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How to Become a Massage Therapist

By Lace Brunsden

Published:

Considering a career as a massage therapist opens the door to a world of healing touch and holistic wellness. This profession offers the opportunity for you to positively impact individuals’ lives, alleviating stress, reducing pain, and promoting relaxation, making it an appealing choice for those seeking a rewarding and fulfilling career in the field of alternative healthcare.

Career Summary

Massage Therapist Salary

Massage Therapist Salary

You’re probably wondering – how much do massage therapists make? Well, your massage therapist salary can vary a great deal depending on the number of clients that you have and the company that you work for. Where you reside may also affect your pay.

According to Glassdoor, the most likely range you can expect is as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$45k)
  • Median Salary (US$60k)
  • Executive Salary (US$81k)

When comparing a massage therapist salary to the average across all occupations in the USA, the pay can be considered relatively average.

Massage Therapist Job Description

A massage therapist is a professional trained in providing therapeutic massage treatments to clients. A massage therapist’s job is to help individuals relax, reduce muscle tension, alleviate pain, and promote overall well-being.

Some of the main responsibilities of a massage therapist include assessing the client’s medical history, current health condition, and specific needs or concerns before starting the massage. And then using various massage techniques while communicating with the client to adjust to their comfort.

Massage Therapist Career Progression

The career progression for a massage therapist can vary based on individual goals, experience, and education.

Here is a general list of roles in the massage therapy career path, from entry-level to executive positions:

  • Entry-Level Massage Therapist: You’ll typically start in a spa, wellness center, fitness facility, or chiropractic clinic. Here, you’ll gain hands-on experience, build a client base, and refine your skills.
  • Junior Massage Therapist: You may be promoted to a junior massage therapist position within the same establishment. You might handle more complex cases or work with specific client groups, such as athletes or pregnant women.
  • Senior Massage Therapist: As you accumulate more experience, you may become a senior massage therapist, taking on leadership responsibilities, and mentoring junior therapists.
  • Massage Therapy Supervisor or Lead Therapist: In this capacity, you would oversee a team of massage therapists, manage schedules, provide training, and ensure the quality of services.
  • Spa Manager or Wellness Center Manager: As a spa manager or wellness center manager, you’ll be responsible for the overall operations of the establishment, including managing staff, budgeting, marketing, and customer relations.
  • Spa or Wellness Director: In larger organizations or chains, there might be a higher-level position known as the Spa or Wellness Director. This role involves strategic planning, setting organizational goals, and overseeing multiple locations or departments.
  • Entrepreneurship and Private Practice: Running a successful massage therapy business requires a combination of massage skills, business acumen, marketing, and client management.
Massage Therapist Career Progression

Pros:

  • Helping clients relax and reduce stress.
  • Providing relief from muscle tension and pain.
  • Creating a positive impact on clients’ overall well-being.
  • Utilizing various massage techniques and skills.
  • Building rewarding relationships with clients.

Cons:

  • Physical strain on the therapist’s body.
  • Dealing with difficult or demanding clients.
  • Potential exposure to contagious illnesses.
  • Irregular and unpredictable income, especially for those in private practice.
  • Limited career advancement opportunities without additional education or certifications.

Useful Skills to Have as a Massage Therapist

  • Strong knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Ability to tailor massage treatments to individual client needs.
  • Empathy and a caring demeanor.
  • Good time management and organizational skills.

Popular Massage Therapist Specialties

  • Sports Massage
  • Prenatal Massage
  • Deep Tissue Massage
  • Aromatherapy Massage
  • Hot Stone Massage

How to become a Massage Therapist

Massage Therapist 5 Steps to Career

The process of becoming a licensed massage therapist in the United States typically involves the following common steps:

Choose an Accredited Massage Therapy Program

Enroll in a massage therapy program at a reputable school or institution. You should ensure that the program is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency, as this is often a prerequisite for licensure.

How Long Does it Take to Complete an Accredited Massage Therapy Program?

The duration of an accredited massage therapy program can vary based on several factors, including the school’s curriculum, the number of hours required by the state’s licensing board, and whether the program is part-time or full-time. On average, most accredited massage therapy programs in the United States can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete.

Here’s a general breakdown of the typical program lengths that you can expect:
  • Certificate or Diploma Programs: These programs often require around 500 to 750 hours of massage therapist training and can be completed in about 6 months to 1 year, depending on the school’s schedule and the student’s pace.
  • Associate Degree Programs: Associate degree programs in massage therapy may require approximately 1,000 hours of massage therapist training and can take around 1.5 to 2 years to complete, especially if attending on a part-time basis.

Can I Become a Massage Therapist Through Online Education

While some aspects of massage therapy education can be completed online, becoming a fully licensed massage therapist typically requires hands-on training and practical experience, which cannot be entirely substituted by online education.

Here’s how online education can play a role in your journey to becoming a massage therapist:
  • Theoretical Knowledge: Online courses can be valuable for learning the theoretical aspects of massage therapy, such as anatomy and physiology, massage techniques, ethics, and business practices.
  • Continuing Education: Many continuing education courses such as those required to keep your NCBTMB certification are available online, allowing you to expand your skills and knowledge conveniently.
  • Preparatory Courses: Some massage therapy schools and organizations offer online preparatory courses for certification exams, which can help you review and reinforce your knowledge before taking the practical exam.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Massage Therapist

To learn the skills to become a massage therapist, there are several reputable web resources available that offer courses, tutorials, and educational materials.

Here are some online platforms and websites to consider:

  • Massage Schools: Many massage schools and institutes offer online programs and courses, providing comprehensive education on massage techniques, anatomy, and other relevant subjects. Examples include the Cortiva Institute and the National Holistic Institute.
  • Massage Today: This website provides articles, product reviews, and news related to massage therapy practice and business management.
  • Massage Therapy Foundation: This organization promotes the scientific research of massage therapy and provides resources related to evidence-based practice.
  • American Massage Therapy Association: AMTA offers a variety of resources, including webinars, articles, and videos to enhance your skills and knowledge.
  • Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals: ABMP offers a library of articles, webinars, and resources to support massage therapists’ professional development.
  • Massage Magazine: Massage Magazine‘s website includes articles, videos, and online courses to help you expand your skills and stay updated on industry trends.

Gain Hands-On Experience

A Day in the Life of a Massage Therapist | Video by Share Your Career

What are Internship Opportunities for a Massage Therapist?

Internship opportunities for you as a massage therapist can provide valuable hands-on experience and exposure to real-world practice.

Here are some common internship opportunities that massage therapists may consider:

  • Spa Internship: Many spas offer internship programs where you can gain experience providing massages to clients in a spa setting. This allows you to learn about spa operations, client interactions, and various massage techniques commonly used in spas.
  • Sports Massage Internship: Sports teams or athletic organizations may offer internships for you to work with athletes and provide sports massage services. This internship can be an excellent opportunity if you are interested in sports-related massage therapy.
  • Clinical Setting Internship: Some massage therapists may intern in clinical settings, such as hospitals, medical clinics, or chiropractic offices. This experience can expose you to working with patients with specific medical conditions and collaborating with healthcare professionals.
  • Wellness Center Internship: Wellness centers that focus on holistic health and alternative therapies may offer internship opportunities for massage therapists. These centers may provide exposure to other modalities like acupuncture, yoga, or aromatherapy.
  • Private Practice Internship: Some established massage therapists may offer internships in their private practices. This arrangement allows you to work closely with experienced therapists, observe client interactions, and assist in various aspects of running a massage practice.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Massage Therapist

As a massage therapist, you will learn a variety of skills that are essential for providing effective and safe massage treatments to clients. These skills encompass both technical and interpersonal aspects of the profession.

Here are some of the key skills you can expect to learn as a massage therapist:

  • Massage Techniques: You will learn various massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, and more. Each technique targets different areas of the body and serves specific therapeutic purposes.
  • Anatomy and Physiology: Understanding human anatomy and physiology is crucial for identifying muscles, bones, and body systems, allowing you to tailor your massage treatments to meet individual client needs.
  • Client Assessment: You will learn how to assess clients’ health histories and specific concerns to determine the most appropriate and beneficial massage approach for them.
  • Communication: Effective communication is vital in establishing rapport with clients, understanding their preferences, and ensuring they are comfortable throughout the massage session.
  • Body Mechanics: Proper body mechanics are essential to prevent injury to both the therapist and the client during massage sessions. You will learn how to use your body efficiently and maintain good posture while performing massages.
  • Ethical Practice: You will be trained in ethical guidelines and professional boundaries to maintain a safe and respectful environment for your clients.
  • Hygiene and Safety: You will learn proper hygiene practices and safety protocols to maintain a clean and safe working environment.
  • Time Management: Efficiently managing your time during each massage session is important to ensure that you can deliver a complete and beneficial treatment within the allotted time.
  • Client Relations: Building positive and professional relationships with clients is crucial for client retention and a successful massage therapy practice.
  • Self-Care: Learning self-care techniques is essential for maintaining your own physical and mental well-being as a massage therapist, as the profession can be physically demanding.

Additionally, if you plan to run your own practice, you may also learn basic business and marketing skills to promote your services and manage your practice effectively.

Obtain Certification

After completing the massage therapy program, consider obtaining a national massage therapist certification. While this is not always mandatory, it can enhance your credentials and demonstrate your expertise to potential employers.

What Is a Popular Certification to Obtain as a Massage Therapist?

The best certification to obtain as a massage therapist can vary depending on your career goals, location, and the specific focus you wish to pursue. However, one widely recognized and respected certification in the massage therapy field is the Board Certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).

Here are some reasons why NCBTMB Board Certification is often considered valuable:

  • National Recognition: NCBTMB is a nationally recognized organization in the United States, and its Board Certification carries weight across the country.
  • Rigorous Requirements: To become NCBTMB Board Certified, you need to meet strict eligibility criteria, including completing a minimum number of massage therapy training hours and passing a comprehensive exam.
  • Continuing Education: Board-certified therapists are required to engage in ongoing continuing education, ensuring that they stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and advancements in the field.
  • Professional Credibility: Board Certification enhances your professional credibility, as it demonstrates to clients and employers that you have met the highest standards in the profession.
  • Advancement Opportunities: Some job opportunities or positions may require or prefer applicants with NCBTMB Board Certification, giving you a competitive edge in the job market.

While NCBTMB Board Certification is highly regarded, other certifications from reputable organizations, such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) or the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), can also add value to your credentials.

Is It Difficult to Obtain NCBTMB Board Certification?

Obtaining NCBTMB Board Certification can be challenging, but it is achievable with adequate preparation and dedication. The certification process is rigorous to ensure that you meet high standards of competency and professionalism.

Here are some factors to consider when pursuing NCBTMB Board Certification:

  • Educational Requirements: To be eligible for Board Certification, you must complete a minimum number of massage therapy training hours from an NCBTMB-approved school. The number of required hours can vary based on your state’s regulations and the certification level you are seeking.
  • Comprehensive Exam: The NCBTMB Board Certification exam is a comprehensive test that assesses your knowledge and skills in various massage therapy techniques, anatomy and physiology, ethics, and more. The exam may include both written and practical components.
  • Preparation: Preparing for the certification exam typically involves studying various massage therapy textbooks, taking review courses, and practicing massage techniques. Adequate preparation is crucial to passing the exam successfully.

Apply for State Licensure

Apply for a massage therapy license with the relevant state licensing board or agency. This may involve submitting your educational transcripts, proof of certification, and other required documents.

Pass the State Licensing Examination

Most states require massage therapists to pass a state-approved licensing examination. This exam typically includes both written and practical components to assess your knowledge and skills.

While the requirements vary from state to state, you should be adequately prepared if you have completed the required training and certification.

Obtain Liability Insurance

Many massage therapists opt to obtain professional liability insurance to protect themselves in case of any unforeseen incidents or accidents during practice.

This may be provided by your employer. It is always a good idea to ask when applying for a job.

What’s the Career Outlook for Massage Therapists?

The career outlook for massage therapists in the United States has generally been positive, with steady growth projected in the past years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of massage therapists is projected to grow by 20% from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth was driven by an increased interest in alternative healthcare and the benefits of massage therapy for relaxation, stress reduction, and pain management.

Massage Therapist Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Massage Therapist?

As a massage therapist, you have a variety of job options available to you.

Here are some different types of jobs that massage therapists can pursue:

  • Spa Therapist: You will work in spas and wellness centers, providing relaxation and therapeutic massage services to clients seeking stress relief and rejuvenation.
  • Clinical Massage Therapist: This involves you working in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, medical clinics, or chiropractic offices, to provide massage therapy as part of patients’ treatment plans.
  • Sports Massage Therapist: You specialize in providing massage services to athletes and active individuals, focusing on sports-related injuries, performance enhancement, and recovery.
  • Corporate Massage Therapist: Your job description involves mostly chair massages and wellness programs for companies and organizations to promote stress reduction and employee well-being in the workplace.
  • Private Practice: Establishing your own private massage therapy practice, offering a wide range of massage services to clients, and managing your business independently.
  • Teaching or Education: With some experience, you can pursue a career as a massage therapy instructor or educator, sharing your knowledge and expertise with aspiring massage therapists.

What Type of Companis Hire a Massage Therapist?

Various types of companies and organizations hire massage therapists to provide massage services to their employees, customers, or clients.

Some common types of companies that may hire massage therapists include:

  • Spas and Wellness Centers: Spas and wellness centers are dedicated to providing relaxation and therapeutic services, making them one of the primary employers of massage therapists such as yourself.
  • Hotels, Cruise Ships, and Resorts: Luxury hotels, cruise ships, and resorts often offer massage services to guests as part of their amenities, creating job opportunities for you in these establishments.
  • Chiropractic Clinics: You may work in chiropractic offices, providing complementary treatments alongside chiropractic care.
  • Sports and Fitness Facilities: Sports clubs, gyms, and fitness centers may hire you to provide sports massage and assist with injury prevention and recovery for athletes and active individuals.
  • Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities: Some hospitals and healthcare facilities employ massage therapists to work in healthcare settings, assisting patients with pain management and providing relaxation during recovery.
  • Rehabilitation Centers: You may work in rehabilitation centers, providing massage therapy as part of patients’ treatment plans during recovery from injuries or surgeries.
  • Wellness or Holistic Centers: Wellness centers that focus on alternative therapies and holistic health may employ you as part of their service offerings.
  • Senior Care Facilities: Some assisted living facilities or senior care centers hire massage therapists to provide massage services for their elderly residents.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Massage Therapist

Your work-life balance as a massage therapist can vary depending on several factors, such as your employment setting, client demand, personal preferences, and overall career goals.

Here are some key points to consider regarding the work-life balance of a massage therapist:

  • Flexibility: As a massage therapist, you will often have the flexibility to set your work schedules. You may choose to work part-time or full-time, during regular business hours, evenings, weekends, or even provide mobile massage services.
  • Physically Demanding: Massage therapy can be physically demanding, especially when providing multiple sessions in a day. As such, it’s essential for you to prioritize self-care and ensure adequate rest and recovery to prevent burnout and injury.
  • Seasonal Variation: Workloads may vary seasonally, with some periods experiencing higher demand (e.g., holidays, vacations, sporting events) and others being slower. This can influence your work-life balance during different times of the year.
  • Client Availability: Clients often seek massage therapy outside of typical working hours, which means you may need to accommodate early morning or late evening appointments to meet client needs.
  • Career Setting: Work-life balance can differ based on the setting in which you work. Those employed in spas or wellness centers may have more structured schedules, while therapists in private practice can have more control over their hours but may need to handle administrative tasks.
  • Travel: You may have the opportunity to work at events, sports competitions, or retreats, which can involve travel and require careful consideration of work-life balance.

Should I become a Massage Therapist?

As a massage therapist, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on clients’ well-being, providing relaxation, pain relief, and overall improvement in their quality of life.

The journey to becoming a massage therapist involves obtaining proper education and training, gaining hands-on experience, and obtaining licensure. While the process may require dedication and effort, the potential benefits of a massage therapy career are vast. As the demand for alternative healthcare and wellness services continues to grow, massage therapists can expect a favorable job outlook with various employment options in spas, wellness centers, healthcare facilities, and beyond.

However, it’s essential to be aware of the physical demands of the profession and the need for self-care to prevent burnout. Additionally, understanding the specific requirements and regulations for licensure in your location is crucial to ensuring a successful career.

Ultimately, if you have a genuine passion for massage therapy, a commitment to continuous learning, and a desire to positively impact others’ lives, pursuing a career as a massage therapist can be a fulfilling and meaningful choice. By blending your skills, compassion, and professionalism, you can embark on a journey of providing healing touch and promoting overall well-being for those you serve.

Careers Related to Massage Therapist


Lace Brunsden

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