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How Far Can Massage Therapy Certification Take You?

Good job finishing your massage therapy education! Now you need to consider the important steps you need to take to land a job as a massage therapist, which will allow you to put those skills into practice.

You've already chosen a fast-growing profession, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 20 percent increase in employment for massage therapists from 2006 to 2016. There's an estimated 280,000-320,000 massage therapists (including massage school students) in the U.S., according to the Illinois-based American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).

About 90,000 practitioners are nationally certified, according to the National Certification Board for Massage Therapy & Bodywork (NCBTMB), completing at least 500 hours of instruction, passing a standardized exam, and agreeing to a code of ethics and standards of practice.

That certification is nationally recognized, says Dave Dunnigan, spokesman for the Illinois-based NCBTMB. But to practice in most states, you need to be licensed; 39 of 43 states (plus the District of Columbia) that regulate massage accept NCBMTB exams as part of their licensure process, he adds.

In addition, 24 states (plus the District of Columbia) also accept the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards; Arkansas requires that exam, according to the AMTA.

One way to broaden your job search efforts is to get licensed in bordering states. Common licenses for massage therapy practitioners are: LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist) or LMP (Licensed Massage Practitioner).

Attaining your massage therapy license in multiple states could be a financial investment, in terms of the fee for applying for licenses (this could easily be a couple of hundred dollars for each state), but it could work in your favor by allowing you to expand your job hunt. This could be especially beneficial if you live near the border of another state, where having a license in both states could allow you to hop over the border to work, if a position arises or you meet a new client wanting you to be their massage therapist.

If you hold a massage therapy license in one state, other states will allow you to apply for a massage therapy license if the requirements are equal to or more stringent than the requirements in the state where you currently hold a license.

To apply for a massage therapy license, in addition to the exams, you also will need to provide: official transcripts from an approved massage therapy school, verification of your massage therapy license from the state where you currently hold one, birth certificate/passport, recommendation letters from industry professionals, and answer questions about criminal background and medical history. Requirements vary by state if you hold a massage therapy license in another state, and depend on factors such as years practicing and hours of instruction.

With these steps and attaining licensing in bordering states, you will open the doors to multiple opportunities to practice your passion for massage therapy!