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How Many Years of College Do You Take to Be a Massage Therapist?

by Brooke Julia, studioD

Anyone who has experienced a stressful day at work that resulted in tense shoulders and an achy neck knows the benefits of a good massage. That's what massage therapists specialize in. They use their hands, elbows, feet and forearms as tools to manipulate the muscles and soft tissues of the body to bring about relaxation, relief from pain and injuries, and to promote overall wellness. Those interested in becoming massage therapists should earn a high school diploma or its equivalent before enrolling in a certificate program with their local community or technical college. Program lengths vary somewhat from school to school, and each state has its own requirements when it comes to licensing regulations.

Getting the Know-How

Massage therapy programs require at least 500 hours of study or more depending on the state you live in, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This translates to about nine months to a year of study. Subjects of study include physiology, anatomy, kinesiology and massage therapy techniques. There are several different modalities of massage, such as Swedish massage, prenatal massage and deep tissue massage, each designed to address a specific patient concern. Students also will learn the practical elements of massage therapy, such as business and professional ethics.

State Regulations and Exams

Forty-four U.S. states and the District of Columbia regulate massage therapists as of 2013, according to the American Massage Therapy Association. In these states, a student must attend an accredited program and pass an exam to be certified. The exam may be a local exam dictated by the state you live in, or it may be one of two national exams: the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, or the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination. Again, depending on your state, you may need to pay a fee to become licensed and may need to continue to take classes to keep your license current.

Working Environment

Massage therapists enjoy many types of work setting choices. They may choose clinical settings like a doctor's or chiropractor's office, or they may prefer the luxurious surroundings of a spa. Some set up in shopping malls or airports. Others would rather involve themselves in a fitness center or experience the excitement of working on a cruise ship. Still others bypass traditional settings altogether, branch out on their own and visit clients in their homes.

A Few Interesting Stats

In 2010, massage therapists earned $34,900 a year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or about $16.78 an hour. More than 153,000 therapists worked that year, and BLS expects that number to increase by 20 percent through the year 2020, a rate that is faster than average. Sixty percent of therapists were self-employed. Three out of four therapists worked part-time in 2010, most experiencing varying schedules because they worked on a client-by-client basis.

About the Author

Brooke Julia has been a writer since 2009. Her work has been featured in regional magazines, including "She" and "Hagerstown Magazine," as well as national magazines, including "Pregnancy & Newborn" and "Fit Pregnancy."

Photo Credits

  • Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images