Massage therapy has been an integral part of medical healing for thousands of years. It was used by the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks and Romans, and throughout Asia in many forms. Its use in the United States is relatively recent; however, it is becoming a valid and accepted part of medical treatment. The National Institute of Health (NIH), National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), recognizes that alternative medicines  are legitimate treatments that people are choosing more and more often. NCCAM has initiated and supported clinical trials and research to understand the benefits of massage and explore the effectiveness of massage in controlled treatment scenarios. Massage therapy is practiced in many contexts such as spas, private massage, in-hospital patient treatment, for athletic and sports therapy and in combination with physical therapy and chiropractic treatment.

Massage Therapy Certificate Popularity

It is a popular profession; more than 1500 diploma, degree and certificate programs are available throughout the United States. Many of these programs are accredited or certified by national professional organizations. Degree, Diploma and Certificate Programs A program in massage therapy from an accredited school, college or university can lead to earning a certificate, diploma or an Associate’s Degree. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, there are approximately 250-300, 000 massage therapists in the United States, and this number continues to grow.

Massage Therapy School Basic Requirements and Coursework

Whether the program is for a diploma, degree or certificate, the coursework may include the following: Biology I and II, Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Nutrition, Medical Terminology, Treatment Methods, Assessment (possibly including orthopedic assessment), Clinical Internships, Kinesiology, First Aid and CPR, Pathology, Contraindications, Communication, Business and Legal Issues and specialization in any of the various modalities, such as soft tissue, Feldenkrais, or sports massage. Most massage programs require a high school diploma or equivalency as courses such as Biology and English are necessary for successful schooling in massage therapy.

Massage Therapy Licensing Requirements

A program may require between 300 and 1,000 hours of coursework plus a specified number of hours of clinical experience. Completion of an accredited program should prepare the student for a certifying exam and state licensure. Make sure that you check to make sure that the program you are interested in provides enough hours of training to satisfy the licensing body in your state. Programs can take from six months to two years depending on the kind of degree pursued and whether it is full- or part-time. Check with your school as requirements vary from institution to institution, as well as from state to state.

Massage Therapy Associate’s Degree

An Associate’s Degree may require additional courses in general academic subjects to fulfill degree requirements. In some states, an Associate’s Degree is required to practice massage therapy in hospitals, as part of a medical team or in other health care settings. It also provides the credentials to pursue a higher degree if desired. An Associate’s Degree may take up to two years to complete.

Massage Therapy Diplomas and Certificates

A diploma or certificate course may demonstrate competencies in massage therapy or a specific modality but not give the level of expertise to work in all occupational settings. Diploma and certificate courses can often be completed in one year. Many massage modalities such as Reiki or Shiatsu provide certifications in their specialty. In fact, many separate modalities that are indicated in the therapist’s credentials require separate training, and offer certificates for proof of competency.

Massage Program Selection Criteria

When selecting a program, it is important to consider several factors. What does the program offer? Is only one modality offered, or is the student exposed to or trained in the techniques of several modalities? Can the credits earned be applied to continuing degrees? How are the practical hours achieved, through an onsite clinic or outside of the school? What are the costs? If the program is accredited by an organization recognized by the Department of Education, students may be eligible to apply for federal financial aid. Many schools offer financial aid and scholarships. Is the faculty well-trained and expert in their field? Faculty may have certifications in more than one modality as well as membership in appropriate professional organizations. They may also be affiliated with treatment centers or programs. Where is the school located? Accredited schools and colleges can be found in every state; many community colleges or colleges with allied health programs offer massage therapy degrees. There may not be a need to relocate in order to complete a degree program. Many have evening or weekend classes or programs, allowing continuation of work as well as study. Several on-line resources are available to find accredited schools. Is the program accredited? Although accreditation may not be required for all jobs in massage therapy, many states require a diploma from an accredited program or institution for licensing. It is important to know what is required by your state to practice.

Massage Therapy Accreditation, Certification and Licensing

When selecting a program for study, it is important to determine its accreditation status. This may affect whether professional certification and licensing can be granted. Accreditation demonstrates that an institution or program meets a defined level of academic or professional expertise.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the following organizations that provide accreditation for massage therapy:

  • Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
  • National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS),
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education Training (ACCET)
  • Council on Occupational Education (COE)

Accreditation is voluntary. Each organization lists the schools and programs for which it provides accreditation. Certification is often required in order to practice in a state or municipality to ensure that practitioners have achieved professional standards. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB),  lists its standards for certification on its website. Several professional organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), require certification in order to become members.


More than 40 states and the District of Columbia require licensing to practice. Licensing may include certification from a specified board or institution, plus completion of an accredited degree or diploma program. Each state has different criteria for licensing so it is important to contact the appropriate state or licensing agency for its requirements. AMTA provides a list of states and their requirements. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, administers a national exam that forms a part of the licensing requirements of several states. Massage therapy can be a rewarding occupation. Choosing the appropriate school or program is an important step in achieving the education and training needed for this satisfying field.