Credentials for the Massage Therapy Profession

By Caren Thornburgh, President, Virtual Spa

Credentials are a very important component of professionalism. Reliable and credible credentials help the public and consumers know that individuals offering massage therapy to the public are qualified and competent.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia regulate massage therapists who must meet certain standards that their state establishes. Each state has different requirements, so a massage therapist may be referred to as licensed, state certified, or registered. In most cases, only those individuals who have the state designation may perform massage services and/or use the title indicating that the person performs massage.

There is a national certification exam for massage therapists administered by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). This certification protects the consumer, the profession and employers by ensuring that individuals who obtain this credential possess core skills, abilities, knowledge and attributes to practice safely and competently. The NCBTMB is accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which is a national independent agency, operated by the National Organization for Competency Assurance that sets standards for professional certification programs. The fact that the NCBTMB program is accredited by NCCA means that it meets the highest existing standards for testing and gives it great credibility.

Education and Training
A graduation certificate or diploma from a training program is another form of credential. The extent and quality of the training someone completes to earn their certificate or diploma is important. AMTA recommends a minimum of 500 hours of in-class training in subjects including a specified number of hours in anatomy and physiology, the theory and practice of massage therapy and elective subjects. One way of knowing whether a training program provides a nationally recognized standard level of education is to see if it is accredited by a credible agency, i.e. one that follows the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Education, requires an extensive evaluation report, a site inspection by a team of experts and an evaluation by an independent board or commission. The AMTA established the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation (COMTA), an independent accreditation agency, in order to provide a system for assuring that training programs meet such standards. Training programs that are accredited by COMTA offer a minimum of 500 in-class hours of training in required subjects and have the faculty, staff, equipment, classrooms, and other attributes needed to provide adequate training in massage therapy.

Membership in a Professional Association
Membership in a credible professional association that requires meeting meaningful standards in order to belong to the association serves as a credential because it is an indication of professional preparation and accountability. AMTA fits this description because to belong to AMTA an individual must either pass the national certification exam, graduate from a training program accredited or approved by COMTA, or have a current AMTA accepted state, provincial or city license. To keep AMTA membership, an individual must also complete a certain number of hours of continuing education. There are also a number of credible associations that represent individuals who practice a specific technique. Examples include the American Oriental Bodywork Therapy Association, American Polarity Therapy Association, the Rolf Institute and the Trager Institute.