Massage therapists make up part of the expanding medical field as well as part of the thriving personal care industry. With hiring needs in the health care arena expected to rise, becoming a massage therapist can provide a wonderful opportunity to take part in this growth area while providing a valuable service to those in the community. Those looking for more flexibility may enjoy working in a more retail-oriented location or even as a member of the self-employed community.
Massage therapy is a form of therapeutic touch, providing care to various soft tissues, such as muscles, and joints within the body. A massage therapist may assist in assessing a client’s muscle strength and applicable range of motion as part of the development of a treatment plan, and may work in conjunction with other professionals to reach common goals for treatment.
Therapists working in the personal care field may focus on techniques geared more towards overall relaxation while others may work within medical facilities assisting in the treatment of injuries or other body mechanics issues. Though the environments and goals may differ, the basis of the techniques remain consistent. This allows a massage therapist to perform services in multiple environment types at different times throughout their careers.
The work of a massage therapist is generally performed indoors. Some work in more clinical settings, such as doctor’s offices or hospitals, while others work in more retail-oriented settings, such as day spas, resorts and fitness centers. In certain instances, massage therapists may work from home if the environment meets the standards as set forth by the state of Pennsylvania.
Most work is completed while on your feet, as many massage tables are set to allow the massage therapist to stand next to it. Additionally, the job is physical in nature, and may be somewhat physically demanding depending on the type of work being performed and circumstances regarding the generally mobility of the client. In this regard, massage therapists must ensure they use proper technique in order to avoid injury to themselves, such as repetitive-motion injuries or general fatigue.
With such varied opportunities existing in the massage therapy field, employment opportunities may exist in most locations. While larger cities may holder a greater number of possibilities, certain smaller areas may also support the need for massage therapy. This makes changing locations, either within or outside of the state of Pennsylvania, simpler than with some other career paths. Additionally, with 42 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, accepting examination results from the same source, transferring your credentials may be simpler than you think.
In order to become a licensed massage therapist in the state of Pennsylvania, you will need to complete certain educational and training requirement. The most common way to gain the skills and knowledge necessary is to attend courses at an approved massage therapy school.
Massage therapy programs vary in duration, with some completing in as little as 8 months while others run closer to one year. Additionally, the costs associated with participating in the program may also vary. Costs will cover the price of attendance and may include the acquisition of additional learning materials or required supplies. In some situations, financial aid may be available to help offset the expenses related to your attendance. This may include the use of certain federal funding, such as Pell Grants and student loans, to those who meet the required qualifications.
Your coursework will include classroom learning along with hands-on training. This ensures you have both the intellectual knowledge required to safely perform the job as well as the tactile experience to ensure proper execution of various massage therapy techniques.
In order to qualify, you will need to complete a minimum of 600 hours of approved, post-secondary education. This will include various segments focused on key learning areas. A minimum of 175 hours of instruction in the areas of anatomy and physiology, and kinesiology and pathology are required. Additional focus in this area will be given to issues regarding the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other related risks.
250 hours of training will be provided on massage therapy and related bodywork assessments. This information will cover application theory as well as best business practices regarding hygiene, safety, and basic sanitation of massage therapy rooms, tools, and other equipment. Another 25 hours will cover issues regarding business law and ethics in regards to operating a massage therapy business or working within another medical practice or personal care facility.
The remaining 150 hours will cover a variety of coursework that pertains to the safe and proper application of massage therapy techniques as well as certain emergency health care actions, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). A massage therapy program may exceed the 600 hour minimum requirement, but it cannot include less. Additionally, experience gained through an externship or through practice with indirect supervision cannot be counted towards the 600 hour requirement.
While attending an approved massage therapy program you will have the opportunity to practice appropriate technique applications on clients. This will be done under direct supervision of a qualified massage therapist. While wages are not permitted from these learning opportunities, clients may provide a nominal gratuity, more commonly known as a tip, should they voluntarily choose to do so.
Massage Therapy Licensing Examinations
The state of Pennsylvania recognizes the examination options as administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). This includes the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) that functions as an entry-level examination for those looking to pursue massage therapy as a profession.
A separate application must be submitted prior to taking the exam, along with the appropriate payment. Exams are administered in association with Pearson Vue, and will cover a wide variety of topics as they pertain to the practice of massage therapy. The MBLEx is offered in both English and Spanish, allowing you to take the exam in the language you are most comfortable in.
The topics that will be tested are a reflection of the knowledge you should have acquired during your attendance of your chosen approved massage therapy program. This include information regarding anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, pathology, benefit associated with receiving massage therapy, professional ethics, laws and regulations, along with other relevant topics.
The examinations are offered at approved testing centers with testing dates available regularly throughout the year. On your test date, you will need to bring a picture ID as well an additional item for identification that is not expired and has a valid signature, such as a valid credit card (though no charges will be assessed against this secondary form of identification). The name listed on your ID, secondary identification, Authorization to Test form, and your application must all match in order to be allowed entrance into the examination.
The test is designed to take no more than two hours and involves 100 questions. The testing format is multiple choice, and it is generally taken via a computer. Content is updated regularly to ensure that current professional standards are being upheld.
Once you pass your examination, you will need to have your scores sent to the state of Pennsylvania Board of Massage Therapy as part of your application packet. If you do not pass your examination on that attempt, you may reapply to retake the test. A minimum waiting period of 30 days after the previous examination attempt is required before you are eligible to retest.
Once the required 600 hours have been obtained, and you have passed the required examination, you can apply to for your massage therapy license. In order to apply, you will need to complete the official application through the Pennsylvania Department of State, State Board of Massage Therapy. Applications can be accessed online or in person.
Along with the application materials, you will be required to provide additional documentation. This includes a valid state-issued picture ID or a current passport, a current CPR certification, proof regarding your graduation from high school or equivalent, along with information regarding your criminal history over the past five years.
A criminal history is required due to the fact that certain prior convictions may make you ineligible to receive your license. This can apply to certain misdemeanor convictions as well as felonies. If additional information is required, you will be notified by the Board of Massage Therapy within eight weeks, and will have no more than six months from the day the application was submitted to comply.
Regardless of the date your license is issued by the state of Pennsylvania, your license will need to be renewed before January 31st of every odd numbered year. This means that you will be responsible for completing the renewal process every two years in order to continue working under a valid license.
In order to renew your license, you will need to complete a renewal application and submit the required renewal fee. Additionally, you will need to submit proof of a current certification for CPR, along with proof of completion for the required 24 hours of continuing education.
If your license expires, you have up to five years to apply for reactivation. This includes completion of the aforementioned renewal process, including the continuing education requirements, as well as an affidavit of nonpractice.
Continuing education credits must be obtain through an approved method as described by the Board of Massage Therapy. This educational requirement is designed to ensure you have the most current knowledge regarding the safe and lawful participation in the profession. Coursework regarding current laws and regulations will be required as part of the four hour minimum regarding professional ethics. The additional 16 hours are completed as contact hours. Proof of these continuing education hours must be maintained by the licensee for a minimum of five years as licenses may be audited to ensure compliance.
In instances where more than five years have passed, non-practicing massage therapists will be required to retake the examination to prove current competency within the field. In cases where the massage therapist was practicing in another state, a license may be reactivated after five years with proof of continuous practice in the other state. This proof negates the need to retake the examination.
Massage therapists may have the opportunity to work full time or part time, often based on the advanced scheduling of appointments. Those who work in a part time capacity can expect a median wage of $17.20 per hour. Additionally, services may be offered in a weekday oriented setting, such as various medical facilities or cooperative clinics, or in environments that operate seven days a week and into the evenings, such as day spas or certain resort facilities. These options allow for some flexibility in regards to employment options, and can be seen as fairly adaptable to the massage therapist’s other needs.
Aside from performing massage therapy duties, a massage therapist may be required to dedicate working hours to other business related tasks. This can include the recording of notes in client files, equipment and linen cleaning, and scheduling appointments. In certain medically oriented facilities, a massage therapist may need to work with insurance companies to verify the client’s eligibility for treatment as well as secure payment for authorized treatments.
Those who operate their own massage therapy business will also have additional tasks related to its general operation. This can include various financial responsibilities, including payments for facilities and the submission of required taxes, as well as the hiring or management of employees, if applicable.
As of 2015, the median pay for a massage therapist in the U.S. was $38,040 with the top 10% earning more than $74,860. Along with base wages, some massage therapists work in environments that permit the acceptance of gratuities, while other environments have discouraged the practice.