Massage Therapy Certifications

certificationsAll licensed massage therapists have certain things in common: they’ve all had a basic massage education, passed some kind of exam, and done whatever it takes to maintain their legal status. Unfortunately for new graduates, this means that much of what qualifies you to do your job is exactly what could qualify hundreds of other people to do it too. How can you stand out?

One way is to get a specialty massage therapy certification. Certifications are simply taking continuing education to the next level. Rather than just taking a one-hour online class on some technique, a specialty certification typically involves more study, an exam, and a demonstration of competence. Some massage therapy certifications may have prerequisites, while others can be pursued while still in massage school. If you’ve got a strong sense of where you’d like to focus your massage career, pursuing additional massage certifications can give you the credibility to get moving in that direction.

Types of Massage Therapy Certifications

  • Technique Certifications, like myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, or lomilomi.
  • Population Certifications, such as massage for infants, athletes, or elders
  • Setting Certifications, hospital-based massage being one example
  • Condition Certifications, including massage for people with autism, cancer, or PTSD

Here are just a few specific examples of massage therapy certification programs that are available:

Pediatric Massage

Massage therapy for children has some distinct differences from massage for adults. Their bodies are not just smaller, but also react differently to temperature, pressure, and positioning. Emotionally, they may be wary of strange adults, be unable to set appropriate boundaries, or unused to regulating their emotions or expressing them in healthy ways. They are also different legally; they cannot consent to treatment on their own, and their parents or guardians must be involved in their treatment. Becoming certified in pediatric massage therapy can help you learn to manage all these differences, and assuage parent and caretaker concerns.

One such pediatric massage certification is offered through the Liddle Kidz Foundation. Founded by Massage Therapy Foundation Humanitarian Award winner Tina Allen, their Pediatric Massage program takes students through both the theory and practice of working with children who have medical conditions, over the course of two intensive days. To get an idea of what you can do with a certification in pediatric massage, the Massage Therapy Foundation has a free ebook to get you started. Or just take a look at this inspiring documentary on YouTube!

Oncology Massage

Cancer can be some pretty scary stuff. Enough so that most massage therapy students are taught in school to Stay The Heck Away from clients who are undergoing cancer treatment. This doesn’t mean that massage is inherently bad for cancer patients, though. In fact, it can be an astoundingly good thing, helping to mitigate some of the symptoms of cancer and the sometimes equally nasty side effects of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Becoming certified in oncology massage means that you will be able to provide safe massage for a growing number of people who not only would benefit from massage, but cannot easily find a trained therapist who can provide it.

Tracy Walton offers a 32 hour training course that qualifies participants to apply for membership with the Society for Oncology Massage. Course participants go on to work with people with cancer in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, private practice, home visits, and even spas. While the training places a lot of emphasis on emotional support, have no doubt that the coursework is rooted in the latest research and places priority on a safe experience for clients and dispelling many of the myths that surround cancer in the massage community.

Pregnancy Massage

Growing a human being can be hard work, and doesn’t come without plenty of physical and emotional stress. Carrying around additional weight, loosened ligaments, hormonal fluctuations, and nausea are just a handful of the symptoms that a woman may experience during pregnancy. And that’s in addition to figuring out how this new person is going to affect her career, family relationships, finances, and social life. Stress and physical discomfort are natural applications for massage, but there are also special considerations when providing massage for clients who are pregnant. A certification in pregnancy massage can help you show a mother-to-be that you can provide the massage that is best for her and her child.

Carol Osborne’s Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy Certification course covers not only massage during all stages of pregnancy, but also massage therapy during labor and in the days following delivery. Far from the basic “Oh, here’s how you do side-lying massage. Try not to mess things up.” that most students get in massage school, this certification involves four days of training, plus reading to be completed before the start of the course. There’s a lot more to pregnancy massage certification than just working around a belly!

Warnings About “Certification”

The downside to massage therapy certifications is that they aren’t regulated in any way. One person could study for 10 hours and become “certified” in that, while someone else could study for 100 hours and receive a similar-sounding certification. It’s up to you to do your homework and decide what the right educational program for you. When in doubt, email an employer or expert whose opinion you trust, and ask them what sort of program they would recommend. Keep in mind that some of the best quality programs may not call their graduates “certified” at all!

The Upside of Specialty Massage Certification

A high-quality certification is both a huge boost to your massage therapy toolbox and a great marketing opportunity. It can set you apart from other massage therapists, show your commitment to a special population, and give you additional knowledge that you can then go on to share with current and potential clients. Pursuing a massage therapy certification is not the only way to continue your education after graduation, but for the new massage therapist with a specific goal in mind, it can be just the thing to help you get there. 

Image courtesy of stuart miles/