Massage Therapy Requirements

What are the requirements for becoming a massage therapist? Massage therapy requirements vary from state to state, and sometimes from city to city, so you’ll definitely want to check out what your government agencies have to say on the matter. There are some basics that are pretty universal, though.

Requirement 1: Massage Therapy License
In most places, you’ll be required to get a massage therapy license before practicing massage professionally. Generally speaking, this means taking an exam (often the MBLEx or NCBMT), passing a criminal background check, and paying a fee. In order to maintain your license, most states will also require you to have so many hours of continuing education. You might also be required to take classes in particular areas, like hygiene or ethics, or maintain CPR certification.

Requirement 2: Massage Therapy Education
Before you can even take a licensing exam, you’ll be expected to graduate from a reputable massage school. The minimum length of the program of study will vary by state, but all are currently between 500 and 1,000 hours. (Cost of massage school is an important factor, too.)The basic content of your massage education is also mandated by the state. Most require some combination of anatomy, physiology, pathology, massage techniques, hygiene, ethics, business, and some kind of clinical experience. Massage schools may have their own requirements for admission, such as a high school diploma, or experience receiving a professional massage.

Requirement 3: Job-Specific Needs
While the state you live in will set forward basic requirements for massage therapists, employers often have their own list of requirements. A spa might require that you have training in certain techniques, like massage for pregnant women or hot stone massage. A physical therapist’s office might want fast and thorough charting skills, and the ability to use a hydrocollator safely. A hospital might require you to have certain immunizations, and get advanced training in areas like oncology massage. If you have an idea of what kind of setting you want to work in, it will be helpful for you to call around and find out what sort of additional requirements these employers have, so that you can take steps now to make sure you meet them as quickly as possible. You may want to consider what your income as a massage therapist could be in certain specialties as well.

Requirement 4: People Skills
“Soft skills” sometimes get short shrift when you’re focused on stuffing so many facts about the human body into your head, but while it’s not illegal to work as a massage therapist without them, it’s nearly impossible to succeed. Learning to communicate clearly and in a nonthreatening way, maintain personal boundaries while respecting those of others, and to pay attention to what others are expressing through their words and body language are all vital for a massage therapist’s success. If you have trouble speaking to strangers, consider joining Toastmasters. Additional ethics classes might help you manage your personal and professional boundaries. If you are struggling in any area of relating to your clients, talk to your massage instructors. They teach students with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses; the odds are that they’ll have some good advice for you, or know someone who does.

Requirement 5: Attitude
Without a good attitude, you will not only struggle to find work and retain clients, you’ll also have a very difficult time getting through massage school. Keeping an open heart and an open mind, being willing to learn (and un-learn, and re-learn), and having a sense of determination and self-discipline are absolutely requirements for a massage therapist, even though there’s no way they could ever be required by law. The right attitude will enable you to study harder even if you struggle more with memorizing anatomy than other classmates. It will help you think critically about your own knowledge and revise your opinion when it appears that you were wrong. It will get through that first, not-so-perfect job that you take on your way to the practice of your dreams.

The right attitude will leave you in a better position to tackle all the other requirements head-on, and become the best massage therapist you can be. There’s nothing better you can arm yourself with for the journey ahead.

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