Licensing, Registration & Certification for Massage Therapists
Copyright Marcia Johnston – 5/17/04
9/23/13 update: For current state by state information please see the slide show on this website
There are several legal considerations that Massage Therapists should be aware of. One area of particular concern is that of government control over the practice of Massage.
There is often confusion about the terminology used in the regulation and recognition of massage practitioners. Licensing and Registration are always processes controlled by a government body. Certification may be controlled by either a government body or a private organization; however if the state is controlling the certification of a certain profession, private certifying bodies may not confer to individuals rights that are controlled by the state. As an example, the title Certified Massage Therapist is a title controlled by the state in New Jersey. Therefore, no private organization such as a massage school can confer on you the right to call yourself a Certified Massage Therapist in New Jersey.
What a massage practitioner may do in other areas is often dependent upon what credential they hold (License, Registration or Certification). In New Jersey, for instance, only a licensed health professional may work under a Chiropractor administering various therapies such as ultra sound (this is a restriction imposed by the Chiropractic licensing board). As there is no licensing yet in New Jersey for massage therapy, MTs do not meet this requirement. Also, many insurance companies require that a massage therapist be licensed in order to bill for treatments.
National Certification is controlled by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), a privately run organization that has no ties to any government body. Private certification of any type requires that the individual meet the certifying organization’s requirements. The value of certification, therefore, is dependent upon the reputation of the certifying organization and the standards they set and uphold. National Certification is a private credential that does not automatically confer on you the right to work in any location. The right to call yourself a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist may, or may not, be additionally controlled by the state. In New Jersey, you are allowed to call yourself a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist if you have been so certified by the NCBTMB, whether or not you are a state Certified Massage Therapist.
In many states, passing the National Certification Exam (NCE) is either required or accepted as a standard for meeting state requirements for massage practitioners. After becoming Nationally Certified in those states, the therapist must still apply to the state to be credentialed by the state. In 2002, 26 states recognized or required National Certification.
The NCBTMB’s website is http://www.ncbtmb.org
In 2005 the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB)
was created. This is a federation of most, but not all, of the state boards that regulate massage. The mission of the Federation is "to support its Member Boards in their work to ensure that the practice of massage therapy is provided to the public in a safe and effective manner." As part of that mission the FSMTB developed a Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam ( MBLEx)
which is designed to test for entry-level competence. The MBLEx is now accepted or required by many states.
Some states also require attendance at, or graduation from, a COMTA approved school. There are also other types of requirements that some states may have. As an example, in Maryland a massage therapist must pass a jurisprudence exam to become a Registered therapist. To be Certified in Maryland, the therapist must additionally have 60 college credit hours. In North Dakota, which is a licensed state, you must pass a practical exam in addition to a written exam. If you wish to work in a state, you will need to check with the state what their requirements are.
State Acts controlling massage may be passed as either Title Acts or as Practice Acts. Title Acts control the names or titles massage therapists may use, but do not control who can do massage. Practice acts control both the names/titles for massage therapists, as well as controlling who can do massage. All acts will have some definition of massage, and many will state what bodywork practices are covered by the act. As an example, in Florida, practitioners of Reiki must be Licensed Massage Therapists, while in New York they do not. State acts may also dictate who can perform paid massage on animals, as in Main, where only veterinarians may perform animal massage. Acts passed to control massage therapy and massage practitioners generally have provisions that such acts do not affect others who may legally do massage, such as physical therapists or estheticians. Grandfathering
refers to allowances made for practitioners of massage who were already doing massage when an act was passed. Persons “grandfathered” in under an act are not required to meet the same standards as new practitioners. Grandfathering provisions will differ from state to state.
Examples (Updated 10/09)
- New Jersey: Certification (title act) 500 hrs. – NC accepted (Note: NJ has passed but not yet implemented licensing. See here for information)
- New York: License (practice act) 1000 hrs. – NC not accepted, state exam required
- Florida: License (was title act, now practice act) 700 hrs. – NC or MBLEx required
- Rhode Island: License (practice act) – 500 hrs. – NC required – COMTA approved school training or equivalent required
- Wyoming – no state regulation
You can obtain information on different state requirements at the following websites:
ABMP - http://www.massagetherapy.com/careers/stateboards.php
AMTA - http://amtamassage.org/government/state_laws.html
In addition to state regulations, there may also be county or city/town laws that specifically deal with massage. The massage practitioner should check with the county and city/town/municipal clerks to determine if such laws exist and what they are.
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