Massage therapy involves the use of touch to reduce tension in muscles and soft tissue. Massage therapy is an alternative health career with a primary emphasis on health and wellness. It is a great career choice for those who may one day wish to start their own business.

Job Description

While most massage therapists focus on one or two treatment modalities, there are over 80 treatment methods that make the practice of massage therapy. The most widely known are Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage, and reflexology. A massage therapy session may be as short as 15 minutes or last up to 2 hours depending on the extent of injury and procedure used.   For example, a massage therapist would utilize different techniques for a patient with a sports injury than with a patient suffering from migraine headaches.

For new patients, the massage therapist will record medical history and reason for seeking massage treatment. This initial consultation will enable the massage therapist to discuss client expectations with regard to outcomes and review those techniques that may prove most effective in light of their presenting condition. Because massage therapists focus on only one or two areas, they may refer clients to colleagues who offer the type of treatment recommended.

In many cases, treatment involves massaging oils, lotions and creams into the affected tissue or muscles. Massage therapists may work in a variety of setting including health spas, chiropractic offices, massage clinics, as well as private practice. Massage therapists who wish to set-up their own office will need to purchase such supplies as a massage table, pillows, oils, lotions, linens, towels, and loose-fitting clothing.

Massage therapists should have good relationship-building skills to develop client rapport and a consistent following, which is especially important for those who wish to start and grow their own massage therapy practice.

Education and Training

Most massage therapy training programs include about 500 hours of classroom study and are offered at community colleges, as well as private vocational schools.

View a list of schools in California offering massage therapy training >>

A high school diploma or general equivalency diploma is typically a requirement for admission to all programs.  Classroom study includes anatomy and physiology, study of musculoskeletal structures, organ systems, organs, and tissues. Students will also study kinesiology (body movement) and kinesthetics (body mechanics), healthcare ethics, and office procedures.

Most programs will also offer hands-on training that provides students with experience using various massage modalities.  Most training programs focus on one or two treatment methods and offer job placement assistant. You may elect to attend these programs on either a full or part time basis.

In most cases, massage therapy training programs are accredited by a State board, as well as an independent accrediting agency.  The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) is a non-profit independent accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. As per the Web site of the agency, “The mission of COMTA is to advance the quality of education in the field of massage therapy through an accreditation process that recognizes the evolving professional standards of practice.”

As per COMPTA, 38 states (including California) now regulate the training of massage therapists. Visit the California Council of Massage Therapists (CAMTC) for details regarding specific educational requirements for massage therapists in California and a list of accredited schools.   As per the CAMTC, “massage therapy schools must either be nationally accredited, state approved by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), or a California community college.”

Licensing Requirements in California

Visit the Overview of Pathways to Certification of Massage Therapists on the CAMTC Web site for full details regarding the different ways in which you may become a massage therapist.

In California, prospective massage therapists must obtain licensure after graduating from an accredited training program and before beginning to work as a massage therapist.  There are two agencies that provide licensure:  1) National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage (NCMTMB) and 2) Federation of State Boards of Massage Therapy (FSBMT).  In both cases, you’ll need to apply to take their exam, pay their fee (costing between $195 – $225), and pass the exam before gaining licensure.

Earnings for Massage Therapists

Median earnings of Massage Therapists in select California cities. Figures as per Salary.com August 2011.

Beverly Hills $47,039
Los Angeles $47,039
Oakland $48,709
San Diego $45,325
San Francisco $51,408

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth rate of massage therapists is anticipated to be 19 percent through 2018 which represents a faster than average rate than for most other occupations.  This growth rate may be due to the fact that more people believe that massage therapy helps improve overall health. Demand also arises from the growing number of new health spas that have opened in recent years, along with the quick rise in the number of massage therapy franchises that typically offer services at lower cost than most spas and massage clinics. The field is also gaining greater respect due to the many states that have now implemented more stringent regulatory requirements for the practice of massage therapy.

Residents of nursing homes and assisted living faculties are also finding that massage therapy increases their energy level and reduces unpleasant side effects of various chronic conditions, such as arthritis. The Baby Boomer demographic, who are leading active lives well into their 60s, will also find massage therapy useful to relive sore muscles and tissues.

View a list of schools in California offering massage therapy training >>