There are no doctoral degree programs in massage therapy. Those who would like to become massage therapists may earn a certificate or an associate's degree in massage therapy. Most of certificate programs are equivalent to associate-level programs, but without the general education courses. Massage therapists may need to earn state licensure or certification before they can practice. This process involves passing an examination and taking periodic continuing education courses in order to renew licensure.
For a higher-level option, most Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine programs include some massage and relaxation therapy coursework. Emphasis might also be placed on anatomy and physiology, physical medicine principles and kinesiology. Students who intend to become naturopathic doctors (N.D.s) may need to earn licensure to practice in some states. In order to apply to an N.D. program, students must hold a bachelor's degree in a science-related field.
Associate Degree in Massage Therapy
An associate's degree in massage therapy usually covers three primary areas of study. General education courses and courses relating directly to massage therapy are always part of the program. Basic business courses are often also included. Because 44% of the massages given between July 2010 and July 2011 were for medical or health reasons, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org), coursework increasingly covers massages designed to enhance health and wellness. These programs generally take two years to complete.
The most common kinds of massages are Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point and sports massages, and many programs require coursework in each. Massage therapy-related courses may include:
- Myofascial release
- Relaxation therapy
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Clinical massage
- Craniosacral therapy
- Medical massage
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic physician degree programs do not permit students to specialize in massage therapy. However, massage is considered a part of the armamentarium of a naturopathic doctor (N.D.). It is part of both the traditional Chinese medicine and the physical medicine programs at most schools. Some programs have specific courses in massage; depending on the school, these may be required courses or electives. Most N.D. programs require at least one course, such as bodywork or Shiatsu, that includes some study of massage. Massage-related coursework that may be part of the curriculum in an N.D. program includes the following:
- Foundations of massage for bodywork
- Oriental bodywork
- Physical medicine principles
Most graduates of an N.D. program become natural care primary physicians. In some states, aspiring N.D.s need to pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX) in order to gain their licenses. There are also other career options for graduates, including the positions listed below:
- Medical researcher
- Specialist in natural products
- College or university teacher
- Public health spokesperson
- Wellness consultant
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment for massage therapists will increase 22% from 2018-2028. However, the BLS warns new therapists that it may take time to build up a client base. The median annual salary for massage therapists was $41,420 in May 2018 (www.bls.gov). Therapists may work in a variety of settings, including chiropractic offices, fitness centers, multidisciplinary clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and even out of their own homes.
Continuing Education Information
As of 2014, massage therapists are required to have a license and/or certification in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the BLS. In 2013, licensing boards in 39 states and D.C. recognized or used certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). As of January 2013, the NCBTMB certification must be renewed every two years through 24 continuing education hours plus 100 work experience hours. Work experience can include volunteerism, teaching, writing, administration and research in addition to actual massage therapy.
The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards certification (MBLEx) was also accepted in 2013 by 40 states and Washington D.C. Renewal of the MBLEx isn't required.
Naturopathic physicians who wish to incorporate more massage into their practice may take naturopathic continuing education courses that are focused on specific types of massage therapy. If they want to make massage a more central part of their practice, they might choose to get a graduate certificate in massage therapy.
In summary, students who are interested in the field of massage therapy can pursue studies at either the undergraduate or the graduate degree level, depending on their career goals. Certification may be required for relevant occupations.