Everything You Need to Know About Massage Certification and Licensure

Massage Certification and Massage Licensure
5
min read
January 15, 2021

People like to unwind and relax—and for many people, the perfect way to unwind and relax? Massage therapy.

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Getting a massage has become a go-to self-care and therapeutic practice for millions of people—and, as such, the demand for massage therapists has been steadily increasing, making it a solid career choice for people interested in getting into the wellness industry.


While all massage practitioners need to go through a training program to learn the different modalities, massage techniques, and other information necessary to effectively (and safely!) practice massage therapy, they also need to go through the proper channels in order to legally practice—and, depending on their state, that means getting licensed as a licensed massage therapist (or LMT) and/or getting certified as a Certified Massage Therapist (or CMT).


But the question is—what are the requirements for becoming an LMT or a CMT? What’s the difference between the two? And what steps do you need to take to get the license or certification you need to start practicing massage therapy?

What Kind of Massage Therapy Programs Are Available?

The first step on the road to become either a licensed massage therapist or a certified massage therapist is enrolling in a massage therapy program and completing the coursework (like kinesiology, anatomy and physiology) and hands-on training necessary to start practicing massage. 


There are a variety of ways to get trained in massage therapy; you could attend a massage therapy school, enroll in a massage therapy program, or study massage at your local community college. 


What Are the Requirements to Practice Massage?


So, obviously massage practitioners need to go through training. But not all training is created equal—so if you want to go on to practice massage in your state, what are the requirements?


While requirements vary by state, most states require massage professionals graduate from an accredited program and pass a licensing exam (like the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination, or MBLEx, or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, or NCBTMB) or certification exam before they can start legally practicing massage. These exams test the therapist’s knowledge and understanding of massage— and ensure that the therapist is qualified to start practicing massage on other people. There are exceptions to this rule where states don’t have licensing and/or exam requirements for massage practitioners, including in California, Vermont, Minnesota, and Wyoming.


Bottom line? Before you commit to a training program, make sure you check your state’s licensing and/or certification requirements and make sure your program qualifies; otherwise, you could find yourself investing time, energy, and money into massage training—only to learn that, once your schooling is over, you don’t qualify for a license and certificate and can’t actually practice massage in your state.

What is the Difference Between a Licensed Massage Therapist and a Certified Massage Therapist?

So, in most states, therapists need to graduate from a recognized program and pass an exam before they can start practicing massage. But what’s the difference between an LMT and a CMT?


The main difference between the two is the process they go through; as the name implies, LMTs go through a licensure process, which is regulated by governmental agencies (both local and state)—while CMTs are certified by a private, non-governmental agency.


In states with licensing requirements, having a license is a legal requirement for practicing massage. Certification, on the other hand, is voluntary—but because it shows that the therapist meets the standard set by the certification board, it can be helpful in establishing credibility and attracting clients. So, in states with licensing requirements, all massage therapists need to get a massage therapy license and become LMTs in order to practice—but they can also opt to get their massage therapy certification and become CMTs. 


How Long Does it Take to Become a Massage Therapist—and How Much Does it Cost?

So, the big question: if you want to pursue a career as a massage professional, how long does the process take—and how much does it cost?


And the answer is: it completely depends.


First, the total amount of time it takes to become a professional massage practitioner—and the total cost—will depend on your training program. Most states require at least 500 hours of training before therapists can pursue their license—which generally runs in the $10,000 range. If the therapist opts to pursue a more comprehensive program (for example, an associate’s degree in massage therapy), both the time and costs increase—and if they live in a state without educational requirements and opt for a shorter program, time and costs decrease.


There are also additional costs to consider outside of massage therapy school. For example, as mentioned, every state has different requirements for licensing and/or certifying their massage professionals. If you’re in a state that requires licensure, you’ll need to pay for the licensing exam fee (for example, the fee to take the MBLEx is $265) and regularly renew your license (generally around $100 every one to two years)—costs you don’t have to worry about if you live in a state that doesn’t require licensure. If you decide to pursue certification, you’ll need to pay certification fees. If you decide to specialize in a specific modality, you’ll have to invest the time and money into continuing education to increase your knowledge and expertise.


The point is, how long it takes to be able to practice massage professionally—and how much it costs—will depend on a wide variety of factors. Before you commit to pursuing a career as a massage therapist make sure to do your research and understand how much time and money you’ll need to invest in the process.


Once you open your practice, you’ll need to consider how you track your time—and how you’ll run payroll, pay taxes, and generally manage business.

Get Out There and Pursue a Career in Massage

For people who want to break into the wellness industry, massage can be a lucrative and fulfilling career choice. And now that you understand what it takes to get started in massage therapy and pursue licensure and/or certification, all that’s left to do? Get out there and get started on the road to becoming a successful massage therapist.


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