A greater number of people than ever before have begun to recognize the efficacy of massage for a variety of conditions.
In addition to the well-known relaxation and deep tissue benefits of massage, continuing research suggests that it can be an effective therapy for cancer-related fatigue, osteoarthritis, immune system improvement, pain management and high blood pressure as well.
It is no surprise then that the American massage industry is now worth $10 billion, with the employment of massage therapist increasing faster than average across all other occupations (According to the US Department of Labor). This article will explore the educational and accreditation path one needs to take in order to qualify and work as a professional massage therapist in this billion dollar health industry.
The first question that arises is if one needs to go to college after high school in order to become a massage therapist. Let’s explore the answer in this article.
Education and Training
Massage therapy is not something you learn on your own. Once you pass high school, you will have to decide what you want to do, and if the choice is to be a massage therapist, you will have to get admitted in a massage therapy college to be able to get the required education and experience.
Education for massage therapy is generally composed of:
Formal in-class training – depending on the state you live, you should expect to complete between 500 – 1000 hours of in-class training in an accredited, certified and nationally registered massage educational institution.
Areas of study include anatomy, physiology and the theory and practice of massage therapy. There are over 350 accredited massage therapy training facilities across the United States. Completion of training in an accredited educational institution will give consumers of massage an idea of your level of competency as a massage therapist that will be necessary if you are to become a licensed practitioner.
Ongoing education – the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) reports that ninety two percent of qualified massage therapists undertake an average of 21 hours of continuing education per year to keep their skills current and relevant.
Massage School Requirements
Tertiary-level college education is not a pre-requisite for entry into massage training. However, college classes in a complementary or related field of study will improve your skills as a massage therapist and may improve your career options later on as well.
Further, such additional qualifications are well-respected within the industry. Classes relating to small business operation can be particularly useful, as can classes relating to a range of other medical fields, such as osteopathy, physical therapy and chiropractic massage care, which will allow you to take a holistic approach to health and well-being.
Indeed, the more the massage therapist understands how massage can be integrated into the management of general health, the better treatment outcomes will be for patients. An AMTA consumer survey undertaken indicated that over 50 million Americans discussed the use of massage as an alternative therapy with the doctor for a range of conditions, with a particular emphasis on massage for pain relief.
This indicates that consumers want massage to be integrated into primary health care, so again, the message is clear – education will serve you well in this industry and allow you to establish close working relationships with a range of health professionals to take a team care approach in improving patient health.
Generally, massage therapists come to this vocation as their secondary career and bring with them a great deal of prior learning and life experience. Many may have attended college and very few will enter massage training directly after completing high school. According to the AMTA, the average practicing massage therapist is 44 years old, indicating that people come to this profession later in life than some others.
Licensing and Certification
The formal education for a massage therapy outlined above serves two purposes – consumer and employer confidence in your skills, and legal obligation.
Training at an accredited institution gives consumers an indication of your competency as a massage therapist and means your skills will be nationally recognized. The more ongoing and complementary education you undertake in addition to the basic required training, the wider the potential career options are later on.
In relation to your legal obligations, 44 states (and growing) regulate the industry and require state certification for practice. The specific rules and regulations for registration differ by state, but in general, states legally require that massage therapists meet minimum hours of initial training and successful completion of an exam before they are given a license.
In most states, massage therapists will be required to obtain a passing grade on the Massage and Body Work Licensing Exam or one of two exams offered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic and Massage and Bodywork.
Roughly 35 million adult Americans (16 percent) had a massage at least once in the last year. This alone should indicate that it is an area very much in demand. Although many of us are guilty of thinking that massage is only for the occasional indulgence at the spa, potential career options extend much further than that, especially given that the primary reason people received massage last year was for medical or health reasons. Upon qualification and registration, the AMTA suggests that massage therapists may work in the following establishments:
- Massage parlors
- For themselves in their home or as a mobile therapist
- Doctor’s rooms or hospitals and wellness centers
- Nursing homes/hospices
- Chiropractic offices
- Health clubs and fitness centers
- Sports teams and events
- Hotels or cruise ships
- Spas and resorts
Although a true four year college education is not required to be a massage therapist, the more education and training you undertake, the better and more rewarding your career can be. That said, becoming a massage therapist requires that you complete a formal massage vocation program at a massage therapy school.