Though regulations vary by state, most areas of the United States now require massage therapy certification of some sort for those wishing to practice massage therapy, and certification always requires training. Many training programs prepare massage therapy students for passing the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) or the the National Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM). Passing a national exam is not mandatory in all states, but these exams are the most widely recognized measure of education and skill in massage therapy in the U.S.
No matter the requirements for massage therapy certification specific to locale, all massage therapists must first receive some type of training. This training will likely include courses in anatomy, physiology, health and wellness, business, pathology, kinesiology, and practical therapeutic massage application and assessment. Most training programs are designed to provide a specific number of hours in both classroom and practical learning as designated by the particular state in which the school resides.
A common training structure is to have massage therapy students spend part of the day in the classroom learning theory, and another part of the day practicing techniques on fellow massage therapy students. Once a certain level of skill is achieved, students will then work on outside clients under the supervision of instructors. Typically, a certain number of supervised hours spent working on clients is mandatory for massage therapy certification in any state. This practice is important not just for the sake of future performance, but many states have both a written and practical exam for massage therapy certification.
There are two things to look at before selecting a training program. The first is state and local requirements, and the second is national massage therapy certification requirements. Though it may not be mandated by a particular state, many therapists choose to pursue national certification by passing either the NCETMB or NCETM. These two exams are very similar, but have slight variations depending on the particular practice a massage therapist chooses to work in.
To become eligible to sit for the national exam, a massage therapist candidate must complete a training program approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). The minimum number of training hours at a training program approved by the NCBTMB is 500 hours. However, state and local regulations may require as few as 300 hours or as many as 1000 hours. That equates to anywhere from a few months to two years of education prior to certification.