Massage Therapy Licensing and Certification: How to Earn Your Credentials
As a massage therapist, you’ll provide beneficial services to your clients, not only inducing relaxation and reducing stress, but addressing issues regarding muscle pain, illness, and other concerns. Because of the proven effects of massage and the widely held belief that it’s an important form of healthcare, most states impose regulations in order to work as a massage therapist to ensure the safety of your patients.
Only five states—California, Kansas, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wyoming—have no widespread regulations, though certain cities and counties within those states have their own rules regarding the legal practice of massage.
Becoming board certified in a modality beyond basic massage can expand your job opportunities and increase your earning potential.
In the states that do impose these laws, there are minimum education requirements and other criteria you must meet before you can begin your career. For example, some states require graduating from a school that’s approved by an organization such as the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Most states also require that you pass a licensing exam, such as the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) Exam. Some states have tests specific to the state and sometimes offer test options such as the Certification Exam for Structural Integration (CESI) or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
Beyond licensing, many massage therapists choose to pursue voluntary board certification through the NCBTMB to demonstrate their dedication and expertise. The organization also offers specialty certificates for members who want to tailor their careers with additional education in particular areas. Though not necessary, specializing in a modality beyond basic massage can expand your job opportunities, increase your earning potential, and give clients and employers the confidence that you’re committed to the field.
Before choosing an educational program for massage therapy, make sure you understand the licensing requirements in your state and how to prepare for board certification or specialization should you choose to pursue that route.
Massage Therapy State Board Licensing Requirements
Hover over your state below to learn what it takes to earn a license and how to maintain it once you do. Click on your state to go to its massage therapy licensing board.
Massage Therapy Certification
Once you’ve earned the license you need, you can choose to further your career by pursuing optional board certification through the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Since 2013, this credential has been considered the industry’s top achievement and shows to clients, employers, and students that you’ve met more than just the minimum requirements.
“Professionals recognize and respect board certification,” says Susan G. Salvo, author and director of education at the Louisiana Institute of Massage. “It symbolizes dedication and expertise. Massage therapists who are board certified have gone above and beyond licensure. You can expect more from professionals who chose to become board certified.”
To earn this credential, you must:
What’s on the NCBTMB Exam?
The board certification exam consists of 140 questions and you’ll have 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the test. The exam simulates real-life scenarios built around:
- Assessing and addressing client needs
- Applied science
- Massage modalities and techniques
- Professional communication
- Professionalism and ethics
- Laws and business practices
How Many Applicants Pass?
According to the NCBTMB Annual Exam Statistics Report, the 2018 pass rate was 63%.
With your board licensing and certification in hand, you then have the option to earn a certificate in a specialized area related to a particular patient population or modality of massage. Specialty certificates demonstrate advanced education, elevate the standards of massage, and ensure patients receive the best possible care. The NCBTMB partners with healthcare organizations and academic programs across the country to provide top-notch training and testing in the eight following areas:
- Pain and palliative care
- Spa management
- Sports massage
There are other unique types of massage you could choose to pursue as well. Though no board-sanctioned licensing or certificates exist for these specialties, you might find yourself with an interest in particular areas such as prenatal massage, myofascial release, Thai bodywork, hot stone therapy, infant massage, and more. Schools across the country offer coursework beyond their traditional programs for those who want to explore one of these subfields.