Massage Therapy Certification
States that Regulate Massage and Licensing Info
If you are interested in a career in the booming massage therapy industry, learn about massage therapy certification laws, licensure and state regulations to help you anticipate what to expect when it comes time to get a massage therapy job. The common questions and answers below should answer some of the basic massage law and licensure questions you may have:
Massage Therapy Certification and
Massage Therapist Licensure Common Questions
Researching massage therapy certification, laws and licensure can help you find the massage therapy training program that's right for you and your massage career endeavors. Read the massage therapy question and answer below to learn about massage therapy practice regulations in both the U.S. and Canada and get in-depth law and licensure information.
Which states regulate the practice of massage therapy?
Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia regulate the practice of massage therapy. These state regulatory boards, education requirements and laws are summarized in the list below. Find out if your state has a board that administers massage practice laws. See: List of state boards with addresses and contact information.
In addition to state regulation of massage, quite a few cities, towns and counties also have their own laws regulating the practice of massage. Anyone practicing where there is a local law must meet the local licensing requirements, whether or not there is also a state law. If you live in a place where you are subject to a state law and a local law, you must satisfy both.
What are the primary massage therapy certification exams?
Different states have different requirements to become licensed in massage therapy. There are two types of certification tests offered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) :
- National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB)
- National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM)
State boards listed indicate what type of exam they require to practice. In these states, anyone who has passed the appropriate exam in one state can apply for licensing in another state without re-taking the test. In states that do not use the NCE, anyone applying for licensing must either take that state's test or apply for reciprocity, which is usually on a case-by-case basis. Reciprocity refers to the exchange, recognition or enforcement of licenses, privileges or obligations between states of the US or between nations.
Both exams contain material from the following content areas:
- General knowledge of body systems
- Detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology
- Therapeutic massage assessment
- Therapeutic massage application
- Professional standards, ethics, business and legal practices
These are multiple-choice exams. In order to take the exams, a candidate must have received 500 hours of supervised instruction and graduated from an accredited school. Many aspects of massage school are based on preparing students for either the (NCETMB) or the (NCETM).
What are the requirements for practicing in a state that doesn't regulate massage?
The actual percentage of counties and cities that regulate massage is unknown; however, it is a small percentage, approximately 10 percent or 20 percent nationwide. To find out if your town or county regulates massage, you must inquire at the government office.
- For the county, go to the county seat - the town where the county government meets.
- For the city or town, go to city hall or town hall.
State laws regulating massage are fairly uniform—they all require some specified education in massage, and usually a test. But local and county laws can be unusual. They are sometimes enacted in response to problems or scandals that have occurred in that community in the past, and for that reason they may present a strange view of the practice of massage.
For example, some towns prohibit "outcall" massage, another name for house calls. They want to make sure that the massage business is being professional, and not contributing to inappropriate, or even illegal, behavior. Other towns require fingerprinting and certification from a doctor that you have passed the physical requirements necessary to work in the bodywork industry. Some therapists had to satisfy these requirements to get a license to practice in Chicago.
Many municipal laws are more standard, being patterned after the state laws. However, you should know that they sometimes include very high educational requirements. Municipal laws occasionally require more education than the state does.
Do I need to go back to massage school if I move to a state where I am not licensed?
Yes, you will, and perhaps for longer than you think. Most schools will not let you take only a “supplemental” program that fills in the gaps from your previous education, but instead require you to take their entire massage training. Because states often require not just a particular number of hours, but also a prescribed list of courses, it can be very difficult to cut-and-paste the courses you need to complete your eligibility. For this reason, many students who move from state to state find they must start massage school all over again.
Am I protected by a grandfather clause if the licensure laws change in the state that I am licensed?
The act of “grandfathering” refers to admitting those massage therapists already in the profession with credentials that do not meet the new law's requirements. Each state that passes a massage licensing law for the first time, or approves an increased educational requirement, must make a decision about grandfathering. Each state is free to create whatever grandfathering provisions it wishes or to not allow grandfathering at all.
Typically, existing practitioners can be grandfathered-in whenever a new law is passed. A typical provision would allow practitioners to be automatically licensed under the new law if they have been practicing for a specified number of years or if they can document performing a specified number of professional massages. If you are practicing in a state that implements licensing for the first time or upgrades its licensing requirement, you should obtain a copy of the new law and read for yourself the grandfathering provisions to make sure you qualify. If the law has no grandfathering provision, all practitioners must satisfy the new requirements in order to practice.
If I am nationally certified, what do I have to do to keep up-to-date?
Those who become nationally certified by taking the National Certification Exam are required to be re-certified every four years. One method is to re-take the exam. The other method is to document 48 hours of continuing education, including at least two hours of professional ethics, as well as at least 200 hours of therapeutic massage sessions during the four-year period.
What does COMTA stand for?
Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) is the massage school accreditation program of the American Massage Therapy Association, one of three major professional associations for massage. The states that have the word COMTA in their descriptions below require attendance at an approved school in order to become licensed. See a comprehensive list of COMTA Accredited Schools.
What is the NCE examination?
NCE refers to the National Certification Exam, a standardized entry-level test for massage practitioners. States that have adopted NCE as their licensing test, allow anyone who has passed the NCE in one state to apply for licensing in another state without re-taking the test. In states that do not use the NCE, anyone applying for licensing must either take that state's test or apply for reciprocity, which is usually on a case-by-case basis.
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