A massage therapist (also called a masseuse) usually works in either the hospitality industry or the healthcare industry. And these professionals provide services in several places, including resorts, fitness centers, private homes, healthcare facilities, and spas. The job outlook is promising, with jobs for massage therapists growing at a yearly rate of 21 percent (as of 2020).
If you’re interested in becoming a massage therapist, you’ll need training as specified by your state. In most states, you need a license to become a massage therapist. You may also need 500 or more hours in a post-secondary program. Depending on your state, it can take up to two years to become a professional massage therapist.
Massage Therapy Continuing Education
The educational requirements for a massage therapist usually extend beyond the initial training. Before entering this field, and throughout your career, realize that you might have to complete massage therapy CE – massage continuing education.
Your state may or may not require continuing education. Check with your state’s Board of Massage Therapy or the local organization in charge of massage therapist licensing. They can provide details on how to become licensed in your state.
If your state does require continuing education, you’ll have to complete the specified hours before you’re allowed to renew your license.
For example, to renew your massage therapist license in Alabama, you must complete 16 hours of massage therapy CE. These hours are due every other year, by the last day of whichever month you received your license.
In Alabama, all continuing education class providers are approved by the Alabama Board of Massage Therapy. So, a massage therapist licensed in Alabama would contact the Board for details about continuing education requirements.
Texas is another state that requires continuing education for its massage therapists. But Texas requires 12 hours of classes, unlike in Alabama, where 16 hours are required. And in Texas, class providers aren’t approved by a local board. Instead, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation approves classes in Texas.
As the examples show, continuing education requirements vary by state. And some states, such as California, Hawaii, and Indiana, have no continuing education requirements.
For details about your state’s educational requirements, contact the local board or the department in charge of issuing massage therapists licenses.
What to Expect in Continuing Education Classes
Classes are designed to meet the needs of massage therapists of all levels. The goal is for a massage therapist to learn new skills and to refresh old skills. All classes cover topics that help the therapist improve their massage skills or business sense.
The following classes are examples of what you might encounter during continuing education:
- Professional ethics. In this context, ethics is the study of how a therapist should behave with clients. Discussion revolves around different actions and what makes them appropriate or inappropriate. This is important in a field such as massage therapy, which requires extended and repeated hands-on contact.
- Business practices. This provides insight into the business side of being a massage therapist. The job isn’t just about providing massages. You have to understand how to conduct business legally and professionally.
- Manipulating soft tissue. Focuses on treatments to help improve the mobility of stiff soft tissues. Soft tissues include nerves, muscles, and tendons.
- Massage therapy rules and laws. Teaches laws and rules that a massage therapist should know and understand. Covers the legalities of providing massages to clients.
- Anatomy. Knowing human anatomy is helpful in the massage industry.
- Physiology. This class teaches about the human body and how it functions.
- Hydrotherapy. Teaches how warm or hot water – when used internally and externally – can serve various health purposes. This is also known as water therapy or water cures.
- Pathology. Discusses the cause and effect of injuries and diseases.
- Health and hygiene. Provides a general overview of human health and hygiene. This is a topic that often arises between a massage therapist and a client.
The above classes are examples taken from various massage therapist continuing education offerings. You may or may not have access to these exact classes.
These classes help increase and enhance your professional competence, knowledge, and skill. In most cases, classes are available in different formats, including:
- Conferences – local and nationwide
- College and university classes
Additional Types of Continuing Education Classes
You might have the ability to take less traditional classes. If the classes aren’t traditional classroom courses – but are officially approved – they should count towards your required continuing education hours.
Examples of non-traditional classes often acceptable for massage therapist continuing education include:
Must cover topics related to giving and receiving massages. Classes that cover non-massage related alternative forms of treatment – such as ear candling – aren’t allowed. Classes that cover non-massage forms of bodywork – such as chiropractic treatments – are also not acceptable.
Movement and Exercise
Exercise and movement classes are acceptable if they’re specifically designed as self-care for massage therapists. For example, a yoga or martial arts class for massage therapists could count towards your continuing education hours.
Some continuing education classes for massage therapists are taught online. Hands-on classes – such as massage therapy techniques and manipulation of soft tissues – aren’t acceptable as online classes. But other topics – such as ethics or anatomy – are acceptable.
If you’re fine with completing these hours of additional classes, then becoming a massage therapist is possibly right for you.
General Education, Training, and Certification
It will take a year or two to fulfill your state’s educational requirements for earning your license. That doesn’t include the extra hours of continuing education that your state might require.
Before you can earn your massage license, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED. This is the first requirement you must fulfill.
You’ll also need a degree or certificate from an accredited school approved by your state. Acceptable areas of study include physiology, anatomy, medical terminology, body mechanics, and massage ethics.
Massage therapy programs are often available at trade schools, universities, and colleges. It usually takes between 500 to 1000 hours of study before you can take the MBLEx (Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam).
After passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam, you may receive your license. It depends on whether or not you’ve met all the previous requirements. If you have completed all the steps, then passing the test should result in receiving your license.
Passing the exam (and meeting state requirements) makes you eligible for your massage therapist license in 44 US states. Most states require passing the MBLEx to earn a license. Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Illinois are among the 44 states that require passing the MBLEx.
Minnesota, Wyoming, Vermont, and Kansas don’t have state regulations for the massage industry. Neither a license nor a certificate is required to become a massage therapist or masseuse in these four states.
The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) is responsible for the test. The FSMTB was formed specifically to create a standardized process by which massage therapists could become licensed.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Massage Therapist
Massage therapy doesn’t require hours of intense training like some other healthcare professions. But as a massage therapist, you’re providing medical care for a person’s body just like any other medical professional.
You’re responsible for:
- Working with clients to relieve their stress and pain by providing massage.
- Assisting chiropractors, doctors, and other healthcare providers by providing treatment for patients recovering from various injuries.
- Listening to the client’s concerns and medical history and discovering the root of their pain or discomfort.
- Teaching clients the correct way to perform exercises, relaxation techniques, and stretches.
- Recognizing medical issues that might require another type of doctor or treatment.
As you can see, being a massage therapist involves more than giving a simple massage. You must know how the muscles work, how they work together as a group, and apply the correct amount of pressure to those spots. It’s a skill that takes time and practice to get right.
A massage therapist usually doesn’t earn as much as some other medical professionals – such as a surgeon. But in most cases, you will earn an above-average income. And depending on your location and the type of clients you treat, it’s possible to make a very lucrative living.
In addition to the potential for an above-average income, you’ll get personal satisfaction from knowing you’re helping people relieve their pain and stress.
As for the work environment, you’ll find many self-employed massage therapists. If you take this route, you can work out of your home, visit a client’s location, or work part-time with a doctor or chiropractor. But if you’re not interested in self-employment, you’ll likely find employment at places such as fitness centers, spas, resorts, and other healthcare facilities.
Massage therapy is a hands-on job. It’s very physical. But you also need good people skills.
Most clients will come to you because they have pain and discomfort. And that’s the worst time to try and talk to someone. But because of your job, you’ll have to learn to interact with people when they’re not feeling well.
Compassion and understanding are part of being a massage therapist. Patience is good, too. You’ll need these things to provide the best care possible.
Also, remember that your physical health is important. Your career depends on having a healthy body. You’ll need a strong back, healthy arms, fingers, and hands to perform your best.
Hours spent kneading and squeezing muscles takes strength. And the wear and tear can negatively affect your body over time. Therefore, it’s important to focus on your own physical stamina. Self-care is vital for a massage therapist.
Finding Work or New Massage Clients
Networking is important for a massage therapist. Connecting with other professionals can help you find new clients. Building a good reputation helps as well. And if you’re not interested in being self-employed, networking can help you learn about job opportunities.