How to become a massage therapist

A massage therapist performing a deep tissue massage on a client.

It is the job of a professional massage therapist to physically manipulate the soft tissues, muscles and joints of their patients and clients, with the ultimate purpose of relieving tension and pain in the body.

These highly skilled professionals, also known as masseuses, treat those with ongoing medical conditions and people recovering from injuries, as well as clients simply looking for a way to relax and unwind.

Although a rewarding and potentially lucrative career, knowing how to become a massage therapist can be tricky, especially if you are already currently working in another field entirely. Fortunately, Markel Direct UK can help.

From exploring the different qualifications you may need and how long you may have to train, to providing the lowdown on the other types of therapy you could branch into in the future, we’ve put together this useful guide to help you get your head around everything you need to know about becoming a massage therapist. We’ve also included information about the specialist massage therapist insurance policies you may need to have in place. 

How do you become a massage therapist? 

When it comes to how you can get into a career as a massage therapist, there are a number of paths you can take. While it’s true that you don’t require a university degree or even any specialist massage therapist training to practise as a masseuse, certain qualifications can help to ensure you become a better therapist. Additionally, being able to advertise that you have specific qualifications can also go a long way in showing potential clients that you know what you are doing, filling them with trust and confidence and preventing them from looking to more qualified competitors. 

To start with, it is beneficial to have a GCSE in biology and potentially Physical Education (if you wish to specialist in sports massage), graded A*-C or 9 - 4. This will help to demonstrate you have an understanding of the human body and can provide the perfect foundation for most specific courses in the future. 

After gaining your GCSEs, it’s a good idea to look into the various ways of gaining more in-depth massage therapy qualifications. On the face of it, there are four major paths you can take at this stage. These are: 

  1. Level 3 NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) Beauty Therapy - Massage

Costing around £1,000, this course provides you with a basic understanding of the key principles of face and body massage. This involves in-depth detail into relevant anatomy and physiology, common massage techniques, health and safety in the industry and general client care. This qualification also goes into specific detail in a number of specialist areas of massage therapy, including full body treatments, Indian head massages, hot stone therapy treatments and more. 

  1. Level 3 ITEC (International Therapy Examination Council) Diploma in Body Massage

The Level 3 Diploma in Body Massage (ITEC) course costs around £1,500, is designed to train prospective massage therapists to provide safe and effective treatments in commercial and NHS settings. Like the NVQ course, this training will teach you not only about massage techniques and good practise but also the crucial health and safety side of the profession, preparing you for any situation. This course is widely recognised and can help you to set-up your own private practice, secure employment in a clinic, spa or hotel and even find a path into NHS massage treatment careers. 

  1. BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) level 5 Professional Diploma in Soft Tissue Therapy

Equivalent to a university under-graduate level of education, this BTEC qualification covers a wide range of essential skills needed to become a competent massage therapist. This includes becoming familiar with the best ways to treat a variety of musculoskeletal problems, from common postural dysfunction to serious sports injuries. Your musculoskeletal system includes bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues. This course typically  costs around £3,000 and includes a number of practical and theoretical assessments throughout the course. Additionally, it provides the perfect foundation to complete more advanced training courses, such as level 6 BTEC Professional Diplomas in massage later down the line, which are considered degree-level programs. 

  1. University degrees in massage therapy

Many universities, including Cardiff Metropolitan University, University College Birmingham, York St John University and more, offer bachelor degrees in this area. However, it’s worth noting that many of these courses focus on sport massage therapy specifically and this is the longest, most expensive method of picking up a professional qualification in this field. 

How long does it take to become a massage therapist? 

As we have touched upon above, there is no legal requirement when it comes to becoming a massage therapist. This means that technically speaking, you could set up a massage therapy business tomorrow. However, if you want to learn your trade professionally and gain qualifications to demonstrate your competence, this will take a bit of time. 

According to the governing body for massage therapy here in the UK, the Council for Soft Tissue Therapies (GCMT), to be confident of starting out as a properly trained, competent massage therapist, it is recommended that you take a course that lasts at least six months full time or 12 months part time. For context, the BTEC level 5 Professional Diploma in Soft Tissue Therapy course (discussed above) typically consists of 12 weekend workshops a year (a combination of theoretical and practical in a supervised classroom environment), while university degrees can take either three or four years (depending on the inclusion of a placement year). 

How can I branch out into other types of therapy? 

As previously touched upon, if you choose to become a massage therapist there are a range of different types of special areas you can branch out into. Just as a junior doctor can choose to focus on surgery or paediatrics. For example, once you have trained as a massage therapist there is a whole host of more concentrated therapy areas you can specialise in, from aromatherapy massages to deep tissue massages. 

Just as with any profession, it is a good idea not to choose a specialism too early. Instead, you may want to focus on learning how to become a good all-round masseuse first. Remember, if you take a general massage qualification, like one of those listed above, and practise in general massage therapy, the chances are you will naturally find which areas of the field you are best at and enjoy the most. Later down the line, these could be the areas of therapy you choose to branch out into. 

Massage therapy specialisms include: 

  • Indian head massage
  • deep tissue massage
  • sports massage
  • aromatherapy massage
  • baby massage
  • pregnancy and post-natal massage
  • hot stone massage
  • Swedish massage 

Do massage therapists need insurance?

Just like any other profession, if you are offering massage therapy services as a sole trader or limited company, there are a number of insurance policies you should seriously consider taking out. This is because, although your training will teach you to prevent claims relating to your massage therapy from being made against you, an allegation of injury caused by a massage you perform or something as simple as a client tripping over a loose wire at your premises, could have a severe impact on your business, as well as your personal finances. 

With this in mind, taking out public liability insurance is always a good idea if you are operating your own massage therapy business. As this profession is also a specialised one, with potential for some claims to be made against a masseuse that is not always covered by standard public liability insurance, it is also recommended that you take out specialist insurance for massage therapists. Here at Markel Direct UK, we can provide this expert cover for as little as £5 a month.

Business insurance from just £5 a month