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How to Become a Masseuse: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a massage therapist. Research the job description and education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in massage therapy.

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Do I Want to Be a Massage Therapist?

The term 'masseuse' is used to describe a female who gives massages, while 'masseur' is the equivalent term for a male in this profession; 'massage therapist' is a common title used to describe both women and men who perform massage therapy. These professionals help relax and soothe client ailments by manipulating their soft tissues.

The environments in which massage therapists work vary and can include health or chiropractic clinics, spas, vacation resorts and fitness centers. Many massage therapists are self-employed. They spend most of their shifts standing and performing repetitive tasks, which may be hard on their hands and wrists. Many of these workers only can find employment part time.

Job Requirements

In states in which massage therapy is regulated (which is the majority of states), it's illegal to practice without a license. Consequently, it's important to research the regulations for the state in which one intends to work. To become licensed, individuals must complete a certain number of training and education hours through an approved program and demonstrate their knowledge by passing an examination. The following table presents common requirements for entering the field of massage therapy:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Postsecondary education; typically a certificate or diploma program that includes a minimum number of study hours as determined by the state licensing board*
Degree Field Massage therapy*
Licensure and Certification Licensing is required in most states*; through technically voluntary, certification through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is required for licensure in some states
Experience Hands-on experience is required in most training programs*; professionals typically must continue to meet a minimum number of hours of work experience to maintain credentials**
Key Skills Communication skills, empathy, physical stamina and strength*
Additional Requirements Liability insurance is a requirement in some states***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, ***State massage therapy boards

Step 1: Earn a Certificate or Diploma in Massage Therapy

In a therapeutic massage certificate program, students learn theories and techniques of massage therapy. Students should choose a program that's recognized by their state's licensing board. These programs often involve at least 500 hours of academic and clinical work. Coursework typically includes anatomy and physiology, kinesiology fundamentals, pathology and professional ethics. Prospective massage therapists who plan to be self-employed may want to choose a training program that includes coursework in business finances, marketing and management. Classroom coursework is complemented by hands-on training in clinical labs.

Step 2: Take an Approved National Examination in Massage Therapy

Exams commonly accepted for state licensure include the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) and the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB). Once a student has completed an approved massage therapy program, he or she can apply to take either of these exams.

Step 3: Apply for State Licensure

As of 2011, laws regulating massage therapy were enforced by 43 states and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). After graduation from an accredited massage therapy program and earning a passing score on a national examination, graduates can apply for licensure. Some states require a candidate to have a specified amount of liability insurance before he or she can be granted licensure. Professionals should also check with their state for any additional regulations, such as how the license must be displayed at the therapist's place of work.

Step 4: Meet Continuing Education Requirements

To keep certification and licensure current and valid, professionals need to meet continuing education requirements. Candidates who have earned certification through taking the NCETMB will need to complete a recertification process that includes showing evidence of 48 continuing education hours and 200 hours of work experience. Many states also require professionals to submit evidence of continuing education to maintain licensure. Specific coursework requirements and the frequency with which they must be documented vary by state.

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    Areas of study you may find at Northwestern College include:
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