Massage Therapy Certification vs. License: Do I Need Both?

Massage Therapy Certification vs. License: Do I Need Both?

When a career in massage therapy is calling you, it can be hard to know where to start chasing it. There is no single standard educational path to employment in this field - both certifications and degrees are available to newcomers, and either can potentially be leveraged into a license to practice. What's the difference between these options, and which one is best for your career? We can find out by examining how these offerings match up against current massage therapy market demands.

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Credential Tiers and What They Mean

To begin, it's important to clarify that a license is not an educational credential, despite the fact that you have to undergo varying amounts of formal training to qualify for one. In most cases, becoming licensed is not optional - it's a legal requirement. If you do any work that you call massage therapy (or even just advertise that you are available to perform such work) in a state with a licensing requirement, you have committed a criminal offense. Always make sure you have a current, valid license so you can stay out of trouble!

As for actual educational paths, certifications are the more accessible of the two branches. These are good options because they're widely available and fairly inexpensive, but they may not be the choice for new massage therapists. A certification testifies that you can adequately perform a particular set of techniques, but not necessarily anything else. Even a generalized massage therapy certification will only teach the basics, because these credentials are designed to be relatively easy to get.

A full-scale massage therapy degree, on the other hand, offers a far more comprehensive introduction to this type of work. It not only teaches you how to perform massage therapy, but also things like how to deal with different types of customers, how to work with people with special needs, and what new developments are in progress within the field. It takes a little more time, money and effort, but it's the most all-encompassing accreditation option to meet the mounting demands of this field.

The Medicalization of Massage

Even just a decade ago, massage therapy was viewed very differently than it is now. Getting a massage was something you might do just to try and relax every once in a while, like going to the movies or to a salon. It was nice, but it was a luxury that was considered more of a treat than a treatment.

Now, however, society as a whole has become much more conscious of health and the ill effects of physical and mental stress on the body. Massage therapy is meant to address those problems, and it's enjoying a lot of attention because of that. According to the National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health, massage therapy is the 4th most frequently used mind and body practice in the US in 2012.

People are beginning to look at their massage therapist as a true health professional instead of a service worker. Very few patient-facing healthcare workers can get away with having no documented training beyond a certification in their field; would you trust a nurse with so little to prove their competence? When you have such direct contact with and responsibility for people's bodies, many of them from vulnerable populations like children and the elderly, you must expect to be held to a higher standard.

Cultivating a Professional Reputation

Massage therapy boasts an unusually high proportion of self-employed workers (39% of all workers in the field to be exact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Even if you work in an institution like a spa or care facility, the one-to-one nature of the work means that like it or not, your individual reputation will have a big impact on your career. This is precisely what makes this line of work so attractive for many people, but the prospect raises some unique challenges regardless.

You need to present yourself as an authority in the field who has enough expertise to deal with all kinds of cases and clients with little outside help. The increasingly serious nature of the massage therapy industry means this is more important than ever.

Getting a massage therapy degree is one of the simplest ways to show that you're knowledgeable serious about what you do. When you hold that documentation, an official educational institution is implicitly vetting you, borrowing some of the strength of their reputation while you take the time to build your own. It's part of laying a solid foundation for your future that can make a massive difference early on.

Massage Therapy Certification vs. License: Do I Need Both?

Are you interested in a career in massage therapy? If you want to work towards your dream of being a massage therapist and possibly owning your own business, earning an Associate of Applied Science in Massage Therapy could help you get there. ECPI University offers this degree program at an accelerated rate, helping students graduate sooner and start looking for work faster. For more information on this exciting program, connect with a friendly ECPI University admissions counselor today.

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