How to Become a Massage Therapist

Kellie G., December 21, 2021

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We’ve decided to write about how to become a massage therapist because massage therapy is forever a growing business. Although, much like other businesses, it took a fall when the pandemic arrived. As we close the chapter of 2021 and approach the new year, we are also approaching the unknown. 2019 was the start of the coronavirus. 2020 was the year of quarantining. 2021 was the year of vaccines; people have been losing their jobs due to not being vaccinated or leaving their jobs due to fear. Adapting to the “new normal” proves to be difficult; needing to wear masks, social distancing, having to work remotely instead of in person. Not having that connection with other people. Losing income due to being out of work; not being able to afford bills. The list can go on for miles.

Sounds overwhelming, right? Maybe, you’d even say it sounds stressful?

The truth of the matter is the stress level in the United States is quickly escalating as time passes. However, there are ways to decrease that stress level, one person, at a time. That’s where you come in. A massage therapist in the making. Making us humans a little less stressed. In fact, more chiropractors, medical doctors, and physical therapists are recommending massage therapy to their patients.

What exactly is a massage therapist?

A massage therapist is educated and licensed professional that practices “hands-on” with the movement of soft body tissue. Some examples include muscle, connective tissue, tendon, and ligaments. It can be a liberating and meaningful career path. However, becoming a massage therapist is a lot of hard work.

When it comes to massage therapy, there is no standard practice. Individuals usually choose this profession because of their independence and having the flexibility of creating their own schedule in terms of work hours. They can work full time or part-time; then during downtimes, they work on things like scheduling, billing, housekeeping, and marketing. The income for massage therapists varies by region of the country, experience, and type of practice.

There are many steps you can take to begin this journey, but we are going to focus on these three specifically. So, let’s dive in!

 3 Steps to get you started:

  • Learn about the career and set goals for yourself
  • Complete a therapeutic massage program
  • Get a business license

Becoming a massage therapist

Learn about the career and set goals for yourself.

As a massage therapist, you can develop paths that allow you to focus on specific patients. Such as pregnant women, cancer patients, veterans, and athletes. Though not every massage therapist has a specialization, a lot of them do. It’s important that you know what you want to do. You need to set goals for yourself and come up with a plan to get you started. If you take on everything at once, you’ll burn yourself out.

The first step for anything is to research and learn. Figure out what kind of massage therapist you want to be and then set your goals around that.

Examples include:

  • Deep tissue
  • Sports
  • Swedish
  • Trigger points
how to become a massage therapist

At this point, you are basically finding your niche in your massage therapy career. There are also other things to think about such as, do you want to be a solo practitioner, or work for a massage business? Solo practitioners can work in a variety of work environments, such as their homes or a spa. According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), solo practitioners account for the largest percentage of practicing therapists at 76 percent. 50 percent work partly at client’s home/business/corporate setting. 25 percent work in healthcare settings. 24 percent work in the spa setting. 29% work in their home.

This isn’t just about searching the internet or cracking open some books, this is also a time to start soul searching. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to become a massage therapist?” “What will I accomplish?” “How long am I willing to take to get there?” “Is this something I really want?”

Discover why this is important to you before you continue.

Complete a Therapeutic Massage Program

To be a massage therapist, obviously, you’ll need the right education in which you receive a degree and/or a certification. Northwestern Health Science University (NWHSU) offers a certificate in relation to massage, a certificate in therapeutic massage, and an associate of applied science in massage therapy. There are many schools around the United States that offer this type of program.

To name a few:

  • Swedish Institution, located in New York, NY
  • Keiser University, located in Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • National University of Health and Science, located in Lombard IL.

Typically, your time at school would only be about six to twelve months. In 2020, the AMTA conducted a survey and discovered that the number of work sessions for massage therapy was 27.2 a week. You would be expected to take part in the proper courses during your time at any school. Courses include Anatomy, Physiology, Therapeutic Massage, and Clinical Massage Applications. However, aside from fulfilling requirements during the clinical period, students also make contacts in the professional world and take on internships.

Keep in mind

Some states require you to do “carry out” services inside of a student clinic. Meaning if you decide to give massages to the public, do it inside of the capacity of your school’s clinic. If you plan to give massages to the public, obtain liability insurance. You can get liability insurance by joining a professional association.

There’s also the matter of precautions that massage therapists need to take. It’s crucial that you don’t have a session with anyone that has the following:

  • A fever or contagious disease.
  • Medication that weakens bone structure and/or connective tissue or leads to enhanced bleeding.
  • Edema due to chronic heart failure or kidney failure.
  • A decreased sensation, such as with diabetes
  • Inflammatory conditions in the acute stage
  • Has acute phlebitis and/or deep venous thrombosis
  • Has had an acute trauma or recent surgery

To be sure that each session is safe for both the practitioner and the client, the practitioner must be knowledgeable of the guidelines.

  • While massaging splint muscles around a swollen joint is proper, direct pressure to the joint itself should be avoided.
  • Avoid open wounds, hematomas, varicosities, recently healed scars, burns, and foreign bodies or implanted hardware.
  • In the first trimester of pregnancy, no deep sacral work or abdominal massage should be done.
  • If the client has cancer or other tumors or has acute or chronic infection in the skin or deeper tissues, seek the recommendation of the client’s physician, after getting the consent from the client.
  • If the client is overheated due to the hot tub, sauna, or exercise, apply proper techniques.

Get a Business License

Now, a big part of how to become a licensed massage therapist is, well, the license part. Most states require that you pass a licensing exam, such as the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. AMTA states that if you plan to work solo, a business license is mandatory. However, if you plan to work for a company (such as a spa), then this step is optional.

“Professionals recognize and respect board certification. It symbolizes dedication and expertise. Massage therapists who are board-certified have gone above and beyond licensure. You can expect more from professionals who chose to become board certified.” says Susan G. Salvo, author, and director of education at the Louisiana Institute of Massage.

The license requirements and other requirements vary with each state. So, before you choose an educational program for massage therapy, make sure you understand the licensing requirements in your state and how to prepare for board certification or specialization. (If you choose to pursue that route.) In all states, a background check will be needed before continuing forward.

how to become a massage therapist quickly


To recap on the three steps.

Learning about massage therapy and setting goals for yourself. Educate yourself not only with your mind but also with your soul. Research the best schools, your state’s requirements, and certificates to aim for. But stop and ask yourself why you want to become a massage therapist.

Complete a therapeutic massage program. Once you’ve done your research and go into a program, that’s where the fun and demanding work begins. This is where you take your required courses, such as Anatomy and Clinical Massage Applications. During the clinical period, you begin meeting professionals and participating in internships.

Get a business license. With any business, you need a license. So, if you plan to run the show and be a solo practitioner, make sure you have your business license and other state requirements before you begin. A business license isn’t so important for the ones who work for a massage company, like a spa. However, it’s still nice to obtain one. After you get your license, a background check would be needed before they officially mark you as a professional massage therapist. 

Solo practitioners, if you need any help managing the business and financial aspects, you are in the right place. The Persona team is here to assist you, especially if you need advice on which massage therapy software you should choose as your sidekick. Once you take the next steps by downloading the app from the App Store or Google Play, Persona will track and collect payments, keep you informed on how your business is doing financially, help you pay less in taxes, and save for what you do have to pay in taxes. Persona will do the dirty work behind the scenes so that you can focus on running your business.

Persona is the #1 management platform for independent business owners. it's 100% free, download it now.


Persona is the #1 management platform for independent business owners. Download it now, it's 100% free.

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