Massage therapists work in a variety of environments and provide a variety of services. Some therapists specialize in Eastern forms of massage; some in Western forms. Some types of massage are purely for relaxation, but most are specifically intended to be therapeutic. Massage therapists work with clients who are recovering from surgery or illness, are in chronic pain, or have other health issues. Many therapists work in a health care setting as part of a client’s care team. Because of the important role massage therapists play, and because massage done improperly could mean clients spending a significant amount of money on something that doesn’t work, it is important for massage therapists to be well educated and trained.
The education and licensure requirements for massage therapists vary by state. As of 2012, most states (and the District of Columbia) impose some kind of regulations on massage therapists. In most cases, this means that massage therapists must obtain a license by attending an approved program and passing an exam. In other areas, local certification regulations apply. In all cases, even if your state doesn’t formally require it, it is to your advantage to attend an approved massage therapy school and take a state or nationally recognized exam. Massage therapists with these credentials are more likely to be hired for the top positions in the field.
In most states, massage therapists are required to complete a training program that involves anywhere from 500 to 1000 hours of classroom education and hands-on experience. For example, in New Mexico, massage therapists must have a minimum of 650 hours of education and training, which includes at least 165 hours of anatomy and physiology, 150 hours of massage therapy, and 75 hours of general instruction in topics like business and professional ethics. To keep their license, massage therapists must complete at least 16 hours of continuing education every two years. In contrast, the state of New York requires massage therapists to have at least 1000 hours of education, which includes a minimum of 150 hours of practice on a real person. With such large differences in the requirements, it is essential that students of massage therapy know the regulations in their state.
After completing their required education and hands-on training, aspiring massage therapists in most states must pass an exam to receive their license. Some states have their own exams. There are also two national exams: the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination and an exam administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Which exam is accepted varies depending on the state.
As you can see, massage therapists must be well educated and well trained. But with the large growth expected in the field over the next couple of years, the time and money you invest in training will certainly pay off!
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Massage therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.
New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department. Massage therapy: Requirements and continuing education.
NYSED.gov. Massage therapy license requirements.