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Career Guide: Massage Therapist

Career Guide: Massage Therapist

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

In 2007, 38 States and the District of Columbia had laws regulating massage therapy in some way. Most of the boards governing massage therapy in these States require practicing massage therapists to complete a formal education program and pass a national certification examination or a State exam. It is best to check information on licensing, certification, and accreditation on a State-by-State basis.

Education and training. Training standards and requirements for massage therapists vary greatly by State and locality. There are roughly 1,500 massage therapy postsecondary schools, college programs, and training programs throughout the country. Massage therapy programs generally cover subjects such as anatomy; physiology, the study of organs and tissues; kinesiology, the study of motion and body mechanics; business; ethics; as well as hands-on practice of massage techniques. Training programs may concentrate on certain modalities of massage. Several programs also provide alumni services such as post-graduate job placement and continuing educational services. Both full- and part-time programs are available.

These programs vary in accreditation. Massage therapy training programs are generally approved by a State board, and may also be accredited by an independent accrediting agency. In States that regulate massage therapy, graduation from an approved school or training program is usually required in order to practice. Some State regulations require that therapists keep up on their knowledge and technique through continuing education.

Licensure. After completion of a training program, many massage therapists opt to take the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). Many States require that therapists pass this test in order to practice massage therapy. The exam is administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), which has several eligibility requirements. In States that require massage therapy program approval, a candidate must graduate from a State-approved training institute or submit a portfolio of training experience for NCBTMB review to qualify for the test. In locations that do not require accredited training programs, this is unnecessary.

When a therapist passes the NCETMB, he or she can use the recognized national credential: Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB). The credential must be renewed every 4 years. In order to remain certified, a therapist must perform at least 200 hours of therapeutic massage and complete continuing education requirements during this time. In 2005, the NCBTMB introduced a new national certification test and corresponding professional credential. The new test covers the same topics as the traditional national certification exam, but covers fewer modalities of massage therapy. Recognition of this new national certification varies by State.

Recently, a second multi-State examination program has begun to take shape. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards offers a licensure program that is also accepted by many States.

Essential Job-Hunting Information

Massage therapy licensure boards decide which certifications and tests to accept on a State-by-State basis. Therefore, those wishing to practice massage therapy should look into legal requirements for the State and locality in which they intend to practice.

Other qualifications. Both strong communication skills and a friendly, empathetic personality are extremely helpful qualities for fostering a trusting relationship with clients and in turn, expanding one’s client base. Massage can be a delicate issue for some clients and because of this, making clients feel comfortable is one of the most important abilities for massage therapists.

Advancement. Membership in a professional massage therapy association may help therapists network and in turn, find new clients. Some of these associations require that members graduate from a nationally credentialed training program, have a State license, or be nationally certified by the NCBTMB.

Because of the nature of massage therapy, opportunities for advancement are limited. However, with increased experience and an expanding client base, there are opportunities for therapists to increase client fees and, therefore, income. In addition, those who are well organized and have an entrepreneurial spirit may go into business for themselves. Self-employed massage therapists with a large client base have the highest earnings.


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