Today's massage therapists are often valued members of a health care team, and their services may be used to treat everything from back pain to depression. Massage also continues to be in demand as a luxury service that promotes relaxation and wellness.
Given the growing importance of therapeutic massage as an alternative treatment, 45 states as well as the District of Columbia currently require massage therapists working within their borders to be licensed. While licensure criteria can vary by state, most require people complete a formal education program. Even in states where a license is not required, employers may prefer to hire those who have graduated from a massage therapy school.
Fortunately, there are a number of massage therapy degree programs available, and the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) notes there are more than 300 accredited institutions nationwide. Some of these programs are designed to quickly get graduates into the workforce, while others take longer to complete and provide a deeper level of instruction.
What to Know About Online Massage Therapy Degree Programs
Some schools have begun putting massage therapy coursework online. However, with the exception of some short-term certificate programs, expect to put in hours learning or practicing massage techniques in person.
Massage therapy degree programs typically fall into one of two categories:
- Diploma/certificate programs: Some schools offer online diploma programs that can be completed in as little as four months. Certificates may take longer to earn, but provide greater preparation for the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) which many states require as part of their licensure process.
- Associate degrees: An associate degree in applied science typically takes 18 months to two years to complete. During that time, students can expect to receive instruction in a variety of massage techniques including Swedish massage, sports massage, and massage for special populations such as children and pregnant women. An associate degree may also offer instruction in client retention, marketing, and other skills that could be beneficial for those planning to open their own business.
The AMTA says most therapists receive more than 600 hours of initial training, and typically enroll in 20 hours of continuing education each year. The association, as well as some massage therapy schools, offer continuing education classes online for existing therapists.
In addition to gaining state licensure, graduates of massage therapy degree programs may also choose to become board certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Board certification is voluntary, and applicants must have 750 hours of instruction, 250 hours of hands-on experience, and pass an exam, among other requirements.
Job Outlook for Massage Therapists
The future is bright for massage therapists, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating the career will see triple the growth expected for all occupations from 2014 to 2024. It's one of several similar occupations expected to experience significant job growth in the coming years.
However, the difference between massage therapists and these other professionals is their education requirements. While some fast-growing jobs may require a four-year bachelor's degree, massage therapy degree programs can typically be completed in less than two years. In short, massage therapists can earn an income comparable to these other professionals but by spending only half as long in the classroom.
Take a look at the chart below to see how massage therapists stack up against other, similar occupations.
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)
|National Average Income (2015)
Postsecondary Non-degree Award
Physical Therapy Assistants
Choosing the Right School
The first step in selecting a massage therapy school is to contact your state's licensing agency. Some states may have specific education requirements that must be met before therapists can be licensed and begin working independently. You'll want to ensure the school you select will provide the minimum number of instructional hours as well as any hands-on experience required for licensure in your area.
In addition, look for a school's accreditation, and ask whether the curriculum is designed to help students pass the MBLEx as well as any state mandated exams. If you plan to pursue board certification, you will also want to make sure the school's program will meet those requirements.
After that, you may want to ask the following questions to further narrow down your choices:
- Can classes be taken online?
- For online massage therapy degree programs, does the school help students find opportunities for hands-on experience?
- How much are tuition and fees?
- Is financial aid available?
- What is the school's graduation rate and job placement record?
- Does the school offer career counseling services?
Like any educational program, a massage therapy degree requires time and dedication for students to graduate successfully. If you're ready to tackle a new career in this fast-growing field, you can request additional information from any of the schools listed below. It's fast and easy to complete the request form, and you will be quickly connected to a school representative who can answer all your questions.
- Board Certification, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, http://www.ncbtmb.com/board-certification
- Industry Fact Sheet, American Massage Therapy Association, https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html
- Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/oes/
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
- Starting a Career in Massage Therapy: What You Need to Know, American Massage Therapy Association, https://www.amtamassage.org/professional_development/starting.html