How do I Become a Massage Therapist?
Periodically, I’m asked how someone should go about entering a certain profession or secure a particular type of job (e.g. “How do I Become a Video Game Developer?”, and “How to do Pre-Med”,etc.). That, coupled with my own curiosity on the topic, explains this week’s column on massage therapy.
For some time, I’ve had advisees (students assigned to me for their academic advisement) who either were or planned to become massage therapists. I never really knew much about it, but it seemed to be something to supplement their college degree. Now, after doing some research, it appears that many choose massage therapy as a secondary source of income, a second career, or a part time job (with nearly 60% also earning money from other work), according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
Professionally, massage therapy probably fits into a holistic or alternative health and wellness category. However, it’s acceptance as a medical tool is growing. More and more healthcare providers, hospitals and insurance companies are recognizing massage therapy as a legitimate supplement to traditional modalities. In addition, massage therapy has long-standing acceptance as a means of stress reduction, relaxation, and pain relief from the general public. Those factors, plus growing areas of massage (sports rehab, in-office massage, use among older citizens, etc.) cause massage therapy’s employment prospects to be bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), through it’s online Occupational Outlook Handbook (my favorite web site), projects employment for massage therapists to surge by 20% between 2006 to 2016.
OK, so how do you become a massage therapist? Training is readily available throughout the country, through schools, programs and educational institutions (1500 programs according to the BLS, 313 accredited schools according to the AMTA). Although no degree is required, most states require completion of a formal education program, national or state certification, and many require continuing education. Training could cover one or more varieties of massage, and ranges from a few weeks to several months. Massage therapy students study anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, possibly business and ethics, they learn the particular style(s) of massage, and they spend hundreds of hours in hands-on practice.
Given the wide variety of requirements to practice from states and municipalities I found, it seems that education is the key. By selecting the highest quality education available, attaining the national certification, and constantly participating in continuing education, an individual would position themselves best within this still growing field. Professional involvement is also important, as it will keep the individual’s skills at the forefront of current practice, and also maintains the professional contacts necessary in any profession. In fact, I think following that path AND completing a bachelor’s degree in any of a number of fields would constitute a very attractive resume to related employers. Massage therapy would be an excellent complement to a degree in nutrition or health, and even completely unrelated degrees would nicely set up a dual-income situation that provided a good deal of variety to one’s life.
In selecting a school, I would first and foremost, ensure the school is accredited and its graduates are eligible to sit for national certification. Beyond that, you will want to be certain they have appropriate and ongoing career services, are able to process federal financial aid for their students, and are connected to prominent professional organizations within the massage therapy community. One example of such a school is The Soma Institute, a Chicago massage school that meets all these requirements and has a very informative web site featuring faculty and recent graduate accomplishments, a blog, and information about the continuing education they provide, among other things.
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