How to Become a Massage Therapist (Duties, Salary and Steps)

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Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to become a massage therapist

Becoming a massage therapist is a unique and rewarding role where you can combine technical knowledge with a passion for wellness and health management.

Whether you’re starting out in the world of work or looking for the next step in your career, preparing yourself for a career in massage therapy is essential.

In this guide, we’ll cover what being a massage therapist includes, what the work environment and salary prospects are like, and a comprehensive list of steps that will help you create a career path as a massage therapist.

What is a massage therapist?

Massage therapists provide therapeutic massage treatments to clients, with the goal of providing relaxation, alleviating pain, helping with medical conditions, or improving wellbeing and fitness. They are professionally trained and certified in various massage techniques.

Like other therapy roles, massage therapy career paths include working in wellness centers, medical institutions, spas, or independently in locations of their clients’ choosing.

What does a massage therapist do?

Whereas massage therapist duties vary based on the specifics of their role and working environment, there are some general job responsibilities to be aware of when undertaking the role:

  • Assessing client needs and consulting with their clients before a session to understand their needs
  • Performing various types of massages according to the client’s needs
  • Creating a calming and soothing environment for their clients
  • Supporting pain relief and working with clients who require massage treatments to alleviate medical conditions
  • Educating clients on after-care to maximize the impact of treatments between sessions

What is the workplace like?

Although there are different types of career paths, most massage therapists will most often work in clinics and spas, in treatment rooms. These environments can be physically demanding due to the strength and stamina needed to perform long and high-pressure massages on clients. Treatment rooms might also be quite warm, and involve the handling of cosmetics, lotions and chemicals.

How many hours do they work?

Full-time massage therapists usually work standard 40-hour weeks, but their working pattern might be atypical or part time, especially if they freelance or are employed as a contractor. You might also work very early or late, depending on the needs of the client, and can also travel a fair amount as well to provide treatments to clients who are on the move, such as sports teams.

How much do massage therapists earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for massage therapists in the US as of May 2022 is $27.43, which equates to an annual salary of $57,060. The annual mean wage estimate at the 10th percentile is $29,040 ($13.96 per hour), and $90,530 ($43.52 per hour) at the 90th percentile.

The top-paying state for massage therapists is Alaska with a mean annual wage of $104,020, followed by Vermont ($78,190), Washington ($72,560), Oregon ($71,490) and Maryland ($67,820).

Salaries tend to vary depending on if you specialize in certain therapies and the level of your experience and scope of certification.

In a snapshot:

Massage Therapist Salary Graphic

What is the job outlook for massage therapists?

As more and more people look for ways to improve their health and wellbeing, massage therapy is playing a large part in this and forming an important aspect of various treatment and wellness plans. As a result, the labor outlook for massage therapists is very strong.

According to the BLS, the overall US job market is expected to increase by 24,600 openings, from 134,300 massage therapists in 2022 to 158,900 in 2032, a projected increase of 18%. The job outlook for wage and salary massage therapists is especially strong, going from 87,800 in 2022 to a projected 109,300 in 2032, an increase of 24.4%. The number of self-employed massage therapists will also increase, from 46,500 in 2022 to 49,600 in 2032, an increase of 6.7%.

What are the entry requirements?

There are various entry requirements for massage therapists to prepare for, centered on education, the acquisition of skills and qualities needed, and also awareness of licensure and certification requirements.


A high school diploma or GED is generally required to be a massage therapist, but higher education isn’t mandatory. Instead, you will need to qualify in a massage therapy program in order to become certified.

Skills and qualities

Massage therapists are expected to develop and sustain an extensive portfolio of skills and qualities, the main ones being technical ability, physical strength and dexterity, strict professionalism, exceptional communication and interpersonal skills, and commitment to wellness and self-care standards.

Licenses and certifications

It is essential to be licensed and certified as a massage therapist. Licensure requirements will vary from state to state but, in general, certification examinations will be administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. The American Massage Therapy Association centrally collates all licensure and certification information.

Do you have what it takes?

In addition to the skills and qualities listed above, massage therapists need to have a strong passion for mindfulness, wellness, and a drive to help and heal others. The role is not for the faint-hearted: it requires immense strength balanced with innate care and consideration, and requires very close physical contact with clients, which won't be for everyone; the need to understand boundaries is important in this role. That said, it’s an incredibly rewarding profession.

If you are thinking about massage therapy as a career but want to understand if your skills, interests, career goals and passions align with this job or any others, then consider taking CareerHunter’s six-stage assessment, a series of tests created by organizational psychologists that assess your fit for various careers and suggest the ones that most closely fit who you are.

How to become a massage therapist

If you have made it this far and feel that being a massage therapist is the career for you, then read on to discover five tips on how to set yourself up in this role.

Step 1: Decide on a specialization or your niche

Massage therapy is a surprisingly broad profession, and there are lots of different ways to carve out a career.

It’s a good idea to think about what you want to get out of your career before you undertake too much training or go too far into the role. For example, you can focus on certain treatments or types of therapy, or decide to learn about the broader profession. Alternatively, you can think about where you want to practice massage therapy, such as in hotel spas, sports clubs, educational institutions or in private households.

Finally, think about how you want to be employed, ie: through a company or freelancing. All these decisions will enable you to select the right massage therapy programs and training.

Step 2: Choose a massage therapy program and education

After obtaining your high school diploma, you will need to enroll in a massage therapy program. Aspiring massage therapists must select a certificate or diploma level program that is from an accredited school approved by the state (these requirements will vary).

The amount of time training programs take varies, but typically last between 500 and 1,000 hours. They include a variety of different subjects with both a theoretical and practical slant. These subjects include anatomy and physiology, body mechanics, massage ethics, and medicine. The program might also include or culminate in licensing examinations.

Step 3: Complete training and internships

Most massage therapy programs will stipulate a set number of hours of practical experience in order to obtain the qualification. The number of hours of practical experience varies by state licensing requirements.

Practical experience can be gained in one of two ways. Firstly, many students are able to practice in their school or college’s massage clinic, which provides a structured and methodical approach to practical training.  Secondly, experience can be gained through internships in organizations. These tend to be very competitive, so it’s vital to prepare your résumé and cover letter, and practice for your interview beforehand.

Step 4: Become licensed and certified

Massage therapist licenses and certification requirements vary from state to state, so it’s essential that you research these well in advance; you can find these through the American Massage Therapy Association.

A mandatory prerequisite is to pass an accredited massage therapy examination such as the 100-question Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination administered by the FSMTB, or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

Certification is usually a mix of learning experience, practical work and the exam, though some states might have other requirements. You might also have to provide proof of age, residency, or pass a criminal background check.

Step 5: Gain experience and specialize

Once you have been licensed and certified, you are free to go and practice massage therapy! You can either apply for roles and work your way up in organizations, or go it alone as a freelancer, building up a network of clients.

As you gain experience, ensure you undertake continuous career development and keep up to speed with massage therapy knowledge and trends (this might be a requirement for you to maintain your licensure). You might also wish to focus on a specialization in order to be regarded as a subject matter expert in one aspect of massage therapy or open up your own practice. Ensure you also find time to develop your soft skills and adhere to AMTA’s code of ethics and standards of practice.

Final thoughts

Whereas becoming a massage therapist requires a lot of work, such as education, acquiring many skills and becoming certified, you also have to love this role as it’s incredibly tough and demanding, and it requires a lot of time with your clients.

By following the steps in this guide and understanding the role in detail, you will be able to undertake the role of massage therapist to the best of your abilities, providing a fulfilling wellness experience for your clients and a rewarding career for you.

Are you considering a career in massage therapy? Let us know in the comments section below.