to complete an accredited massage therapy program. Then, you will need to pass the nationally-recognized examination, which includes health and anatomy knowledge. Following this, you do need to complete in-class instruction as well as clinical hours. Clinical training hours, as well as other in-person training, can take anywhere from 300 to 1,000 hours to complete depending on the program.

How quickly you can complete a program will vary based on how much practical training you’ll receive as well as the number of massage methods that you choose to learn.

How can you get started if you want to work as a massage therapist?

To get started, you will first need to find an accredited program. After that, you need to complete the MBLEx, the most commonly used examination for massage therapists. This examination is accepted in 43 states. In others, the MBLEx may not be required at all, or a different examination may be used. The BCETMB is another examination that you may take in some states.

Questions on the examination will cover topics like professional guidelines, pathology, massage therapy ethics, anatomy and physiology, and treatment planning. If you are considering massage therapy as a career and are in college or high school now, consider taking anatomy and physiology classes, which are the core of what you’ll need to understand the human body and the techniques taught in massage therapy school.

What kinds of skills should you learn to become a massage therapist?

To become a massage therapist, you will need a strong understanding of anatomy and the human body. You will also learn several kinds of massage techniques. The exact techniques you’ll learn will depend on the program that you join. Some of the most commonly taught techniques include:

  • Geriatric massage
  • Thai massage
  • Sports massage
  • Swedish massage
  • Shiatsu massage
  • Acupressure
  • Reflexology
  • Deep tissue massage

The massage skills themselves are not the only skills you’ll need to do this job. You will also need to learn about proper hygiene, safety protocols, business procedures, and ethical standards. Some important classwork will cover anatomy and physiology, contraindications, pathology, and limitations.

The point of these classes is to give you the skills you need to perform a massage safely and when to know that you need to refuse a client for health- or safety-related concerns.

Do you need a license to be a massage therapist?

Yes. You need to have a massage therapy license if you intend to work as a massage therapist in most states. There are four states that are the exception to this rule: Wyoming, Minnesota, Kansas, and Vermont. These states don’t require a license but have other requirements.

In California, Virginia, and Indiana, you will need to obtain a Massage Therapy Certification rather than a license or degree.

Once you pass your examinations, you will be granted a license and be able to use the abbreviation “LMT” to show that you are a licensed massage therapist. Certified Massage Practitioners, or CMPs, are also able to work in some states, but they will not have as many training hours. It’s possible for a Certified Massage Therapist (CMT) to practice in some states without a license, while other states require them to be LMTs and CMTs. Registered Massage Therapists also receive a license from the state, but some states do not have as many requirements in place for RMTs. As a result, for the best opportunities, it’s normally advised to get the LMT.

Do you need a degree to be a massage therapist, or can you get a certificate?

You don’t necessarily need to get a degree to become a massage therapist, but there are degree programs available. No formal education is required in most cases. A high school diploma or GED is enough to allow you to enter into the field once you receive a certification from an educational body.

On the national level, most states require 500 hours of massage training before you’ll be able to work in the field. This training must come from an accredited institution. You will also need to pass the national certification exam set up in the state where you live. It’s generally also a requirement to go through continuing education and to renew your license once you get it.

How to become a certified massage therapist

To become a massage therapist, you need to start by completing a massage therapy program. Either a certificate or degree program should be appropriate for you, depending on where you live. Make sure to choose an accredited school that is approved by your state or the state where you’d like to work.

Study hard during school. Some programs will be intensive and offer only six-month schooling. Others are for longer and give you a better understanding of your career outlook with longer sessions.

You will study coursework in medical terminology, massage ethics, anatomy and physiology, body mechanics, and more. All of these topics come up on the national certification examinations.

During schooling, you will need to participate in hands-on massage training. Every school will be different and have varied hours required of the students. Most states require at least 500 hours of hand-on training, which you can get through working at the school’s clinic or by entering into an internship with a local company.

Once you complete your schooling, you can take the licensing examination. Remember, this exam is only recognized in the state where you’re trying to get your license. If you move, you may need to take it again.

The most common examination is 100 questions long and takes around two hours to complete. It’s called the MBLEx and is administered through the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

Once you pass this examination, you need to apply for a state massage license. You can find out the specific requirements on the American Massage Therapy Association’s website.

Finally, if you would like to receive a certification in a particular area of massage therapy, you will need to complete a certain number of clinical hours in that specialty. If you get a certification, it may make it easier for you to get a license.

Do you have to take exams to become a massage therapist?

Yes. You will need to take examinations in most states. The most common is the MBLEx, but some states also accept the BCETMB. These are nationally recognized examinations that help guarantee a high level of quality students entering the field.

What jobs can you do with a certification in massage therapy?

Massage therapy certifications may be all that is needed to work as a massage therapist, but this varies by state. Certifications can be earned in several areas including:

  • Palliative care
  • Spa management
  • Clinical rehabilitative massages
  • Veterinary massage
  • Sports massage
  • Neonatal massage
  • Pediatric massage

Earning certifications is a good way to increase your employability or to widen the range of massages that you can do in a private practice.

How long does it take you to get a license after passing a massage therapy exam?

Passing the MBLEx examination is only one aspect needed for gaining your license. Remember, you must also complete enough hours of clinical work and practice before you can get your license.

Normally, students pass the test and complete their clinical hours around the same time. Once that happens, and if they meet other state requirements, then they can seek a license from the state licensing board.

What happens if you fail the MBLEx?

If you fail the MBLEx, you won’t pass the examination or have that exam score to help you get your license. You will need to take the examination a second time. You can take the examination again after 30 days have passed since the last appointment. You will need to reapply to take the test in the meantime.

Interestingly, there is no limit to the number of times you can take this test. Though that is the case, certain states or state licensing boards might place their own limits on the number of times a prospective massage therapist can take the examination in an attempt to pass.

Finding a massage therapy program

To find a massage therapy program, you can search online or check with the American Massage Therapy Association, for a start. Even once you locate a program that you think may be right for you, remember that there is more to a program than just the fact that it allows you to take the MBLEx.

When you look for a massage therapy program, you need to find one that has the right specialties that you’re interested in, that fits your budget, and that fits any time constraints you have.

AMTA has a massage school search that will bring up accredited massage therapy schools and programs near you. Remember, you need to attend an accredited program. If a program is not accredited, then you may not be able to go on to get your license in the future.

To find a quality program, you do have to think about which program most closely matches your goals. One program may be focused on spa work, for example, but another may be focused on sports medicine or working with pregnant women and babies. Review the curriculum before you decide to enroll in any program, so that you know that the program will give you the training that you want.

You may also want to look into massage therapy education at local holistic and acupuncture schools.

What should you look for in a good massage therapy program?

Any good massage therapy program will have a curriculum available for you to review, so that you can get an idea about what the school teaches long before you ever decide to enroll. Make sure the style of massage you want to learn is included in the curriculum. For example, if you want to learn about neonatal massage, you should find a program that works with infants and expecting mothers.

To work with sports teams, find a program that focuses on sports massage and physiology.

If you’re interested in opening a spa, then finding a course with spa-centric information as well as relaxation techniques and business skills training may be the right one for you.

In a good massage therapy program, an admissions counselor will be happy to speak with you about the program, alumni programs, job assistance, and clinical support. They will talk to you about any certifications that their program can help you get as well as the specialties that they focus on.

When you speak with an admissions counselor, be sure to ask about the educational philosophy the program believes in. You should always make sure that your goals and aspirations line up with the school’s philosophy on training new students in massage. The school should match your opinion on health and healing as well as the use and purpose of massage therapy (relaxation, medical, or healing, for example).

Another thing to look for in a good massage therapy program is that it offers enough time to get your clinical and practice hours in. Figure out the hours that are required in your state and match that to the hours offered by the program. Ideally, you’ll be in a program that requires more hours than the state requires, so that you are better prepared.

You do need to make sure that the program is flexible enough to work with your schedule and gives you enough time to practice and study for your examinations.

Should you learn more about the class instructors?

A good program has quality staff members, too. Massage therapists who have gone on to run their own businesses or who are recognized within the community may teach some courses. Taking courses from well-known, highly-experienced massage therapists is a good way to help yourself graduate with the knowledge you need.

You should be able to ask the school’s student services department about the program’s educators and their backgrounds.

What should you talk about with the student services department of the massage school?

Before you enroll in any program, it’s smart to get a massage from the students or instructors. You want to know that they know that they’re doing, and a good way to test that is by getting a massage yourself.

You may also talk to the student services department about tutoring options, job placement support, continuing education and certification options, financial aid, scholarships, and other topics important to you. You should carefully consider the tuition and fees associated with the coursework to be sure the program is within your budgetary requirements.

Which states offer the highest-quality massage therapy programs?

There are high-quality schools in multiple states. The top massage therapy school in the United States is the National Holistic Institute, which trains students with a comprehensive massage therapy training program. This school also trains students in advanced neuromuscular therapy. It is located in California and has several campuses.

Another excellent school is located in Utah. Myotherapy College of Utah trains students in over 20 modalities and styles of massage. It’s a fully accredited facility and offers financial aid to students who qualify.

Finally, the third best school in the United States for massage therapy is located in both Florida and Illinois. National University of Health Sciences only trains students in the health sciences and has coursework in biomedical science, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic medicine, and massage therapy.

These are just three of the best schools in the country. They are in California, Utah, Florida, and Illinois, but there are also excellent programs in other states.

How do you know that a specific massage therapy program is right for you?

Your priority with any kind of training is to make sure that the program hits on all of your goals. This starts with being sure that you’ll be able to afford the program by looking at the costs associated with it. Remember, students may be required to purchase their own massage tables, oils, creams, uniforms, and other items based on the program’s requirements. These fees will be on top of book fees and tuition.

The next thing to look at is the coursework. Does it offer the coursework that you want to take? Is it spaced out in a way that gives you enough time to practice and study? Does the program prepare you for the examinations, or do you have the option to work with tutors or specialty courses to prepare for the exam?

If you need financial aid, talk to the student services department about your options. Some schools will provide aid, but not all do.

Finally, look at the graduation rate and alumni information. How many students go on to work in the field, and are they happy with their careers? What does the school do to help you obtain a job following graduation, if anything?

Ask lots of questions, so you can be sure that the program you’re looking at is the right one for you.

What kinds of classes should you take in massage therapy school?

You will take a variety of classes in massage therapy school. Massage training requires you to know anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. You will study the parts of the body, the tendons and ligaments, the lymph system, and more.

Since massage deals with the human body, you will need to learn where the organs and tissues are as well as how the body works. Understanding the basics is essential to provide a safe massage.

You will also take courses in business if you are enrolled in a program that helps you set up your own massage business following school.

Along with this business course, you may need to take additional classes in health regulations, pathology, ethics, and hygiene. Communication courses could also be included in some massage programs.

Lastly, you will take courses in the different massage modalities and techniques. Some of your classes will require you to watch the advisor. Others will have you give massages to classmates as well as to receive them. Later on, you will work clinical hours and give massages as a part of student training.

Massage therapist career resources

If you’re ready to become a massage therapist, there are some career resources that can help. The resources listed in the next few sections are recognized nationally and may help you find the right program to start your career path.

What are some online resources for aspiring massage therapists?

Getting started with your career can be complicated, but there are helpful agencies and associations, like local cosmetology schools or boards, that have program guides, support systems, alumni groups, and other helpful tools available to you. There are many online resources for aspiring massage therapists including:

You may also look into reaching out to your state massage therapy board with questions about obtaining or using your license within the state. The board may assist with massage practice ownership, too.

What are the best-known professional organizations for massage therapists?

It is recommended that you join at least one professional organization as a massage therapist. The four major organizations are:

  1. The American Massage Therapy Association
  2. Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
  3. National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork
  4. American Medicinal Massage Association

There may also be professional organizations locally.

Where will you find job listings for massage therapists?

Massage therapists can usually find job postings through the schools that they attend. They may also be able to search online with websites such as Indeed.com or on the American Massage Therapy Association’s website, which has a job bank for employers and jobseekers.

What should you include in your massage therapy resume?

On a good resume, you will start by highlighting your education and past experience. Fortunately, most students come out of school with some experience, because they do clinical hours much like in nursing or other medical fields.

Highlight the specific kinds of massage that you like to do as well as the skills that you learned in your course. For example, specify if you are trained to work with pregnant women and prenatal massage or if you enjoy using hot stones. Explain if you are trained for sports massage or relaxation massage.

Since this is a consumer-facing career, it benefits you to explain your expertise in working with people. Add soft skills to your resume, such as verbal communication skills and an ability to stick close to a schedule.

Finally, on your resume, don’t forget to include your certifications and updated licensing information. If your license appears out of date or you have no certification information, you may not get a callback.

How much should you expect to earn as a massage therapist?

How much you can earn as a massage therapist depends on where you live as well as the kind of massage you do. The median annual salary for massage therapists was $43,620 annually as of 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2019, there were 166,700 jobs available, and the field is expected to grow by 21% between 2019 and 2029. The good news is that jobs will increase in this field, though the annual pay tends to be on the lower end. That being said, the highest 10% of massage therapists earned over $79,150 annually. The lowest, however, earned less than $22,580.

Most massage therapists work part time and by appointment. They also earn a combination of wages and tips in most cases, and they may receive discounted or free massages as a benefit from colleagues.

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