A State by State Massage Therapist Licensure Guide

Massage Therapy Schools: Choosing the Right Education

A massage therapy career begins with the right education. There are many factors to consider when choosing a massage therapy school. Some are crucial to making you license-eligible. Others are less critical, but can help you get your career off to a good start.

massage therapy student

Massage Therapy School Accreditations and Approvals

You will need to consider the licensing regulations of at least one state, possibly more. It’s important that the program be operating legitimately in the state where it’s located. Some states have a list of approved programs that includes both in-state and out-of-state schools. Others simply stipulate that the program must be approved in its own jurisdiction.

You may have an easier time getting licensed if your program is nationally accredited. The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) is a national accrediting agency specifically for the massage therapy profession. However, there are other nationally recognized accrediting agencies that accredit health programs and/or trade schools. What's key is that the accrediting agency be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

If you don't graduate from an assigned school, it doesn't necessarily mean you will never be a candidate for certification. But you will need to go through a portfolio review process.

Also consider Massage Training Therapy program approvals. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is not technically an accrediting agency; still, NCBTMB approval can be important. The NCBTMB offers a prestigious board certification; it does not replace state licensure but shows that a massage therapist has met requirements beyond those required for initial licensing. The standard pathway requires that a massage therapist have graduated from a school that was approved, and assigned a code, by the NCBTMB. If you don't graduate from an assigned massage therapy school, it doesn't necessarily mean you will never be a candidate for certification. But you will need to go through a portfolio review process.

Massage Therapy Program Length

You will need to consider the total number of hours in the program. Program length -- in hours and sometimes months -- is a factor in the licensing process. 500 hours is enough for licensure in many states, but not all. Two states have set the minimum at 1,000. Many states will allow graduates of 500-hour programs to make up the difference post-graduate, but this can add to the timeframe.

Curriculum

There are some things you can expect from any approved or accredited massage therapy school and program, including coursework in related sciences (anatomy and physiology, common pathologies). Your program will typically provide some introduction to professional ethics and business practices. If a program has been assigned a code by the NCBTMB, you can expect it to meet minimum industry standards in the most critical areas. However, the approval doesn’t guarantee you’ll meet the curriculum requirements set by all state boards. The NCBTMB mandates just 200 hours of in-person, hands-on education; some states require more.

You may want to consider instructor qualifications, pass rates on national examinations, and program reputation when evaluating Massage Therapy schools.

NCBTMB-assigned programs may include 125 hours of coursework that “theoretically complete” the program. Schools can have different theoretical orientations and still meet the standards set by credentialing agencies. Some, for example, include more Eastern theory and technique. Schools also vary in the amount of clinical work they offer, and in what settings. Some states mandate that externships – which take place in settings other than student clinic – take place only after you have had a certain number of hours of education; they may even mandate that you have met curricular requirements for licensure. Still, the extra clinical experiences can help you make the transition to the professional world.

Other Considerations

One massage therapy school may have a curriculum much like another, but this doesn’t mean they are identical. You may consider instructor qualifications, pass rates on national examinations, and program reputation. You may even ask how long the program has been in operation. A lot of massage schools have opened in recent years. Not all are still in operation.