Massage and the Law:

First and foremost, anyone can do massage without training or a license.

HOWEVER, if you charge a fee for massage services, you may be required to obtain a business license and, in addition, you may be required to take formal training ranging from a few hundred to several thousand hours.

Designations for Massage Therapists:

Here are some of the designations given to massage therapists...

  • Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Registered Massage Therapist
  • Certified Massage Therapist
  • Massage Practitioner
  • Massage Apprentice

But it gets more confusing. Here's how the State of California deals with it...

California's "Massage" Definition from Bill 1388:

(a) "Massage" means the application of a system of structured touch, pressure, movement, and holding to the soft tissues of the human body with the intent to enhance or restore the health and well-being of the client. The practice includes the external application of water, heat, cold, lubricants, salt scrubs, or other topical preparations; use of devices that mimic or enhance the actions of the hands; and determination of whether massage therapy is appropriate or contraindicated, or whether referral to another health care practitioner is appropriate. For purposes of this chapter, massage and bodywork are interchangeable.

(b) "Massage Therapist," "Bodyworker," "Bodywork Therapist," or "Massage and Bodywork Therapist" means a person who is licensed by the Board of Massage Therapy under subdivision (c) of Section 4604 and administers massage for compensation.

(c) "Massage Practitioner," "Bodywork Practitioner," or "Massage and Bodywork Practitioner" means a person who is licensed by the Board of Massage Therapy under subdivision (b) of Section 4604 and administers massage for compensation.

In some jurisdictions, if you want to call yourself a Registered Massage Therapist, you'll have to go to school and pass their exams.

Why Regulate Massage?

Professional, educated, therapeutic massage therapists prefer that laws be enacted that will regulate massage therapy. They want these laws for three reasons:

  1. To remove the stigma massage has of being merely a sensual / sexual activity.
  2. To create barriers to entry. These barriers to entry profit three groups:
    • Massage therapists: keeping casual individuals out of the massage business helps maintain therapists billing rates. Nothing wrong with that.
    • Massage schools: requiring all therapist be formally trained certainly helps the schools get more paying students.
    • Massage associations: Many of the organizations spearheading the need for laws regulating massage are the national massage associations, who, by no coincidence, would like those laws to stipulate that in order to practice therapeutic massage you must belong to a national association. Go figure, eh?
  3. And finally, on the less cynical side, massage laws will ensure that people who use massage for health and wellness will get the most competent, professional, ethical, and effective treatment possible.

Of particular note, the ruling passed in British Columbia as covered here at the Healing and Law site. Basically, the college in B.C. wanted to regulate massage, but the province turned them down because massage is inherently benign. That is, massage causes no harm so what's to regulate?

It's all so very complex and confusing and frustrating...and it won't be getting any clearer or easier any time soon.

What follows are some more links to help you come to grips with massage and the law:

Articles on Massage Laws:

Laws for Specific Massage and Bodywork Types:

State-by-State Massage Laws in Chart / Spreadsheet Format:

Certification and Accreditation Organizations:

  • National Certification Exam (NCBTMB)

    The mission of the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, a non-profit independent body, is to maintain and improve quality assurance in massage therapy and bodywork education by recognizing post secondary schools and programs through an accreditation process. Schools and programs achieve this recognition by continually demonstrating their compliance with and commitment to standards developed and monitored by the Commission. This process assures that students receive quality education and training, and therefore, that the industry receives competently trained practitioners and the public receives quality services.