Individuals who are interested in becoming a massage therapist can gain entry into the field by obtaining state or national certification or by obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. As of 2009, massage therapy regulatory laws existed in 42 states and the District of Columbia.
A minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent is required for admission to most formal massage therapy programs. Although the requirements vary from state to state, a national certification or state license is generally required upon completion of an educational program.
The most common method of education utilized by massage therapists is completion of a certificate program through a private or public postsecondary institution. You can also obtain an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in massage therapy or alternative medicine. Certificate programs typically take a year or less to complete, and associate’s and accelerated bachelor’s programs can generally be completed in as little as 18 to 36 months. Regardless of the program selected by the applicant, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, requirements typically include approximately 500 to 1,000 hours of in-class training. Required classes for massage therapy students include anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, ethics and hands-on practice of massage techniques.
The massage therapy licensure board in each state decides which certifications and tests are required to practice. The two nationally recognized tests in this field are the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) and the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx).
Massage therapy programs are typically accredited by an independent agency such as the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), in addition to being approved by the state licensing board. Approximately 70 training programs are accredited by COMTA, as of 2009.
Massage therapists may choose to be an employee, independent contractor or become self-employed. The average salary range for this position varies based on factors such as location, industry, clientele and experience. The industries that employ the highest levels of massage therapists are chiropractic offices, spas, health care facilities, physical therapy practices and fitness centers.
2016 Salary Information for Massage Therapists
Massage therapists earned a median annual salary of $39,860 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, massage therapists earned a 25th percentile salary of $27,220, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $57,110, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 160,300 people were employed in the U.S. as massage therapists.