Public Policy and Licensing
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Leslie Young
800-458-2267 ext. 648,
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Legislative Resources
(For further information on model legislation, contact Jean Robinson, 800-458-2267 ext. 645.)

Eight Core Principles of Massage and Bodywork Legislation
In deciding whether to hear a case, the United States Supreme Court considers whether the issue at question has been sufficiently "ripened" by broad exploration and adjudication in lower courts.

In considering whether it is timely for a state to adopt massage therapy licensing, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) is guided centrally by the sentiment and freedom to practice enjoyed by its members in that state. In some states currently without massage licensing there remains a benign environment - no pattern of harm to the public requiring protection and broad freedom for therapists to practice without burdensome, expensive regulation.

From time to time, certain states arrive at a point where the case for massage licensing has "ripened." Sometimes a clear majority of massage therapists decide that they want greater professional recognition and believe that being licensed will confer that. More often, a pattern emerges of inconsistent, especially burdensome local regulation of massage, often driven by well-meaning but misguided local law enforcement authorities whose underlying premise is that massage therapy is a cover for unsavory activities. At such a point, ABMP member sentiment in the state often shifts to favor state licensing.

If "ripeness" has been reached and ABMP begins working with its members to achieve state licensing, then we bring to bear our legislative activity and bill-drafting experiences in many states over the past decade. That experience has led to the development of policy positions on eight core elements in massage and bodywork regulation.

1) Pre-emption of local licensing rules
2) Educational requirements
3) Institutional education approval process
4) Grandfathering
5) Endorsement
6) Modality exclusions/ exemptions
7) Board composition/ powers
8) Examination/ temporary licensure
Pre-emption means that a state regulation governing massage and bodywork is indeed an all-encompassing statewide ordinance. Any state regulation that allows existing local massage licensing or registration ordinances to remain in effect adds burden without meaningful added public protection. In such a circumstance, a state law becomes just another layer of requirements and expense. Thoughtful, balanced state licensing makes local licensing or registration superfluous.

Licensure is usually implemented in a profession to ensure a minimum standard of training in a field in order to protect consumers. The minimum standard is exactly that - a training floor that all practitioners should possess, an accepted common denominator - not necessarily an amount of training sufficient for particularly sophisticated massage practices. The widely-accepted minimum education standard in the massage profession (as recognized by ABMP, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB)) is 500 clock hours of training. Thirty states (of the 43 plus the District of Columbia) have adopted a 500 hour minimum entry-level education standard. There has been no evidence that massage therapists are better qualified or that massage therapy is provided more safely to the consumers in the fifteen states that require a higher entry-level standard. ABMP does not believe that justification has been made for a minimum required training standard greater than 500 hours, and does not support legislation with a minimum exceeding that number.

Several recent legislative proposals have vested instructional curriculum approval with a board or advisory committee charged with overseeing the massage profession. Such boards, however well qualified to perform other duties, typically lack experience in assessing educational institution policies and curricula. Such duties also can be burdensome. North Carolina, for example, has had to devote such substantial resources to school approvals that they have lacked time and focus to pursue basic licensing infractions. We believe instead that massage training institution approval responsibility should be vested with the state board or department of post-secondary education, which has experience evaluating diverse types of educational institutions.

Prior to a state adopting massage licensing requirements, a number of massage therapists, with diverse amounts and types of formal massage education, have been practicing and contributing to community well-being. The adoption of licensing should not create a class of individuals who will have their livelihood taken from them. Rather, grandfathering provisions should be included in legislation that credits (under a reasonable formula) already practicing massage professionals for their experience as well as for their formal massage education. Provisional licensure for a limited, prescribed period of time until each already practicing massage therapist meets the new education standard is not grandfathering; ABMP does not support this "temporary hall pass" alternative because it does not give any permanent weight to prior practice experience.

The concept of endorsement or portability allows a person moving from another state, in which they already are licensed to practice massage, to practice in their new state in an expeditious manner. To benefit as many professionals as possible, endorsement should not be reserved only between states with identical qualifications. ABMP supports recognition of similar training and experience requirements, along with recognition of passage of the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx), National Certification Examination for the Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) or alternative standardized tests approved by a state's massage board, as tools for obtaining licensure in these circumstances. ABMP feels that appropriate consideration for licensure should be given to practitioners who have successfully established their fitness for licensure in another state.

Most state massage and bodywork regulations define and govern the practice of massage therapy. However, there are many related modalities practiced that may or may not fall under the statutory description of massage. During the development of legislation, practitioners in these related fields need to have a voice as to whether or not their work should be covered by massage therapy statutes. Wherever practitioners in these fields make a persuasive consensus case for exemption, ABMP will support their position.

Any governing board overseeing the massage and bodywork profession should exclude from its service an undue number of representatives from training institutions that serve the field. The potential for self-serving decisions is simply too great if individuals with massage school connections dominate a board. It is acceptable and can be helpful for school owners, directors, officers or other representatives to serve in an advisory capacity to a state massage board. Regardless of massage board member backgrounds, service terms should not exceed 3 years, with a maximum of two consecutive terms for any individual.

Assessment of student mastery of academic material and touch skills is important. Before approving a massage training program, state education departments should make sure that programs build in an adequate assessment component. Some states have elected also to require licensure applicants to take and pass an additional common examination. A few states have developed their own examinations, while others have sought independent exams they could adopt. ABMP feels that any licensing exam specified be an instrument truly designed to assess readiness to enter the massage profession. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) has developed the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), which was designed as a licensing examination. ABMP feels that a licensing law that requires an examination should rely on the MBLEx, which is owned by the member boards governing the profession.

For samples of existing massage therapy regulations that honor these core principles, please contact Jean Robinson at 800-458-2267, extension 645, or by e-mail at

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