How to Become a Massage Therapist

Thinking about enrolling in massage school?

If you are considering enrolling in massage and bodywork training, you are probably curious about how much the program costs, how long it will take to complete, what you will learn in the program, and more. Beauty Schools Directory has answered many of the most common questions about the education that helps you become a licensed massage therapist (LMT), so you can decide whether taking the next step in your career is the right decision for you. If you think training to become a professional massage practitioner sounds like the right fit for you, just enter your zip code in the box to the right. Choose "Massage Therapy" as your program to find schools near you that offer this program.

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How do I become a licensed professional massage therapist?

The most critical step to become an LMT is to get the training and hands-on practice required to be able to sit for your state’s board exams. Because you are working in a near-medical field and directly with clients’ bodies, it is imperative to get the proper education to be able to practice this profession safely and effectively. The training programs can vary in length and requirements, based largely on each state’s individual licensing requirements. View our list of states to discover your state’s massage therapist licensing requirements. States require anywhere from 500 to 1000 hours of training to sit for your licensing exam, but the national average is 560 hours of training. Some states also require you to become CPR certified. A handful of states, like Kansas and Minnesota, have requirements that vary by municipality. A tiny handful of states don’t currently regulate the massage profession at all.

The most recent enrollment survey from the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals estimates that there are about 1,319 massage institutions throughout the country. This number includes career schools, state-run or community colleges, and corporate massage schools. The programs may be part-time or full-time, and some schools offer night and weekend classes to students. According to the same survey, there are just over 40,000 massage therapy students looking to join the profession.

Are you ready to explore your school options to start training to become an LMT? Click the “Find a School” button below to get started.

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What will I learn in massage school?

Massage therapy is the field of wellness and bodywork that focuses almost exclusively on the manipulation of muscle and tissue to enhance performance and function, relieve pain and stress, and promote overall health and wellness in the body. During your training you will learn subjects such as anatomy and physiology (bones, organs and tissues), kinesiology (motion and mechanics), pathology (diseases and conditions), business ethics, and more. Below is a list of potential classes you may see in your school’s curriculum, but it is not an exhaustive list:

  • Spa Massage TherapistAnatomy & Physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • History of Massage
  • Pathology, Diseases & Conditions
  • Benefits & Effects of Massage
  • Business Ethics & Boundaries
  • Massage Laws & Regulations
  • Safety, Sanitation & Sterilization
  • Client Assessment & Consultation
  • Treatment Selection & Planning
  • Business Management – Marketing, Finance, etc.
  • Massage Modalities (Sweedish, Deep Tissue, Shiatso, Thai, Sports, Hot Stone, Lymphatic, Prenatal, etc.)
  • Myofascial Therapies
  • Alternative/Chinese Medicine (Meridian, Acupressure, etc.)
  • Energy Work

Massage school will involve a combination of training methods, including lecture from professors, hands-on practice with fellow students, and then real-life work on clients from the community. This training helps prepare you to succeed on your written and practical exams to get licensed.

Do these classes sound incredibly interesting to you? Find schools near you to compare your options.

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What board exams do I take after graduation to get licensed?

After completing your education program, many massage students take one of the written national examinations for therapeutic massage and bodywork. This test is administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). About 80% of states (all but 11) use the NCBTMB board exam. Other states may use the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) from the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

Licensing is different than NCBTMB board certification, which requires 250 hours minimum of hands-on experience, at least 750 hours of education (which includes the hours you earn in your initial training program to get licensed), passing a background check, and CPR certification.

What qualities, skills or knowledge are required to become an LMT?

Therapist Giving Back MassageMassage therapists should have excellent communication skills so you can consult with clients and listen carefully to their needs, so you can get a complete and confident understanding in what they hope to achieve during their appointment or an ongoing basis, as well as their level of comfort and likes or dislikes. LMTs should also have good judgment and decision-making skills to be capable of identifying each client’s unique needs and be able to take the best course of action to meet them.

On the physical side, professional bodyworkers often have to be on their feet most or all of the day, and they may have to accommodate numerous appointments. You should also be able to work with your hands and have significant physical strength and dexterity (or be willing to work on it). You will use pressure and movement of your arms and hands to work out clients’ muscles.

You may learn to work with certain kinds of tools or technology specific to the massage therapy profession, such as boards or bolsters, hydrotherapy baths, various massage tables and chairs, and therapeutic heating or cooling pads, among others. You may also learn to use certain types of products in your appointments, such as oils and lotions or certain scents for an aromatherapy component.

What are the requirements to enroll in massage therapy school?

Most massage therapist schools require you to be at least 16 years of age, and have achieved either a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Check with your state or your potential schools before you enroll to be sure. Take a look at our enrollment requirements page to learn more. Contact your state's licensing department to verify if any changes have been made in the enrollment requirements.

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How much does massage school cost?

LMT Giving Chair MassageThe cost of tuition for massage schools can range depending on the courses in the curriculum, hours of instruction required by your state, as well as location, facilities, and equipment required to purchase for your program. Because of the cost of business facilities, massage and bodywork schools inside or close to major metropolitan cities like Los Angeles or Chicago will likely cost a little more, whereas smaller, more rural areas or suburbs that may be accessible with a bit of a commute may be cheaper. For each massage school you're interested in, be sure to ask admissions reps what their tuition costs are and what exactly this costs includes – such as textbooks, lotions and oils, massage tables or chairs, and so on. Massage schools that teach around the national average of 500-600 hours tend to have tuition that costs on average $6,000 to $10,000, including the cost of textbooks and supplies.

Everyone is looking for something different when it comes to choosing a massage school. If cost is at the forefront of your mind, be sure to ask the schools you contact about their accreditation, the availability of financial aid, whether they have scholarships you can apply for, if they do financing or have payment plans, and for tips on how you can keep the costs down. Also consider asking about whether they offer job placement assistance after you graduate, which can make paying off the school expense less intimidating.

Are there advanced or master level massage courses?

There are many options for massage therapists to continue their education with either advanced courses or master-level classes. There are lots of ways you can hone your skills and become more specialized in a specific massage technique or modality to set yourself apart from others, too. Some states even offer Master-level practitioners’ licenses. As mentioned above in the board exams Q&A, many therapists decide to pursue board certification, which may call for additional training and certifications.

Professional bodyworkers may wish to look for advanced or master courses at conferences, workshops or seminars, through online or book training guides, or state board approved continuing education courses.

What are some of the massage therapist career options?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates estimates that the job demand for massage therapists will grow 23% through the year 2022, much faster than the national average for all occupations. U.S. News & World Report also listed Massage Therapist as one of the best Healthcare jobs of 2015. Some, but certainly not all, of the potential job titles you could have as a licensed bodyworker could be:

  • Massage Therapist Pull QuoteLicensed Massage Therapist (LMT)
  • Certified Massage Therapist (CMT)
  • Professional Bodyworker
  • Certified (Advanced) Rolfer
  • Massage (School or Workshop) Educator

As a massage therapist, you may have the flexibility to create your own schedule by being self-employed or running their own business. Many self-employed massage practitioners travel with their equipment or rent out a space to practice.

If you want more stability than self-employment provides, many other opportunities are available. Licensed massage therapists may work in salons, spas, resorts, chiropractic clinics or with athletic organizations. Some massage therapists also work in hospitals or other medical facilities. LMTs may work closely with chiropractors, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists, physical therapists, or beauty professionals like estheticians at salons and spas.

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