If you want to become a licensed massage therapist, you’re probably wondering about the best certifications or best classes to take, and of course — how much is it going to cost?!

And we get it.

Becoming a licensed massage therapist can feel overwhelming, especially considering all the different massage therapy schools, online courses, and certifications out there.

Even a simple Google search for “massage therapy certification online” can send you down an endless rabbit hole of possibilities. 

To help you answer these questions — and set you on the path to becoming a licensed massage therapist! — we put together a Licensed Massage Therapist 101 class.

Got specific questions? Feel free to jump ahead! 👇

How to Become a Licensed Massage Therapist: A Guide to Massage Therapist Licenses and Certifications

What’s the Difference Between a Massage Therapist License and a Certification?

When you’re just getting started, it’s essential to understand the difference between a massage therapist license and a certification.

Let’s look at both and see which one you need first before becoming a massage therapist.

What’s a Massage Therapist License?

First things first: A massage therapist license is a state-issued license, and it’s something most states require before you’re allowed to practice massage therapy on clients.

So before your new business can open its doors, you have to pass the licensing exam, which consists of the following four topics:

  • Massage therapy ethics
  • Anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology
  • Client assessment
  • Massage therapy history

Bonus: Unsure if your state requires a massage therapist license to practice?

Head over to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) website to learn about the requirements and regulations for your state. 

What’s a Massage Therapist Certification?

The big difference between a certification and a license is that certifications are voluntary, meaning you can earn certifications by continuing to show your commitment to the profession.

However, they are not required to be a practicing massage therapist.

Essentially, massage therapy certifications are more for advanced education and particular massage specialties

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How Do I Become a Licensed Massage Therapist?

Getting your license is the first big step in your new career! Here’s a 1-2-3 guide to obtaining your massage license.

1. Establish Goals Before Your Training

There are quite a few different directions for massage therapists to take their career.

While you don’t have to know the exact route you want or what kind of massage you want to specialize in, it’s smart to think about it before starting a training program. 

Start by asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • What kind of massage do you want to learn? Deep tissue? Swedish? Sports? You don’t have to know right away, as you’ll likely learn a variety of massages in your program, but it’s a good idea to plan.
  • Do you want to work as a solo practitioner or for an established business? Many massage therapists begin under the umbrella of an established business for a few years before going out on their own. Still, if you have dreams of jumping right into your own business, you’ll want to find a training program that can help steer you toward running your own show.

2. Complete a Training Program

In most cases, beginning your education in massage therapy means completing a formal program that has been accredited or approved.

While some states support apprenticeships for licensing — instead of coursework — you’ll likely need to attend a program before receiving your license. 

Your training will include work in anatomy and physiology, therapeutic massage, and clinical massage.

It will take anywhere from 300–1,000 hours of in-class instruction/practical training, which translates to approximately a few weeks or two years, depending on the program you choose. 

How do you choose a massage training program?

When researching where you’d like to complete your training program, consider the following:

  • Is the school nationally accredited and approved by the state?
  • Does the program meet the hour requirement by the state for licensing?
  • How much is tuition?
  • What are the school’s completion statistics? 
  • What’s the school’s licensing exam pass rate?
  • Does the course schedule fit your schedule?

How much is massage therapy school?

While massage therapy school is often less expensive than a four-year degree, the costs are different from program to program.

To put it simply, the more hours a program requires, the more expensive it will be. 

Some community colleges offer a massage therapy program, and they can cost anywhere between $5,000–$7,000, while others could be up to $20,000 for a one-year program.

A study published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork found that the average massage school tuition was around $13,000. 

3. Get Your Massage License

Once you’ve completed your training, you’re ready to take the license exam!

(Again, keep in mind that the requirements for massage licensing do vary state by state, so be sure to consult the AMTA website for details particular to your area.)

If you happen to be in a state that uses the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam, or MBLEX, the turnaround time is pretty quick.

Plus, there are even resources to preview the exam material by visiting the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards website.

Also, as a heads up, the license exams do require an application fee, but when you pass, you’ll be a fully licensed massage therapist!

The Best Massage Therapy Schools and Massage Certifications

10 Best Massage Therapy Schools in the US

Picking the right massage program can vary greatly depending on your business goals and location, so find a school that fits your needs.

5 Best Certifications for Massage Therapists

Massage certifications are your way of showing you’ve gone above and beyond to become the professional massage therapist you are.

They show your commitment to advancing your education and broadening your skillset. 

  • Sports Massage Certification: With this certification, you’ll learn the techniques and applications to use when working with athletes. The AMTA offers this 6-week course to examine the science of sports massage.
  • Medical Massage Therapy Certification: Medical massage therapy is a remedy for clients experiencing pain from injury or illness. You’re looking at roughly 600 hours of supervised instruction and a final exam to earn this certification. 
  • Stone Massage Certification: This certification allows you to specialize in hot stone therapy, which many clients love! This program will teach the benefits of stone massage, material, and basic protocols. 
  • Board Certification In Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork: Board certification is the highest voluntary credential for massage professionals. Earning this certification is a great way to attract more clients and gain credibility. 
  • Zero Balancing Certification: You’ll gain experience working with body structure and energy through touch.

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