Becoming a massage therapist is not as easy as it may sound. The process begins from attending a massage therapy school that provides classroom education and hands-on training and then getting the necessary degree, certification and license.
And while many aspiring massage therapists are able to get through the initial process, many believe that the real battle starts once you graduate as you now have to hunt for a suitable job.
This article will discuss some major steps after graduating from a massage therapy program in order to have a successful and fulfilling career. These steps include getting state licensed, board-certified, getting prepared for the next steps in your career and doing an actual job search.
The Massage Certification Process
The designations for massage therapists changed in 2012-13 from the designation “National Certification” to the new designation “Board Certified”. The new designation is in recognition of standards of professionalism in the healthcare industry much like how psychiatrists, medical doctors, or chiropractors are board certified. The massage therapy industry has opted for this designation to reflect the similarity and connection with the healthcare industry.
How to Get Certified?
The designation Board Certified is gained through an examination process governed by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). The process of being Board Certified includes:
- Passing the Board Certification exam.
- Completing a minimum of 750 classroom hours.
- Completing a minimum of 250 hands of training hours no less than six months from graduation.
- Pass a thorough national background check.
- Obtain a current CPR certification.
- Affirm your commitment to the NCBTMB code of ethics and conduct.
- Commit to oppose human trafficking.
As you can see this is not an instant process by any means, and you will need to start your hands-on training, CPR training, and passing the board certification exam as soon as possible in order to become Board Certified within eight months from graduation.
There are several websites that offer fee based exam preparation and exam samples in order to prepare for the certification exam such as NCBTMB and Massage Exam. Also if your program does not include 750 classroom hours you will need to take continuing education credits in order to qualify for the board certification designation. A number of industry associations or massage therapy schools offer these CEU’s (continuing education units) as they are called in the industry.
This is why it is important to select the right massage therapy school for you.
Why Get Certified?
The main reasons, among several others, to become Board Certified include:
- Enhanced professionalism and career potential (growth and salary)
- Eligibility as there is a state licensing requirement in 40 states
- Continued commitment to learning and career excellence.
Read this article for an in depth discussion on the certification process.
State Licensing Requirements for Massage Practitioners
Most states require formalized education combined with a certification process.
However, some States have not gotten there yet. These include:
These States do not require certification or state licensing. However all other states require either board certification by NCBTMB or the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) governed by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).
New York and Hawaii offer certification through their own state administered exam. Even if you are in one of the States that do not require board certification you will want to achieve it to demonstrate professional standards and in the event you move to one State.
Further, it is just a matter of time before all States start requiring board certification. It’s best to get it out of the way while you are in the training process rather than going back to complete it later on.
Read this article for an in depth discussion of the licensing process.
Very few massage therapy schools provide 750 classroom hours. In order to pass your board certification you will need to complete extra classroom credits as described above. Besides certification you will need to be prepared for the subset occupation that you desire.
For example, if you want to be a medical massage therapist but have no experience in the subset or have the modalities required, you will need to research and gain experience in that subset.
Other similar areas include sports massage, medical massage, spa and wellness massage, or your own business in a preset location or by traveling to people’s homes as a travel massage therapist. Read about the various subsets of the massage therapy profession here.
If you are going to start your own business you will have to do a lot more preparation such as looking for an appropriate location, decorating, repair and/or renovating the premises and acquiring the necessary equipment to start your own practice. All these are beyond the study of just massage therapy and the various subsets within.
Supplies, Insurance, etc.
At this point in time it may also make sense to find appropriate suppliers for the profession you have chosen. You will need supplies such as lotions, creams, oils, the necessary implements that you require for specialized modalities such as hot stones for hot stone massage as well as large equipment such as massage tables if necessary.
Needless to say, the need for all such items will depend on which subset of massage you choose, whether you decide to seek employment or start your own business. If you are going to be employed, many employers may provide some or all of supplies you will need to practice massage.
You will also need to start investigating the appropriate liability insurance that you will need in order to practice within the industry subset that you have chosen in order to protect yourself and your business from general liability lawsuits or malpractice suits.
These are some of the basic preparation essentials every massage therapist will have to consider as they near the start of their employment as well as ongoing career development. Some of these topics will be covered in your education curriculum while others are topics you will have to research on your own.
The Job Search Process
The most important aspect after graduation besides preparing for board certification is making contacts and networking within the massage therapy industry in order to gain employment.
In order to make the best impression it will be necessary to have an appropriate resume and cover letter to provide to any prospective employers. To increase your chances, ensure that you are noticed by providing a personalized cover letter for each place of business outlining your skill set in each modality and how your skills would benefit the employer. You will have to customize this depending on where you are applying if you want the best results from this effort.
Before certification and while you are still accomplishing your mandatory hands-on training hours, you may be able to make contact with local programs for massage therapy in order to volunteer some hours. This is a great way to seamlessly transition into a job you like after graduation. You can do this at hospice centers, spas and wellness centers or sports training camps.
Networking and building relationships is just as important, if not more, than the mechanical procedures involved in a job search such as preparing and distributing resumes and cover letters. Make every attempt to connect with employers and professionals in your field. The more you network, the more possibilities you will create for yourself now and later.
Remember that your massage therapy diploma and certificate is only the first step in a successful career. In order to maximize your potential you must become board certified and successfully specialize in a number of modalities that fit into the subset of the massage industry that you intend to enter such as sports massage, medical massage, health and wellness massage, or starting your own business.
In addition, continue to focus on growing and honing your network of employers and professionals in your industry. This is the complete recipe for success.
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