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Becoming A Massage Therapist | Step by Step Guide - 2020

Are you considering becoming a licensed massage therapist (LMT) but are curious to know what's involved when it comes to making this career choice? Choosing to become a masseuse has many rewards and benefits, such as creating your own hours, working with people to make them feel better, and having a variety of workplace options.

The cool thing about attending massage therapy school is once you have that certification and pass the licensing exam, you're ready to go out there and fulfill your dream. Read on to understand what to expect when becoming a massage therapist.

Career Outlook and Salary of Massage Therapist

The employment for massage therapists will see a huge growth spurt between now and 2026. Employment is projected to grow 26 percent, which is significantly faster than the average for all occupations.

Because there are licensing regulations being mandated by most states, massage therapy will become an even more respected and accepted alternative to pain management and overall health and wellness. As this trend continues, more healthcare providers will likely prescribe massage therapy as part of a treatment plan.

There has been a drastic increase in the number of massage clinics opening around the country, leading to more employment for massage therapists. The number of sports teams employing massage therapists has risen, as well. These are just two factors that are driving the employment growth in a positive direction. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that massage therapists make a median annual salary of $39,990. Those in the top 10 percent made closer to $78,000 while the bottom 10 percent made a bit more than $20,000 annually. Most massage therapists make a combination of salary plus tips.

The cities where massage therapists make the highest salaries are Anchorage, Alaska; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; and Danbury, Connecticut.

How Much Do Massage Therapy Training Programs Cost?

With massage therapy school averaging between 500-600 hours, the bottom line cost for the education is approximately $6,000-$10,000 before the necessary school supplies are purchased. If you go through a community college, the cost of the course runs on par with the school's tuition per credit hour. Private massage therapy schools will have different prices. Massage therapy school prices can range anywhere between $6-$17 per hour of class time with an average of $9-$10/hour of education. The shorter the massage therapy program is, the less it will cost. Some programs do include the cost of the chair or table, which runs around $500. But, if it doesn't, then factor in that cost, as well.

Factors that determine the cost of massage therapy school are location, curriculum courses, hour of instruction, facilities, and cost of supplies. When looking for a massage therapy school, be sure to find out from the admissions office whether textbooks, oils and lotions, and massage tables or chairs are included in the cost of the school. Be sure to find out if there are scholarships and/or loans available, if cost is factor.

Qualities of A Good Massage Therapist

Massage is a balance between technical and personal skills, at the heart of which lies the therapeutic relationship. Every time a therapist and a client come together in the context of therapy, this relationship is created. This relationship has a special purpose and goal: to serve the needs and best interests of our clients.
Susan Salvo, Massage Therapy Principles and Practice

To be eligible to attend massage therapy school, you must be a minimum of 16 years of age and either be a high school graduate or have a GED. You should possess certain traits in order to be successful in the competitive field of massage therapy.

Key qualities of a great massage therapist are:

  1. outgoing personality and ability to self-promote
  2. business management skills
  3. empathy and compassion with clients
  4. calm, soothing personality
  5. good communicator as well as an excellent listener
  6. good judgment
  7. top physical condition and stamina

What Is Massage Therapy School Like?

Massage is the study of anatomy in braille.

Jack Meagher

Because massage therapists work on bodies, muscles, and tissues, training on human anatomy and physiology will be part of a massage therapy course. Massage therapy students will take courses in kinesiology, which is the study of motion and mechanics of the human body, pathology, history of massage, benefits and effects of massage, laws and regulations of massage therapy, different modalities (types) of massage such as Swedish, hot stone, sports, deep tissue, prenatal, and more. There is also the hands-on aspect of massage therapy school, which is the training portion of class. The instructor will demonstrate the lesson, and then the class will typically break down into groups where they will work on each other.

A typical school day in massage therapy school will include two one-hour technical classes and 2.5 hours of hands-on training. The numbers may change depending on where the massage therapy courses are taken.

Not only will the class instructor guide you and your classmates through both the practical and hands-on segments, but also they'll prepare you for the licensing exam, which is the last factor before going out and working as a massage therapist.

If you choose to take the practical courses through an online school, then you still will need to find a way to incorporate the lab portion of hands-on experience. You must be able to prove it in order to take the required state licensing exam, so keep your records.

Massage Modalities Taught In Massage School

Massage therapy has been shown to relieve depression, especially in people who have chronic fatigue syndrome; other studies also suggest benefit for other populations.
Andrew Weil

In massage therapy school, students are taught a variety of modalities and techniques. You will practice there on each other. This is the lab portion of massage school. Students will learn how to combine different techniques in order to best service their future client needs. You're encouraged to discover your own creativity within your approach to the various techniques and apply them when working with classmates. Find what works and what doesn't.

These are the most common and popular modalities taught in massage therapy schools across the country:

  • Swedish massage: This technique uses long, flowing strokes to create a relaxing, de-stressing massage. 
  • Deep-tissue massage: The deep-tissue massage is used to release muscle tension by using more pressure.
  • Trigger-point massage: This technique focuses on specific areas and muscles that are holding tension. It releases the knots, as well.
  • Sports massage: Sports massage is specific to athletes who overuse their muscles. Many sports teams have their own, personal sports massage therapist on call. 
  • Reflexology: Originated in Asian cultures, reflexology focuses on the foot to release tension from the rest of the body.
  • Chair massage: This is a popular form of massage where the client, who is fully clothed, sits in a special massage chair to receive their massage.

What Are The Licensing Requirements For Massage Therapists?

Most states require students to sit for the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM) or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) held by the NCBTMB. However, some states may require the students to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx), which is held by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Board.

The exams must be retaken every four years in order to keep the license current. But an alternative to retaking the exam is completing 48 hours of continuing education with 200 hours of massage therapy within the four-year period. There must be documented proof in order for this to be a valid option.

There are only six states that have no licensing requirements: Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming. To work as a massage therapist in any of the other states, you must be certified and licensed. Each state has its own set of requirements.

Work Environment For Massage Therapists

Masseuses can be found working in a variety of spaces. Their work conditions vary depending on the work environment and need of the client.

  • Medical and healthcare: Massage therapists who work in the medical and healthcare industry focus on healing their clients. While the atmosphere may be relaxed, the practice doesn't focus on additional frills.
  • Spas and salons: Spas and salons can be found everywhere, from a strip mall to a cruise ship. They typically have a peaceful environment filled with lovely smelling candles and dim lighting. In the spa and salon setting, you'll give customers equal parts massage and experience.
  • Self-employed: Many massage therapists choose to freelance, which allows them the freedom to choose their clients, work hours, and work space. You may work out of your own home or travel to their clients' homes, bringing your supplies along with you.
  • Sports and fitness: Similar to working in the healthcare industry, sports and fitness massage therapists focus on the healing aspect of the profession, not the relaxation. You may work in injury rehabilitation clinics, chiropractic practices, and health clubs.

Massage has been around throughout history because of its much needed healing and restorative properties. Going to see a massage therapist is one type of appointment that people look forward to! How could you not love a career like that?

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