Best Massage Therapy Programs

Oct 19, 2021

What is a Certificate Program in Massage Therapy?

Certificate programs in massage therapy offer hands-on vocational training that prepares aspiring massage therapists to practice various modalities of massage therapy. Students will learn common Western and Eastern modalities, including shiatsu, Swedish, deep tissue, and sports massage techniques to promote relaxation and body harmony in their patients.

Massage therapy programs typically take between six months and one year to complete, depending on the type of program. Full-time programs are usually completed within six to eight months, whereas students enrolled in part-time programs may take the full year to complete their program. Students will practice massage techniques under the supervision of professional massage therapists at on-site clinics, where they will typically earn between 500 to 750 hours of experience before completion. After completing a massage therapy program, students will be sufficiently prepared to take state-specific certification exams in order to become licensed or certified to practice massage therapy in their state.

What is the Difference Between a Certificate and a Degree in Massage Therapy?

For prospective students wondering how to become a massage therapist, one of their first questions may be what the differences between massage therapy certificates and degree programs are, and which programs will provide them with the background or credentials to start their careers. Both massage therapy certificate programs and associate degree programs will prepare students for examinations to become certified and licensed in their state. However, there are many differences between certificate and degree programs in terms of coursework and length of program. To begin, certificate programs confer a certificate upon completion. At the end of an associate degree program, schools will award an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) or Associate of Occupational Science (AOS) degree in massage therapy. Students in certificate programs will focus exclusively on the professional training of massage therapy. Students in associate programs will complete general educational requirements such as English, communications, and math or science courses, as well as learning the technical skills needed to pursue careers in massage therapy. Associate degrees usually take two years to complete, so they are generally more time-intensive than certificate programs.

Should I Get a Certificate in Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is a growing and dynamic field where most practicing massage therapists work independently with flexible schedules that respond to their own needs as well as those of their clients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for massage therapists is projected at 21% between 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations at 4%. As such, massage therapists can expect opportunities to expand over the next ten years as more clients are drawn to the therapeutic benefits of massage.

There are some potential advantages to earning a certificate in particular. One of the most immediate benefits to a certificate program over an associate degree program is the length of time a certificate program in massage therapy takes to complete. Degree and certificate programs both prepare students to take an exam and apply to become a licensed massage therapist in their state. Since most certificate programs can be completed in under a year, prospective massage therapists who choose to complete certificate programs can finish their coursework and enter the workforce in half of the time that an associate-level student would take to pass the same exam and earn the same qualification.

What is the difference between a Certificate Program, a Professional Certification, and a License in Massage Therapy?

Certificate programs, professional certification, and licensure are all interrelated aspects of a career as a massage therapist, but they are not the same.

A certificate program awards a certificate upon completion. This certificate indicates that students have fulfilled the academic requirements of their program. Generally, completing a massage therapy program and passing an exam is required to apply for a license. For this reason, certificate programs can be the first step to licensure.

A license is a legal credential that permits only qualified individuals to do a certain task. A massage therapy license permits qualified massage therapists to practice massage therapy within a specified state. According to the BLS, nearly all states require massage therapists to hold a license. In forty-four states, students must take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) to obtain a license. Administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), the MBLEx is a 100 question, multiple-choice standardized test with seven sections. In order to take the MBLEx, students must have completed a massage therapy program such as a certificate or degree program and fill out an application to test. Students must pay an application fee of $195 and pass the MBLEx to apply for a license in their state.

Massage therapists can also obtain advanced professional certification to set them apart from others in their field. Board certification by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork represents advanced understanding of the principles of massage and can make massage therapists more attractive to potential clients.

Career Options after Completing a Certificate Program in Massage Therapy

Most individuals seeking information about degree and certification requirements in massage therapy want to pursue careers as massage therapists. Massage therapists, alternatively massage therapy technicians, are professionals who work to relieve pain, stress and tension in their clients through 80 different recognized modalities of massage. Massage therapists can specialize in some modalities or use massage to target specific areas under the direction of physicians, informally termed clinical massage therapy or medical massage.

While almost all students who have completed certificate programs will become massage therapists, students can also use their expertise in anatomy to work as physical therapist aides or medical assistants.

Massage Therapist

Students who complete certificate programs in massage therapy will be well-positioned to pursue careers as massage therapists. State requirements vary, but in most states, future massage therapists will complete a massage therapy certificate or degree program, pass an exam, and become licensed before practicing in their state. According to the BLS, 35% of massage therapists are self-employed, so motivated individuals looking to set their own schedule may be drawn to massage therapy.

Physical Therapist Aide

Physical therapist aides perform support tasks under the direction of a physical therapist to improve the smooth application of patient-oriented physical therapy. Physical therapist aides guide patients through rehabilitation sites, prepare treatment rooms and equipment and also answer phones, manage patient schedules, and inventory medical supplies. A massage therapist's background in anatomy and kinesiology may make them particularly attractive as physical therapist aides.

Medical Assistant

Working as a medical assistant may also appeal to massage therapists. Medical assistants perform clerical tasks and provide assistance under the direction of doctors and other medical professionals, such as registered nurses. Work duties for medical assistants vary widely. They may answer phones, prepare lab work, measure patient vitals, keep track of patient records or set appointments depending on their work place. Though it is not required, many employers prefer medical assistants with a background education in medical assisting. Anatomy, physiology and biology courses completed while earning a massage therapist certificate may be useful to potential medical assistants. To become a medical assistant, at least a high school diploma is required, and some employers may provide on-site training.

Courses for a Certificate Program in Massage Therapy

Massage therapy programs will offer substantial training in many modalities of massage. Students will also receive training in anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology to better understand the effect of pressure points on the body. Coursework that teaches diagnostic and patient assessment skills, including Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan (SOAP) documentation techniques, will empower students to build patient-oriented plans of action to target and resolve various issues with discomfort or pain. Students will also complete several hours of practical, hands-on massage under the guidance of professionals to adequately prepare them for their future careers in massage therapy. Some coursework on business modeling and management may also help massage therapists prepare for financial independence as entrepreneurs.

Anatomy & Physiology Courses

Anatomy courses will teach prospective massage therapists the body's structure, including its skeletal and muscular makeup, so that students can target different centers of the body to relieve pain or discomfort. Physiology, or the study of the inter-functionality of the body's systems, will educate students on major body systems like the digestive system or circulatory system.

Massage Principles and Techniques & Business Courses

Course on massage principles will introduce students to various forms of massage, such as Western and Eastern modalities including Swedish or shiatsu massage, deep tissue massage, acupuncture and aromatherapy. Students will also learn patient assessment and methods of massage on various parts of the body. Business courses will teach students to manage finances through bookkeeping and taxes as well as build their resumes and client bases.

How Long Does a Certificate Program in Massage Therapy Take?

A certificate program in massage therapy usually takes about six months to one year to complete. Coursework is often completed in the evening, and most programs offer a full-time or part-time option. Students whose schedules are more demanding that need more time to complete their coursework should enroll in a part-time program to ensure timely advancement through their program. On-site clinics allow students to perform supervised massages and complete mandatory clock hours as required for their certificate program. Most certificate programs require between 500 to 750 hours of massage practice, and 25 to 39 credit hours, though program requirements will vary.

How to Choose a Certificate Program in Massage Therapy

Top priorities for most students will likely include cost and convenience when they are determining which program is the best fit for them. Since massage therapy programs require many practical experience hours, often at set-times in the evenings or weekends, students must consider which programs will best fit their schedule.

Since licensure is crucial to practicing massage therapy, students seeking the right massage therapy program should also be fully aware of their state's regulations to ensure that their prospective program meets state requirements. Students should know how many hours of practice are required to become licensed in their state, if their program meets those requirements, and any other educational requirements their state may have. Some states, such as Arkansas, require students to complete massage therapy programs at board certified schools to qualify for licensure. For this reason, students should research the regulatory board in their state and all requirements before choosing a program. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) provides up-to-date information on the requirements of the regulatory boards in each state. Students can find their state-specific information on the AMTA website, as well as contact information for the regulatory bodies of each state for any further questions.

How to Get into Massage Therapy Certificate Programs

In general, massage therapy programs require that prospective students hold a high school diploma before applying. In some cases, programs may require students to have completed some prerequisite coursework, such as college-level English, math, and biology courses. Programs frequently require students to pass a background check, including fingerprinting, and they may also have to undergo drug screening. Since massage therapy is in the healthcare field, some programs may also require their applicants to be CPR certified or to have completed CPR coursework.

Typically, massage therapy programs have set enrollment schedules, with classes normally starting in fall, and they often accept applications year-round. Most programs hold evening classes, though some may provide early morning courses. Students should determine their favorite program's application deadline when applying. The application process can usually be completed online and may include creating a user account and using an application portal through their program's website.

Cost of a Massage Therapy Certificate Program

The cost of pursuing a certificate will vary between programs. In general, local students can expect to pay between $82 and $244 per credit hour in tuition and fees. Most programs are completed in 25 to 39 credit hours. Typical tuition can range from $3,100 to $12,974 for massage therapy programs. The cost of a program can easily double for out-of-country or out-of-state students, so students should carefully consider proximity when choosing their massage program to manage their budget.

Students should also be aware of additional costs that schools may not include in their tuition rates. Some of these additional fees may be textbooks, transportation between classes, or parking. Students should also consider the fact that some programs may require certain uniforms to be worn while in massage clinics at the student's expense. Lab fees may also be necessary for some coursework, and students can usually find specific information on lab fees under the tuition breakdown of their desired program's website.

Students should also plan for the necessary exam and license fees to become a certified, licensed massage therapist in their area. The cost of the MBLEx is $195, but some sites may also include additional state fees. Background checks, drug screening and fingerprinting will also be completed at the student's expense, so students should check current background screening fees in their state.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Resources for Massage Therapy Certificate Programs

Students seeking financial aid should begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if they are eligible for federal aid. Students enrolled in healthcare certificate programs with Title IV schools, or schools that process federal student aid, may be eligible to receive substantial aid simply by completing the FAFSA. Prospective students should fill out the online application with their school's information as the starting point. Title IV schools have a school code that can be used during the application process. Without a school code, the program is not part of a Title IV institution and students may not be eligible for federal aid. If students have difficulty determining their eligibility, they should contact their program's financial aid department for more information on how to apply or what institutional aid may be available.

Massage therapy scholarships are another avenue for financial aid. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) provides an annual $10,000 Rick Boden scholarship to honor Rick Boden, a well-known massage therapist, and assist future massage therapists in attaining their educational goals. To apply, students must be enrolled in a massage therapy program that requires at least 500 hours of massage. Students will write a short description of why they want to become a massage therapist and fill out an online application. Students will then print and mail or fax the application to AMTA. Relevant information and a link to apply may be found on the AMTA website.

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