Many debts have occurred on either theoretical or practical massage therapy education is better. My preference is to get a good foundation but then go out and obtain some practical experience. You will learn much more about what works and what does not but also have enough theory and training to understand and properly execute the fundamentals.
Regulations by States, Counties, and Cities vary as to the amount of training required before being licensed. Our area, Sacramento County California, happens to require 125 hours at the present time and Healing Arts Institute offers a qualifying program to match that. There are other schools that offer 500 hour and even 1000 hour programs. At first glance it may appear that a longer program would be better, but there are several reasons why that may not be so.
One advantage to a shooter training is cost. Initial training is around $ 1375 for registration, tuition, and books on a 130 hour program. 500 hour programs typically start at $ 8000 or more. It is a large investment of time and money for entering a field that you may not be sure about pursuing. In a 126 hour training, the basics of massage are taught along with how to help people without causing harm. The real training happens when you begin work on paying clients. This is true whether your initial training is 126 hours or 1000 hours. There are some things that can only be learned in actual practice in the real world.
When you come back for more training you have the option of choosing which advanced classes you want to pursue. There are many different directions to go with massage therapy, and you will excel best pursuing your own area of interest. When you take advanced classes after working in the field you know what questions to ask so the training is more relevant to your needs. As you learn new techniques you think of clients you can use those techniques on. In this way your learning is much more complete than for someone who took 500 hours of classes before doing their first professional massage.
There are also tax advantages to taking a shorter training first. Most people can not take a deduction on their income tax for the cost of their initial training in a new field. The exceptions would be for people working in related fields such as a manicurist or cosmetologist who is taking this training so they can expand the services they offer to their existing clients, a chiropractic assistant who will be doing massage in the same clinic after graduating, or a nurse who is taking the training and receiving continuing education credits. If you take a shorter initial training and then start working in the field, you may be able to deduct the cost of any future classes as continuing education expenses. This can result in significant tax savings. Please note that I am not an accountant or tax advisor, and that tax laws change, so please check with an accountant or tax advisor before making any decisions based upon the tax advantages.
There are some states that require 500 hours of training to practice massage professionally. If you live or plan on working in one of those states you may wish to check with the state to see which schools would meet the requirement for that state. Also, not all states recognize training from schools in other states.
If you are in one of the following states you may wish to check with your state about licensing requirements:
Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, or Wisconsin. In other states, like California, licensing occurs at the city or county level where the business resides. You can check with your city or county clerk about licensing requirements. A listing of massage laws in the states that license massage therapists can be found in the book "Massage, A Career at Your Fingertips" by Martin Ashley, or on his website at: http://www.CareerAtYourFingertips.com
Regardless of the local requirements I believe it is best to establish a foundation of massage therapy knowledge and then apply your knowledge to practical experience. This is the best way to learn and get started in my opinion. After some "working world" experience you can return and take classes on techniques that you want to specialize in. These classes will also make sense to your experience and will be easily integrated into your practice.