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How to Become a Massage Therapist

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YOUNG WOMAN HAVING SHOULDERS MASSAGED
Chris Cole / Stone / Getty Images

Overview of Massage Therapist Careers:

Massage therapist was ranked one of the top medical careers of 2011 by U.S. News and World Report. There are a number of reasons why massage therapy careers may be a great career option for you. Massage therapy careers are projected to grow at a faster than average rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many massage therapists are self-employed or work for themselves as a contractor or as a proprietor of their own business. If you are comfortable working independently, a career in massage therapy may be a great fit for you.

Massage therapy entails the use of touch, with varying degrees of pressure and motion, to manipulate soft tissue muscles to achieve a variety of benefits including stress relief, sports-related rehabilitation, and more.

Work Environment:

Massage therapists do massages on an appointment basis typically, and a massage may last anywhere from five to ten minutes, up to an hour. Massage therapists may specialize in up to 80 modalities, or subspecialities of massage such as Swedish, deep-tissue, acupressure, neuromuscular, or sports massage. Sometimes, massage therapists must supply their own equipment including table, pillow, sheets, towels, massage oils and lotions. However, some massage therapists may be employed by a spa or medical facility which may provide these items. Massage therapists may travel to clients' locations, or work in a set location such as a fitness center, hospital, studio, or even a mall or airport.

Responsibilities and Nature of the Work:

Working as a massage therapist is physically demanding, including standing for long periods of time in addition to the physicality of the massage work itself. Additionally, setting up and carrying the table from location to location may also be demanding. Therapists often work in a dimly lit room, to help the client relax. Additionally, music, candles, and aromatherapy may be utilized during the session.

About 15 to 30 hours is considered a full-time work schedule for massage therapists, due to the demanding nature of the work. Other duties include setting up and breaking down the equipment, billing, scheduling appointments, and other administrative tasks.

Education and Training for Massage Therapists:

As is the case for many healthcare careers, training and licensing requirements vary greatly by state. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most training programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, and consist of 500 hours of coursework. Courses include anatomy, kinesiology, (the study of motion and body mechanics), physiology, and the hands-on practice of massage techniques. Also, some business management and ethics classes may also be included.

Licensing and Certification for Massage Therapists:

Most states regulate massage therapy and require certification or license of some type. As of 2009, the only states not requiring certification for massage therapists are Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming.

In states that do require certification, certification usually includes passing an exam. The exam could be a state exam or one of the national exams, depending on the state regulations. The two national exams are the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) and the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx).

Due to the variation in requirements from state to state, be sure to contact the state board in the state where you wish to practice to obtain the complete list of requirements.

Compensation for Massage Therapists:

The median hourly wage for massage therapists, as of 2008 (the most recent data available) is $16.78. For a 40-hour workweek, that would equate to about $32,000 annually, but about half of massage therapists only work part-time.

Another important fact to know about careers as a massage therapist is that most do not earn benefits (health insurance, paid vacation, 401k, etc.) as many massage therapists are either self-employed or part-time.

Job Growth and Outlook for Massage Therapists:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of massage therapy is projected to grow by 19 percent, adding about 23,000 jobs in the ten year period from 2008-2018. This is considered faster than average job growth as compared to other careers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Massage Therapists, on the Internet (visited January 09, 2011).

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