If you have good, strong hands and believe in the healing power of touch, you may have thought about making it official: taking the first steps to become a certified massage therapist.
However, being good with your hands is not enough to make a career out of it - just like having a knack for chemistry isn't enough to make a person a pharmacist. You may cause more harm than good if you attempt to treat people without appropriate training, especially if those people have an injury or illness.
Most states require massage therapists to be certified or licensed before they can practice. Even if you live somewhere where there is no state-level regulation - such as Kansas, Minnesota, Vermont or Wyoming - getting certified is always a good idea. Having certification assures your clients that you are properly trained and that they can trust you. The training program itself also gives you the opportunity to learn more advanced techniques, which can broaden the scope of your practice and expand your potential clientele.
In this post, we will explore how to get certified as a massage therapist, and, once you're certified, what to do next to begin your career.
How to Get Certified as a Massage Therapist
You may be tempted to find the cheapest and quickest massage certification course so you can get practicing right away. In some cases, that may be the best option for you. However, the more widely recognized your certification is, the more employment opportunities will be available to you. It's important to keep that in mind as you research massage therapy certification programs in your area.
Your local community college might offer a course, and that's likely to be the most affordable option. Private, for-profit schools can be pricier. But the most important question to ask is what kind of certification you'll be receiving, and what type of certification employers in your area require to hire you. If you're confident about opening a private practice, it may not matter as much, but it's always good to have more options.
The gold standard of national certification for massage therapy is NCBTMDB (the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork). Becoming board-certified is not a requirement to practice massage therapy, but it shows the highest level of commitment and professionalism to your clients and potential employers. It requires graduating from an approved school, passing a board exam, and a few other qualifications in addition to your regular license or certification.
Where and How to Practice While Studying
Practicing on other students is a fairly standard part of a massage therapy certification course. Many schools also have massage clinics where people can get free or discounted massages to provide students with an opportunity to practice. You can also offer free massages to friends and family members. Chances are, they'll be more than happy to let you practice on them.
Practicing as much as you can not only helps you gain confidence, it builds up the considerable strength in your hands that you will need as a professional massage therapist.
Massage Therapy Certification Requirements
Massage therapy certification requirements vary from school to school, and licensing requirements vary from region to region. In most states, you'll need a minimum number of practical experience hours, and to pass the MBLEx (Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination).
Some other things you may need to obtain your license:
- A background check to verify that you don't have a criminal history
- Additional tests about state laws and rules
- Proof of liability insurance
- Proof of English proficiency
- A business license
- CPR or first aid certification
You can check exactly what is required in your area by selecting your state from the list on this page.
Online vs Offline Education
In our digital age, it is entirely possible to get massage therapy certification online. More and more schools have been offering this option. It's convenient, tends to be more affordable, and offers flexibility you won't find in offline programs.
The main problem with massage certification online is that you need hands-on training hours to get licensed. So in most states, you'll need to figure out how to supplement your online education with hands-on experience before you can actually practice.
It's not just a matter of formalities, either. Massage is an extremely hands-on profession. You need that practical training to learn the techniques effectively.
If you do choose to get certified through an online program, make sure you have a way to get hands-on training, and check very carefully to ensure that the school is high-quality. Some schools may offer a "hybrid" program, with the option to study the theory online and practice in concentrated in-person sessions.
First Steps Once You Are Certified
So now you know how to become a certified massage therapist - but then what? What are the next steps to take to opening a successful massage therapy business?
First, you'll need to decide whether you want to run your own practice, or work for an existing business. That may depend on your availability, level of qualification, skillset and personal preferences.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), 74% of practicing massage therapists run their own business. If you decide to take that route, you'll need to decide on a setting for your practice. AMTA reports that 59% of all massage therapists work at the client's home or office, 42% at the therapist's office, 29% at the therapist's home, 23% in a healthcare setting, and 23% at spas. Other options may include:
- Fitness centers
- Complementary or alternative medicine centers
- Cruise ships
- Shopping malls
You'll also need to decide on a target clientele. Do some market research to learn what's available in your area and what niche you might be able to fill.
Once you've made those decisions, you'll need to find out what is necessary to register your business, and start working on a business plan.
Massage Therapist Insurance
One factor to consider when building your business plan is insurance. Massage therapist insurance protects your business and grants you the peace of mind you need to thrive in your new profession. You may be required by law to have basic insurance coverage, but even if you aren't, it's always a good idea to make sure your business is covered. For more information about insurance for massage therapists, visit our massage therapist insurance page.