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What Is a Massage Therapist?

Discover what you can do, where you can work, and how much you can earn in this fulfilling healthcare field.

woman gives chair massage to client
Home » Massage Therapy

Massage therapists play an important role in the field of allied health. They use touch and pressure to manipulate the soft tissues of the body to promote relaxation, relieve pain, reduce stress, and promote the overall wellness of their clients.

One massage therapist’s career can differ greatly from another’s. Depending on the therapist’s educational focus, a typical workday could range from seeing clients at a day spa for relaxing massages to traveling to a cancer patient’s home to administer a pain-relieving palliative care massage. Massage therapists usually complete a basic training program, then either start practicing or take additional courses to earn specialty certificates in a variety of modalities.

How to Become a Massage Therapist

  1. Make sure this career aligns with your career expectations and goals.

    The role of a massage therapist can vary widely depending on your specialty, but you will almost certainly be working closely with clients to understand their medical histories and symptoms; using your fingers, hands, and arms to manipulate the body’s muscles and soft tissue; and offering guidance to patients relating to posture, gait, sleep, strength, and relaxation. Your salary as a massage therapist may vary depending on where you live and the type of specialty massage work you do. A significant factor for massage therapists who work for themselves are the hours you choose to work. If you’re charging by the hour, your salary will obviously vary based on the number of clients you see.

  2. Find a program that meets your state’s requirements.

    Each state has its own professional guidelines for massage therapy practitioners. Before you pursue a program, find out what’s required by the state in which you want to practice, and make sure you meet the prerequisites for the program.

  3. Enroll and complete the program.

    You don’t need a two- or four-year degree to become a massage therapist. Most massage therapy programs award a diploma or certificate after 500 to 1,000 hours of training.

  4. Get licensed or certified.

    Nearly all states require massage therapists to be licensed before practicing. Many follow up their licensing with voluntary board certification through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

  5. Gain practical experience.

    Once you have your license in hand, start working in the field. Your workplace may vary, but many massage therapists find work in spas, fitness centers, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and even in patients’ homes. Many open their own studios. As you gain experience, you’ll learn what workplace and what type of massage you like best.

  6. Consider earning additional specialty certifications to increase your potential.

    Your basic massage therapy educational program will prepare you for many jobs, but to specialize in areas like sports massage or palliative care, you’ll probably want to consider pursuing a specialty certificate.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 32% between 2020 and 2030. This is much faster than the BLS’ projected average for all professions, which is 8%. The BLS attributes this anticipated demand to a number of factors:

  • Recovery from the pandemic-related recession
  • A growing recognition of massage therapy as a way to treat pain and improve overall wellness
  • An increasing understanding by healthcare providers of the benefits of massage

Resources

As you consider a massage therapy education, check out these associations for more information.

sheila cain

Written and reported by:
Sheila Cain
All Star Writer/Editor