Massage Therapy Schools
From hot stone massage to hydrotherapy, learn how to choose the right massage therapy program for you.
Considering a career as a massage therapist? With more than 350 accredited massage therapy schools in operation at some 700 campuses across the United States, it pays to weigh your options. Get the guidance you need to find the program that suits you best.
Becoming a Massage Therapist
The field of massage therapy is booming in the U.S., where an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people (including students) practice the art of hands-on healing. With millions of Americans now receiving at massage on a regular basis, there’s plenty of room at the table for more trained professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 24 percent yearly increase in demand for the massage therapist profession through 2026—much faster than average job growth.
Many massage practitioners, drawn by the flexible nature of the work and a desire to help others, enter the field as a second career. It’s physically demanding work, and full-time therapists can reasonably expect to log about 17 hours per week with clients. But that figure doesn’t include additional hours for the business side of massage practice, such as billing, marketing, consultations and scheduling.
Statistically speaking, most massages in the U.S. happen in spas. But there’s no such thing as a “typical” massage therapist career path. Practitioners are kneading sore muscles in an enormous variety of settings, including:
- doctors’ offices
- chiropractors’ offices
- physical therapy offices
- rehabilitation centers
- massage clinics
- fitness facilities
- sports medicine clinics
- sports teams
- private practitioner settings
- marathons and sporting events
- cruise ships
- chair massage stations at airports, retail centers and events
Most U.S. states require that massage therapists earn a license before they can legally practice. Of the states that regulate the profession, the majority require 500 hours of education. (However, some outliers like New York set the bar at a hefty 1,000 hours.) Be sure to check the regulations in your area. To become licensed massage practitioner, you’ll need to earn a passing grade on the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx).
Board certification is a credential that shows you’ve attained a higher level of achievement. Unlike licensing, board certification is an optional, voluntary credential. Massage therapists can obtain certification through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).
Massage Therapy Programs: Three Schools
With hundreds of schools in the business of training massage therapists, educational approaches run the gamut. Some institutions work a “just the basics” philosophy, grounding students in anatomy, physiology and Swedish massage techniques. Others offer a little bit of everything, from aromatherapy to foot reflexology to nutrition and diet.
To get a sense of the range of offerings, take a look at the curriculum at three different massage therapy schools:
1. Discovery Point School of Massage
Training hours: 840
Class sizes average 24 students at this Seattle school, where the 10-month course of study is split into two semesters. As in most programs, coursework begins with anatomy and physiology classes, where students learn to find bone landmarks, pinpoint muscle origins, test range of motion and assess posture.
Students at this massage therapy school focus on basic Swedish massage techniques in their first semester of training, and move on to myofascial, neuro-muscular and lymphatic techniques in the second.
Discovery Point also offers classes in professional practice (i.e., how to manage a career as a massage therapist), and delves in to common pathologies and outcome-based massage. Before graduation, students get hands-on practice in treatment clinics to build their professional skills.
Although classes are offered only in the daytime, the school also incorporates an online forum into its curriculum. Instructors encourage students to reflect on the material they’re learning and to think critically about published articles and commentaries.
2. Colorado School of Healing Arts
Training hours: 700 or 1,000
Coursework at this Lakewood, Colo. institution covers a wide range of massage modalities in both the 700- and 1,000-hour tracks. Classes start with the fundamentals of anatomy and physiology, and expand to include nutrition, integrative massage and sports massage. After completing the basics, students in the 700-hour program choose from 16 hours of electives as they prepare to take the state licensing exam.
Massage therapy students who go on for another 300 hours of training select from specialties such as infant massage, prenatal massage and seated massage. Other courses focus on specific body areas (pelvis, upper extremities, low back) and pathologies such as TMJ. To round out students’ education, the school also offers classes in body typing, meridians, applied kinesiology and aromatherapy.
3. National Holistic Institute
Training hours: 900
This California-based massage therapy school offers its core 900-hour program at seven campuses around the Golden State, training its students in both Western and Eastern massage techniques. Students practice their healing art on the public in supervised massage clinics at each campus.
The curriculum at NHI is ideal for students who want the broadest possible exposure to all kinds of massage techniques. Instructors cover a wide range of Western massage modalities, including Swedish, deep tissue, prenatal, lymphatic massage, sports massage, hot stone and aromatherapy. The school’s menu of Eastern massage techniques is just as comprehensive, covering shiatsu, energy work, rocking and shaking, Thai, traditional Chinese medicine, acupressure, and hand and foot reflexology.
On top of the hands-on coursework, NHI students also study the basics of business finance and marketing to gain a leg up in the expanding world of massage therapy.
Massage Therapy Training: 12 Questions to Ask
Once you’re clear on your educational priorities, it’s time to shop around for the massage therapy training program that best suits you. As you do your research, pose these questions to your top picks:
1. Accreditation: Is the school accredited by a respected body such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges? Think of accreditation as a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It’s your assurance that the massage therapy program meets third-party standards for quality and integrity.
2. Learning style: How much support and structure do you need when taking on a new educational challenge? Are you better with words or with numbers and charts? Ask how the massage therapy school tailors its instruction to students’ learning styles.
3. Support: Does the school have a student support office? Before investing your time, energy and dollars, be sure the school will offer the assistance you want—whether it’s extra support in a tough class, guidance on financial aid options, or job placement services.
4. School environment: Once enrolled, you’ll be spending a lot of time inside the four walls of your chosen massage therapy school. Make site visits before you settle on a program. How does the atmosphere feel? Is the school a place you’d be comfortable spending the next eight to 12 months of your life?
5. Class size: What’s the average class size at the school you’re considering? Also inquire about the teacher-student ratio. One Seattle massage therapy school promises a 1:14 ratio, and assures prospective students that a class of 24 would be co-taught by two instructors.
6. Financial aid: Some massage therapy schools offer their own financial aid packages in the form of scholarships. If that assistance isn’t available, ask about guidance on securing finding federal financial aid. Is there a staff person dedicated solely to helping students navigate this aspect of the school journey?
7. Graduation and job placement rates: How do students fare after finishing their massage therapy education? The school you’re considering should be keeping track. Ask to see its documentation of students’ completion and employment rates.
8. Hands-on practice: High-quality massage training should offer students practical experience under the supervision of trained instructors. Ask how many hours of hands-on practice are included in the massage therapy school’s curriculum.
9. Cadaver lab: Some massage therapy training programs include cadaver labs, in which students investigate human muscle, bone and tissue structures at the source. If the lab is on your list of must-haves, be sure to inquire with the schools you’re considering.
10. Scheduling options: Some massage therapy schools offer daytime-only classes that begin once a year, while others boast year-round massage training in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. Which option suits you best? Does the school’s schedule match yours?
11. Licensing requirements: Be sure that the school’s course of study will qualify you to sit for the massage therapy licensing exams required by your state. Are you aiming for national certification? Be sure the program you’re considering offers the required 750 hours of training.
12. Test drive: A few schools offer the chance to get your feet wet with an introductory class. Consider signing up for a starter course before making the commitment to massage therapy training. In some cases, the massage therapy school will credit the cost of the single class to your tuition if you enroll as a full-time student.
Take the Next Step
Whether you dream of working in private practice or on a pro sports team, the first step to a career as a massage therapist is education. Ready to get rolling? Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, start searching for the massage therapy school that’s right for you.
Sources: amtamassage.org, discoverypointschoolofmassage.com, bls.gov, csha.net, nhi.edu, ncbtmb.org
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