Q&A: how long does it take to become a massage therapist?
Updated 29 January 2023
Massage therapists provide comfort and healing for their clients through the use of skilled massage techniques. Working in this role could be great for you if you're passionate about helping others and want a job that keeps you physically active. To better prepare for pursuing this path, it's helpful to determine how much time it may take you to obtain the necessary qualifications for the role. In this article, we answer 'How long does it take to become a massage therapist?', explain what one does and discuss the key skills for the profession.
What is a massage therapist?
Before you discover how long it takes to become a massage therapist, it's helpful to review some key duties and responsibilities of the role. A massage therapist performs massages on clients. Typically, they're also responsible for creating a calming atmosphere, discussing appropriate treatments with each client or developing individual plans based on the client's requests.
Self-employed massage therapists use their business and organisational skills to keep track of their appointments, ensure their workplace safety and promote their business using traditional and online methods, such as by printing flyers or posting ads on social media. There are various specialities in massage therapy, including:
deep tissue massage
hot stone massage
Indian head massage
pregnancy and post-natal massage
Related: How to become a massage therapist
How long does it take to become a massage therapist?
To start the journey in massage therapy, it's helpful to have a GCSE in biology and physical education, grades 9 to 4, as this demonstrates an understanding of the human body and shows potential for working in the field. After obtaining their GCSEs, many aspiring massage therapists begin their professional education by obtaining the Level 3 diploma in massage, anatomy, physiology and pathology (A&P). It's a foundation course that equips them with the basic knowledge of human anatomy and massage techniques that lasts a few weeks and involves theoretical learning and practical lectures, including demonstrations of the application of different massage techniques.
After obtaining this accredited qualification, you can choose a Level 3 diploma in massage, which allows you to expand your knowledge of specific massage techniques. Because there are no formal requirements as to how long a course of this type lasts, some people can complete it in less than two months. If you're new to the field, it's more realistic to dedicate at least six months to complete the courses full-time or 12 months for part-time learning. Here's more information about the main ways to become a massage therapist and how long it takes to complete them:
Level 3 NVQ diploma in beauty therapy (massage)
The Level 3 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in beauty therapy with a focus on a massage can be great for you if you're looking for a flexible way to obtain your qualifications as a massage therapist. Among others, the diploma covers the following units:
procedures and work safety
body massage treatments
Indian head massage
body and facial electrical treatments
Level 3 ITEC Diploma in body massage
The Level 3 International Therapy Examination Council's diploma in body massage is a full-time or part-time course that, depending on the school and your desired learning model, takes around three months to complete. It covers three main aspects of working in the field, which are anatomy, physiology and body massage techniques. What's helpful about this course is that it often gives you an opportunity to learn about the best business practices in the field, including how to deal with clients, which prepares you for working as a self-employed massage therapist. Particular units that you'd study include:
body systems, including skeletal, muscular, lymphatic and other
anatomical planes and positions
skin, hair and nails
common pathologies affecting the body
After completing the course, it's necessary to pass a series of assessments. These include a final practical exam, some written assignments and a multiple-choice paper. It's also obligatory to pass the practical test, during which examiners test your skills of the most common massage therapy treatments.
BTEC Level 5 professional diploma in soft tissue therapy
Business and Technology Education Council's (BTEC) Level 5 professional diploma in soft tissue therapy can be a great choice for you if you'd like to establish yourself as a soft tissue therapist. Specifically, you may find this diploma beneficial if you'd like to work in sports massage. This more advanced course takes around 10 months to complete and teaches you about the best injury prevention strategies in addition to helping you gain a general understanding of massage techniques. Upon successful completion, you'd know how to treat various musculoskeletal problems, such as postural dysfunctions.
University degree in massage therapy
As an aspiring massage therapist, you can also decide to obtain a university degree that prepares you for working in the field. Although university degrees are more time-consuming than professional diplomas, they're beneficial if you want to work in a specific area of massage therapy, such as sports conditioning, rehabilitation and massage therapy. Undergraduate courses in this field usually take three years to complete, but it's also possible to find degrees that take more time and offer you a chance to complete a one-year industry placement.
What are some key skills of a massage therapist?
Developing a strong skill set can help you better prepare for working as a massage therapist and even reduce the time that you'd spend practising different massage techniques. As a result, investing in your abilities can help you better organise your work, streamline the educational process and obtain your qualifications in less time. Here are some helpful skills to work on as an aspiring massage therapist:
Massage therapy is all about working with people. From day one in the field, you'd work with other therapists, clients and instructors, which is why it's important that you develop strong verbal communication skills. To do that, you can improve your active listening skills, which help you analyse what someone says and ask more effective questions. Working on your written communication skills is also helpful, as it allows you to learn how to express yourself freely and concisely in writing, for example, when you're applying for a job or writing an ad to attract more clients to your massage studio.
Knowledge of anatomy and physiology
A thorough understanding of human anatomy and physiology is a key requirement for all massage therapists. Although most professional courses and degrees teach you about that, investing in self-learning can be extremely helpful to better understand how human bodies function. To start improving these skills, you may consider memorising the appropriate anatomical terms to identify target areas on the body.
Physical strength and stamina
It's common for massage therapists to spend all day on their feet. To prepare for this type of work, it's helpful to take care of your physical strength and stamina, for example, by regularly doing sports or going to the gym. This way, you'd more easily manipulate clients' muscles and soft tissue.
As a massage therapist, you may come across people who struggle with their physical health or simply don't feel comfortable when someone touches them. Empathising with them can help you create a therapeutic atmosphere and support them throughout the process. Thanks to being empathetic, you can also better understand their feelings and determine their individual needs.
How much do massage therapists make?
The national average salary of a massage therapist is £17.82 per hour. There are several ways in which massage therapists can increase their salaries, for example, by relocating to a bigger city or simply gaining more experience in the field. It's also helpful to choose a specialisation, as doing so can expose you to more advanced work opportunities and help you network with others interested in a specific or narrow area of massage therapy.
Additional tips for becoming a massage therapist
Learning to become a massage therapist usually takes from a few months up to a few years. Regardless of which educational path you choose, here are some helpful tips that can help you explore interesting opportunities and better define your goals as a massage therapist:
Choose a specialisation: Although it's helpful to spend a few years working in general massage therapy, choosing a specialisation can help you maximise your professional and earning potential. Some of the many specialisations in the field include pregnancy or Swedish massage.
Join professional bodies: Becoming a member of an association of massage therapists gives you a chance to get to know more experienced therapists and expand your professional network. It can also give you access to exclusive industry events, conferences and training programmes.
Consider an apprenticeship: If you're determined to start working in the profession as quickly as possible, consider becoming an apprentice. During an apprenticeship, you'd learn from an experienced massage therapist and keep expanding your skill set while earning a regular salary.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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