Therapeutic Massage Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in therapeutic massage? Find out requirements, online options and info on massage therapy certificate and degree programs.
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Studying Therapeutic Massage: Degrees at a Glance

As more individuals and industries realize the benefits of therapeutic massage, the demand for massage services is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for massage therapists is expected to increase 20 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the overall average for all occupations. Because most states have (or are adopting) licensing requirements for massage therapists, job opportunities should be available to those who graduate from an approved training program and pass a professional exam.

Although many massage therapists choose to open their own private practice, they can also find work in settings that range from health care to hospitality. Businesses employing massage therapists include physical therapy offices, hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, holistic health centers, chiropractic offices, hotels and resorts, cruise ships and athletic clubs. In particular, the BLS reports, massage therapy positions are expected to become increasingly available in health spas, massage clinic franchises, private companies and nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals looking to work as massage therapists Individuals looking to work (or working) as massage therapists and seeking a more comprehensive academic degree
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean hourly wage) - Massage Therapist ($19.00)*
Depending on qualifications and state requirements, massage therapists may have a number of official titles, including the following:
-Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT)
-Certified Massage Therapist (CMT)
-Licensed Massage Practitioner
Time to Completion 1.5-2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements -Approximately 18-24 courses, including clinical practice
-Approximately 40 courses
-Programs that prepare students for licensure or certification as massage therapists will include clinical practice
Common Prerequisites -Typically, high school diploma or GED
-Some programs require prerequisite courses
-Typically, high school diploma or GED
Online Availability Not at this time, but some courses or certificate programs might be available online Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Therapeutic Massage

Associate's degree programs in therapeutic massage prepare graduates to work as massage therapists in a variety of settings. These programs combine academic coursework with practical bodywork in different massage techniques (called modalities). While associate's programs in massage therapy are generally not designed to transfer to a four-year college, some coursework may be transferable.

Because the overwhelming majority of US states have licensing requirements for massage therapists, associate's programs are often designed to align with such standards. This generally involves meeting minimum hour requirements in an accrediting training program and preparing graduates to pass an exam such as the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) or the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). Be sure the degree program you attend enables you to meet the licensing requirements in your state.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Associate's degrees in massage therapy are widely available
  • The degree can be completed in as little as 1.5-2 years
  • Associate's programs prepare graduates for immediate employment
  • Massage therapists usually have a flexible schedule and can set their own hours

Cons

  • Income for recent graduates can be irregular and salary may be low as you build up a client base
  • A degree in massage therapy is so specific that skills might not transfer easily to other careers
  • Most states don't require a degree for licensure, so you may have the same job opportunities as those completing a shorter certificate program
  • Only one in four massage therapists worked full time in 2010, according to the BLS, and the number of hours worked per week can vary considerably
  • Massage therapy tends to be a physically demanding profession

Courses and Requirements

The foundation of an associate's in therapeutic massage combines hands-on training in massage techniques with academic courses in science. Many degree programs also include classes in business, law or ethics, psychology and alternative medicine. To complete the program, you will likely be required to take general education credits in math, social science and/or the humanities.

Although the exact curriculum varies by program, the following core courses are common:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Therapeutic massage techniques
  • Sports massage and hydrotherapy
  • Business for bodywork practitioners

Classes in massage methods will include either an integrated or a separate clinical lab portion where students practice the techniques in a supervised setting. Students will perfect their massage skills on fellow classmates, faculty and staff and/or members of the public.

Depending on the state and school, students may have to meet certain prerequisites before enrolling in the clinical portion of the program. These requirements may be academic (such as credits in human biology or an introductory course in massage) or legal (such as fingerprint clearance or drug testing).

Online Options

Because therapeutic massage is a hands-on profession, it requires practical experience in a clinical setting that is not available online. If you do encounter a school offering a massage therapy degree or certificate over the Internet, research it very carefully. Depending on the state, the school and program may have to meet certain standards - including a number of hours of clinical practice - in order for its graduates to satisfy licensing requirements.

Many states and professional associations require certified massage therapists to keep their knowledge up-to-date by taking continuing education (CE) courses. These may be available online through such organizations as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) or the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). To make sure a CE provider is approved, check with the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Because referrals are a vital source of clients for massage therapists, networking can significantly increase the number of job opportunities available. Massage students can start to build contacts while they are studying by joining a professional association or attending conferences in the field.

In addition, while massage therapy programs generally offer a fairly broad-based curriculum, if you have firm plans for your career after graduation, you might want to seek out programs and/or courses in your area of interest. Possible specialized classes might include sports massage, holistic health, herbology or spa treatments.

Bachelor's in Therapeutic Massage

Bachelor's degrees are unlikely to be granted in massage therapy alone, but rather are likely to incorporate massage training into a broader framework such as alternative medicine or Asian holistic health. Bachelor's in the field are designed for people who may want to work as massage therapists, but also desire the more comprehensive education and the academic degree that a bachelor's program offers.

Depending on the school, an associate's degree in therapeutic massage may form the first portion of the bachelor's program or may be used to transfer into the bachelor's program. Because bachelor's degrees in therapeutic massage aren't available in many states, however, individuals looking to work as massage therapists after graduation should research any program carefully to ensure that it will qualify them for licensure in their state.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bachelor's degrees provide graduates with a more comprehensive education and broader career options
  • Because the requirements for licensure are often less than those for a bachelor's degree, you may qualify to work as a massage therapist before graduation
  • Bachelor's programs in the field may allow those with associate degrees in therapeutic massage to apply their prior coursework towards their bachelor's degree

Cons

  • Bachelor's degree programs in massage therapy are extremely rare
  • Because so few bachelor's programs are available, it may be harder to find one that aligns with your state's licensing standards
  • Since a degree is rarely a hard requirement for a career in massage therapy, a bachelor's might not provide much of an advantage over graduates with associate's degrees or technical certificates

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in the field will usually combine general undergraduate education credits with required courses in the major, such as allied health, alternative medicine or Asian holistic health. Exact courses will vary widely depending on the program, but may include the following:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Introduction to nutrition
  • Traditional Chinese medicine theory
  • Electives such as yoga, acupuncture or chiropractics

If the bachelor's degree program is designed to prepare students for licensure or certification as massage therapists, it will also include a number of courses in massage theory and hands-on practical techniques. Frequently, classes from an associate's degree program (either from the same school or another school for transfer students) will form the basis of this coursework. Such classes often include the following:

  • Swedish massage
  • Deep tissue techniques
  • Pathology for massage therapists
  • Reflexology

Online Degree Options

Given that there are so few online programs in therapeutic massage (because of the hands-on nature of the degree) as well as that there are very few bachelor's degree programs in massage therapy, online bachelor's programs in the field are exceedingly rare. If you do find an online bachelor's degree program, research it very carefully. Be sure that the school is accredited that the program enables you to meet the requirements for massage therapists in your state.

Unless you are already a qualified massage therapist looking to further your education in the field, you will probably want to consider an on-campus program that will give you the clinical hours you need to work as a skilled massage therapist as well as to meet the licensing requirements in your state.

Stand Out with this Degree

Referrals are an essential source of clients for massage therapists, so networking can substantially increase job opportunities and income. Just like associate's degree students, bachelor's degree students can start building contacts during their program by joining a professional association or attending conferences in the field.

If you have firm plans for your career after graduation, seek out programs and/or courses in your area of interest. You may select a bachelor's degree in alternative medicine or Asian bodywork, for example, or you may choose electives in such areas as aromatherapy, corporate wellness or nutrition.

Degree Alternatives

Because a degree is usually not required to work or to be licensed as a massage therapist, many schools offer certificate or diploma programs in addition to their degree programs in massage therapy. The certificate can generally be completed in less time than the associate's degree, as fewer credits are required.

Certificate programs in therapeutic massage usually involve the same core classes as the associate's degree programs, but require fewer general education credits. Certificate programs may also include fewer courses in advanced techniques or massage electives. Therefore, if you want to work as a massage therapist, but don't have the time and/or desire to earn a degree, you may want to consider a certificate program.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Whatcom Community College

Waubonsee Community College

Vincennes University

Trocaire College

Swedish Institute a College of Health Sciences

Williston State College

Stark State College