What should I know about massage therapy certification and licensing?

Certification and licensing are two very important aspects of your career as a massage therapist. Your certification and license are ways for prospective clients to know you’ve received training and are the most basic ways for you to market yourself as a professional.

There are no national standards for certification and licensing, each state has its own regulations. Most states require a license to work with clients, but even if yours does not, it is important to at least be certified as a massage therapist; should you decide to advance your career or move to a different state, being certified or licensed will be a huge benefit.

Certification is a way to ensure a therapist has met a certain standard of training and skill. Certification usually entails achieving a specific level of education and experience, as well as passing some sort of test. Specific requirements vary based on the certifying organization (usually a non-governmental group or organization).

Licensing is similar to certification in the type of educational and experiential standards required, but is supported and regulated by state or municipal governments. Exact requirements vary depending on the state or municipality.

Licenses are usually offered through your state government’s department of health. Currently, at least 43 states have licensing requirements to work as a professional massage practitioner and additional states have started the process toward recognized regulation. Contact the American Massage Therapy Association to determine the exact level of licensure required in your state and those nearby where you might also do business.

Though certification and licensing requirements vary, they usually require at least 500 hours of supervised in-class training, as well as anatomy and physiology courses, and courses in massage technique. Some massage schools are accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), and any student who successfully completes a massage training course at such a school is automatically certified. Though COMTA is recognized by the US Department of Education, this certification may not be recognized as a license in some states/provinces.

In addition to COMTA, the most prominent certifying organization is the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). NCBTMB certification requires 500 hours of massage therapy instruction, a passing score on its exam, and a commitment to the institution’s Code of Ethics. NCBTMB certification must be renewed every four years. This organization’s certification is used as part of the licensing process in 38 states (and Washington DC).

Though certification or licensing is not required in every state, it is in most and it is wise to learn about the requirements for any state(s) where you intend to work before starting a massage training program.