As of 2013, most states require massage therapists to hold a professional license before offering massage services to the public. License requirements vary by state, but usually include mandatory education and passing a licensing exam. In addition to securing licensure, some massage therapists also choose to earn professional certification.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, state licensing is the most stringent form of professional regulation. In states that require licensing, unlicensed individuals who practice massage therapy are breaking the law. State commissions, boards or agencies establish regulations for licensed massage therapists, including licensing standards. A dedicated massage therapy board or commission administers licensing in some places, while other states assign responsibility for massage regulation to a medical or nursing board.
Completing an approved training program is a typical requirement of massage licensing programs. The amount of time required to complete these programs varies, but programs are usually at least 500 hours in length. Required coursework generally includes anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, business management, ethics, training in several different massage techniques and a significant amount of time practicing massage in a supervised student clinic.
After completing a massage training program, the aspiring massage therapist must take and pass a comprehensive licensing exam. State licensing boards specify which exams are acceptable for licensing purposes. As of 2013, three organizations provide massage licensing exams, including the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Some states allow aspiring massage therapists to select the exam that they wish to take, while others only permit candidates to take one exam. In addition, some states require candidates to pass a state-specific or jurisprudence exam, which tests the candidate's understanding of massage laws and regulations.
The licensure application process differs by state. Many states require licensing candidates to undergo a criminal background check. In some states, massage therapists must provide a medical certificate showing that they are in good health, and they may be required to hold certification in CPR, first aid, or both.
Some massage therapy and bodywork professional associations offer certification to massage therapists. States that don't require licensure sometimes require massage therapists to hold professional certification through a recognized authoritative body. Often, massage therapists choose to earn professional certification in addition to having licensure, as an additional demonstration of their professional competency.
Job Prospects and Salary
According to the U.S. Board of Labor Statistics, massage therapists earned a median annual salary of $34,900 per year as of 2010. The BLS expects a 20 percent increase in massage therapy jobs between 2010 and 2020. The projected increase is the result of several factors, including an aging population that can benefit from massage.