How Long Does It Take to Become A Massage Therapist?

Updated July 21, 2023

Image description

A massage therapist gives a massage to a client next to a list with the title "How To Become a Massage Therapist" and these steps:

- Confirm your interest
- Complete a massage therapy program
- Obtain a license
- Gain experience

Massage therapists provide comfort and healing for their clients through the use of skilled massage techniques. It's a great career for people who are passionate about helping people and want a job that keeps them physically active. In this article, we'll talk about what a massage therapist does, how long it takes to become one and what skills you will learn as you study for your career in massage therapy.

What is a massage therapist?

Massage therapists help their clients recover from injuries, improve their posture and/or release tension. They do this by using their hands, arms and elbows to massage the muscles either in the specific area troubling the client or across the whole back, shoulders, arms and legs.

A massage session typically lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour so excellent upper body strength and endurance are necessary for this career. It also requires training in the appropriate techniques and equipment to use during a massage session.

Most massage therapists will specialize in two or three methods such as sports massage, Swedish massage or deep-tissue massage. They will then adapt these to the unique needs of each client. For example, a young, physically active client would require a more vigorous deep-tissue or sports massage to treat muscles that are used extensively. On the other hand, an elderly client might require a gentler technique focused on specific pain points.

Massage therapists can also opt between working at an office where clients come to them or making house calls where the therapist brings a massage table to the client's home and does the massage there. Either way, it's important for massage therapists to take a 15-30 minute break between sessions to allow their arms and hands some time to rest and recover. During these breaks, you should do some gentle stretches to prevent carpal tunnel or other injuries.

Read more: Learn About Being a Massage Therapist

How long does it take to become a massage therapist?

Most states require massage therapists to be licensed before they can practice their trade. This means completing an accredited massage therapy program and then passing a nationally-recognized exam. Programs range from 300 to 1,000 hours of in-class instruction and practical training. This can translate to somewhere between a few weeks and two years depending on the structure of the program you enroll in.

The length of time depends on how many methods you learn and how much practical training is included. If you plan to work full-time, it's worth considering a longer program that provides a lot of training and prepares you for a wider variety of massage techniques and methods. This will equip you with the skills necessary to meet the needs of a wider range of clients.

Skills massage therapists learn in school

There is a lot of training and education that goes into becoming a massage therapist. By the time you have completed your degree or certificate program, you will be skilled in a variety of massage techniques. The exact ones you learn will depend on what your program offers but will likely include some of the following:

  • Sports massage

  • Swedish massage

  • Deep tissue massage

  • Shiatsu massage

  • Prenatal massage

  • Geriatric massage

  • Thai massage

  • Acupressure and reflexology

In addition to learning different massage techniques, you will also be trained in other skills that are important to providing a therapeutic massage session for clients. This includes proper hygiene and safety protocols, ethics and business procedures. These skills prepare you for the business side of massage therapy so that you can build positive, ethical client relationships and ensure a safe and sanitary environment for massage.

Many programs also include some coursework in anatomy and physiology, pathology and contraindications and limitations. This prepares you to make educated assessments about the health and needs of your client so that you can determine the best technique and the appropriate level of pressure to apply. It will also help you understand the connections between muscle groups so that you can better locate the source of tension and pain.

Overall, an accredited massage therapy program is designed to equip you with all the knowledge and practical training you need to help your clients manage pain, recover from injuries or even just decompress after a stressful week. By the time you graduate, you will be ready to either begin working at an already established office or build your own business as a self-employed massage therapist.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Getting your massage therapist license

Before you can begin your career, you will need to pass an approved licensing exam. You must check with your state's licensing board to make sure that you are taking the right exam before you schedule a test date or pay an exam fee. The MBLEx is the most widely used licensing exam and currently accepted in 43 states so if you aren't sure where you want to work yet, this might be the best choice. The BCETMB is also accepted by many states. These are the two most widely-used exams.

Whichever exam you end up taking, you will see questions covering much of what you learned in your massage therapy program. However, since programs can vary significantly, it is important to spend a few weeks preparing by using a study guide designed for that specific exam. This will provide a comprehensive overview of everything you will be tested on, including any material that might not have been included in your training.

You will definitely want to review what you learned during your in-class coursework, including:

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Massage therapy ethics, laws and regulations

  • Client assessments and treatment planning

  • Professional guidelines

  • Pathology, areas of caution, contraindications and special populations

While there will be some questions on technique, licensing exams tend to focus on the knowledge and theory side of massage therapy more than the methods.

Some states may also require a practical exam in which you demonstrate your ability to perform the massage methods that you specialized in. You can find out the specific requirements you will need to meet by contacting your state's licensing board.

Related: How to List Education on a Resume

Related Articles

17 Reasons To Become Massage Therapist (Plus Tips)

Explore more articles

  • 19 Amazing Ideas for Home-Based Small Businesses
  • 15 Jobs You Can Get With a Supply Chain Management Degree
  • 20 of the Highest-Paying Bachelor’s Degree Jobs
  • 18 Top Manufacturing Companies in the United States
  • 31 High-Paying Design Jobs To Consider (With Salaries)
  • FAQ: Human Resources Jobs With a Psychology Degree
  • The Hiring Manager's Email Address: Why You Need It and How to Find It
  • How to Transition From Being a Dental Hygienist to a Dentist
  • How To Overcome Fear of Getting a Job
  • How To Become an Embryologist in 5 Steps
  • How To Become a Hospital Patient Transporter
  • Your 6-Step Guide To Becoming a Distributor