Careers

Learn About Being a Massage Therapist

What does a massage therapist do?

A massage therapist is a professional who manually applies pressure throughout the body to treat pain, increase relaxation, reduce stress, rehabilitate injuries and aid in the general wellness of their clients. A key element of their job involves assessing each client individually, creating personal therapy plans and referring clients to other specialists if necessary. Other duties that a massage therapist performs include:

  • Talking with clients about medical history, symptoms and desired results

  • Assessing clients to identify painful or tense areas of the body

  • Maintaining treatment records

  • Treating clients in professional settings or traveling to clients’ homes and offices

  • Providing clients with information and guidance about techniques for postural improvement and relaxation, strengthening, stretching and rehabilitative exercises

  • Consulting with other professionals, such as psychologists, physicians, chiropractors and physiotherapists, to develop treatment plans for clients

Average salary

The salary of massage therapists varies depending on several factors, such as their level of experience, employer and geographic location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $30.52 per hour
  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $67.60 per hour.

Massage therapist requirements

The career path for massage therapists involves a combination of the following:

Education

Before you can work as a massage therapist, you will need to complete a massage therapy education program, which is usually in public or private postsecondary institutions. To qualify for this program, you must first earn a high school diploma or equivalent, such as the General Education Development certificate.

Most massage therapy education programs last six to twelve months and include a classroom component and hours of direct experience. They usually cover courses such as anatomy, kinesiology (the study of motion and body mechanics), physiology (the study of tissues and organs), pathology (the study of disease), ethics, business management and the practice of massage techniques, which can include tapping, soothing, kneading strokes, direct pressure, slow strokes and friction slides. If you want to specialize in a particular type of massage — for instance, sports massage, stone therapy, infant massage, etc. — you will need to take specific courses to learn the techniques.

Training

Many states require massage therapists to be licensed before they can legally provide services, but to be eligible to take the entry-level licensing exam, you have to complete a certain number of hours of training. The required number of hours of training varies by state. Most states require at least 500 hours of training, but some require 1,000 hours.

Most massage therapy training programs provide the education and training you need to qualify for the exam. To know whether a training program or massage school provides a nationally recognized standard level of education, check if it’s accredited by a credible agency (i.e., one that adheres to the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Education). The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) is the institution that administers the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) that is recognized for licensing in several states.

Certifications

Certifications show you have the skills to perform well in a role as a massage therapist and have mastered national standards for massage and bodywork. Some common massage therapy certifications include:

Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB)

Administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), the BCTMB certification shows that you possess the skills, knowledge, abilities and attributes necessary to practice massage therapy. To get this certification, you need to pass the board certification exam, complete at least 750 hours of education, undertake 250 hours of massage experience within six months of completing your training, pass a national background check and get a valid Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification. BCTMB certification is valid for four years and entails performing 100 hours of training and completing a continuing education program for renewal. 

CAMTC Certification

Issued by the California Massage Therapy Council (CMTC), this voluntary certification is intended for massage professionals that meet the requirements in the California State Law. While state law does not require it, some cities and counties require this certification. You may find CAMTC certification useful, as it allows you to practice massage therapy in California without the need to obtain a local permit to provide massage for compensation. To get this certification, you must be at least 18 years old and complete a massage therapy training program (a minimum of 500 hours) at a CAMTC-accredited school. 

NCBTMB’s Specialty Certificate

This certificate is conferred to massage therapists who got advanced education and training in a particular modality. To get this certification, you must pass the Specialty Certificate examination, which is available online. You must first complete an online application.

Skills

Besides formal education, certifications and training, massage therapists perform better when they possess certain additional skills, such as:

Physical strength and endurance

Massage therapists typically spend much of the workday on their feet. They use their legs, backs and hands to exert force and perform repetitive motions. Thus, they must have the stamina to endure muscular activity and withstand fatigue. They must also have high levels of motor coordination and manual dexterity.  

Interpersonal and communication skills

Massage therapists must be good at communicating, especially verbally, to create a transparent and comfortable environment with clients. 

Decision-making skills

Massage therapists must be good at assessing each client’s needs and recommending the best treatment based on those needs. 

Empathy

Because massage therapists interact with a diverse body of people facing a variety of health conditions, they must have the ability to empathize and connect across these differences. Making clients feel comfortable is essential for therapists to expand their client base. 

Integrity

Because massage therapists know the client’s medical histories, they must be trustworthy and protect the privacy of their clients. 

Focus

To provide an effective massage, therapists must give their full attention and commitment to their job. The ability to set aside distractions and focus entirely on what a client needs is integral to providing the best care. 

Massage therapist work environment

Massage therapists work in a variety of public and private settings, such as hospitals, fitness centers, spas and private offices. Some massage therapists provide in-home services, requiring them to transport all of their equipment from one house to the next. Self-employed massage therapists usually provide their own chairs or tables, pillows, sheets, oils and body lotions.

The working conditions of a massage therapist vary depending on the location and the client’s needs. For instance, a massage meant to help relieve a client’s injury may be performed in a comfortable, well-lit setting with several other clients receiving treatment in the same room. However, when providing a massage to help clients relax, massage therapists typically work in a dimly lit setting and use incense, candles and calm, soothing music. 

Because of the physical nature of a massage therapist’s work and the time required between sessions, they usually work less than 40 hours per week massaging. Therapists who massage anywhere from 15 to 30 hours per week are often considered as full-time workers, because when the time for commute, for setting up equipment and for performing business functions (e.g., billing, scheduling an appointment and maintaining records) are added, their time per week may be over 40 hours.

How to become a massage therapist

Here are the most common steps to follow in becoming a qualified massage therapist:

1. Earn a high school diploma.

A high school diploma or equivalent is required to gain admission to a massage therapy education program. While massage training is typically not offered at the secondary level, courses in physical education, anatomy and biology can provide a foundation for later training. 

2. Explore massage therapy options.

Before enrolling in a massage therapy training program, you should decide what type of massage therapy you want to specialize in. Some modalities you can specialize in include hot stone, deep tissue, Shiatsu and Swedish massage. The needs of your clients vary, so you should become familiar with many types of massage therapy. 

3. Complete a massage therapy program.

You must complete a certificate or diploma program from a state-accredited school. During your study, you may take coursework in physiology, anatomy, massage ethics, body mechanics and medical terminology.

4. Complete practical requirements.

Many states require a certain number of hours of direct experience before you can obtain a license. You can meet this requirement through an internship or work at a school’s massage clinic. 

5. Obtain a license.

After completing a massage therapy education program, get a license to legally perform massage therapy. To get a license, you must pass either the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination administered by the FSMTB or the NCETMB licensing examination offered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. 

6. Get certified.

A certification, which is earned by passing an examination and completing a certain number of hours of training, is not necessarily required to obtain a massage therapy license, but it can make the process easier sometimes and enhance your career opportunities. 

7. Update your resume.

Include your highest level of education, certifications, relevant work history, achievements and skills in an easy-to-read format. Research open massage therapist positions in your area and tailor a cover letter to each position by using keywords from the job description.

Massage therapy job description example

Harmony Spa is currently looking for a full-time, licensed massage therapist to provide our clients with a variety of massage services. The therapist will consult with clients to assess them for underlying conditions and to assist with choosing appropriate services. You will perform massages in a way that doesn’t compromise your safety or prevents injuries to your hands, wrists and other parts of your body. You will help clients with injuries and courteously recommend treatments and packages.

To ensure success, you need to help clients with selecting the most suitable services for their needs, be competent at performing massages and ensure customer retention. We prefer candidates who are dexterous, client-oriented and friendly. We offer comprehensive benefit plans including healthcare/vision/dental, paid vacation/sick time, profit sharing, 401k, paid holidays, allowance for professional development and more. Must have a valid state license for massage therapy.

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