The American Massage Therapy Association®: Advancing the Massage Therapy Profession for 60+ Years
On August 16, 1943, the postgraduate class of the College of Swedish Massage in Chicago met in an open forum and decided to form a new professional association. At that meeting, the purpose of the new association was created as a Pledge, which was signed by 29 Charter Members. The basis of the Pledge was a commitment to service, ethical practice and the massage therapy profession. Dues of 50 cents were collected.
By 1946, the American Association of Masseurs and Masseuses (AAMM) had grown to 68 members, and a more formal organization was developed. A constitution and bylaws were adopted at the first AAMM National Convention held in August 1946 in Kansas City, Missouri. The document stated, “The purpose of this association is to foster the spirit of cooperation, the exchange of ideas and techniques among its members, and to advance the science of massage so as to merit the respect and confidence of all people, and benefit mankind.”
About this time association membership adopted an emblem consisting of the initials AAMM separated by a cross and enclosed in a circle. In 1949, this emblem was made available to members on a decal, designed to be placed in a window to identify professional massage therapists. There was also a newsletter, The Masseur, published from 1945 to 1962, which contained information about association activities and educational articles.
Association Evolves as Profession Advances
In 1958, the name of the association was changed to the American Massage & Therapy Association (AM&TA). The change was seen as desirable to give a new and more professional image to the association. To symbolize the change, a new emblem was designed which depicts hands upholding the torch of wisdom and understanding, the flame of service, the shield of strength and integrity, and white signifying the purity of our hearts, our ideals and our aims. The basic elements of the emblem make up our trademarked logo today.
The AM&TA was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1960. A Code of Ethics was developed in 1960, and the Massage Journal replaced The Masseur as the official AM&TA publication in 1962. In the late 1960s, requirements for approval of massage training schools were strengthened.
The name of the association was changed again in 1983 to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Removal of the “&” supported the practice of massage therapy as a legitimate professional field unto itself, separate from physical therapy and focused on the art and science of health and healing through human touch.
After 24 years as the Massage Journal, the official publication of AMTA changed to the Massage Therapy Journal®(MTJ) in 1986. MTJ was to be primarily devoted to broad professional issues such as the efficacy of massage, techniques and business management. In spring 2006, the name officially changed to mtj® and a new, award-winning design was launched. The member newsletter, Hands On®, began in 1985 to concentrate on information about the association, its members, chapters and member schools. In an effort to be more ecologically conscious in its communications, by 2009, the association provided several e-newsletters for members and those interested in massage – E-Source® for student members E-Touch® for consumers and School Advantage™ for AMTA school members. In spring 2010, Hands On became an electronic newsletter, emailed monthly to all members.
AMTA also has expanded its services to members to help them find jobs and provide discounts on products they use in their practice. AMTA’s online Job Bank became a significant resource for massage therapists seeking employment. Since its revised version was launched in September 2006, everyone from spas to contracting chair massage companies has used the Job Bank to recruit massage therapists. A free benefit for members, the Job Bank also provides massage therapists with an online opportunity to post their resumes and seek positions. From its re-launch in 2006, thousands of job openings and resumes have been posted.
The level of administrative support for the association has matured as well. An office in Chicago was opened in 1989 and the first AMTA Executive Director was hired in October 1990. That same year, a networked computer system was installed to improve member services, communications and record keeping. The AMTA National Office was relocated to Evanston, IL in 1992 and to its current quarters in 2004. AMTA’s professional staff supports member services and the volunteer leadership, while carrying out direction determined by the Board of Directors.
AMTA member categories have changed through the years to reflect the evolution of the profession. In 1946, the only two membership categories were Active and Honorary. An Associate Member category was started in 1961, Student Membership in 1966, Auxiliary Membership in 1973, and an International Membership category in 1987. In the late 1970s, AMTA’s qualifications for Massage Therapist and Registered Massage Therapist were upgraded. In 1996, the entire membership classification system was reorganized and categories redefined. Individuals who did not qualify for Professional membership could join as Associate members, while they worked to upgrade their qualifications to the Professional level within three years. AMTA added the School Member category in 1998.
The association further refined its membership, phasing out the Associate membership category in 2008 and providing a process for Student Members to work toward Professional Member status after graduation.
AMTA’s growth in membership was profound from the ‘80s into the 21st century. In 1980, AMTA had only 1,400 members, but grew to 8,500 by 1990. Today, AMTA has approximately 57,000 members.
Like its membership, the association’s annual national convention grew in size and importance. From the handful of people who formed the association at its first convention in 1943, attendance grew to an all-time high in 2009 of 1,800, with more than 90 exhibitors and 25 continuing education presenters.
In 2008, a special Student Day was added to the national convention, giving massage school students opportunities to learn more about “kick-starting” their practices. In its second year, the number of participants in Student Day more than doubled.
Serving its School members, in the late nineties, AMTA began a series of massage school and teachers conferences, as a means for networking and learning. In January 2009, the association released its annual research on the state of the profession at the schools conference and in February 2010, AMTA reorganized the event to be a Schools Summit. The Summit attracted a record number of attendees and focused on how massage schools are affected by the economy and changes in the profession.
A Culture of Serving
Reflecting its mission, AMTA and its members have a history of giving back to the community. After California earthquakes in 1994, the association began organizing means for its members to offer massage to responders after disasters. This became formalized as the Massage Emergency Response Team® (MERT®), implemented through AMTA chapters. MERT responders volunteered to provide massage to workers following floods, storms and other natural disasters.
After the devastating events of September 11, 2001 AMTA members showed their commitment to service and well-being through MERT. Hundreds of AMTA members volunteered through MERT to provide massage to responders at the sites in New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.
AMTA and its chapters coordinated efforts with the American Red Cross, the Pentagon and the FBI, bringing massage relief for months to those who worked first to save survivors and then to those responsible for cleanup.
After this experience, the association shifted MERT coordination directly to its chapters, to ensure quick, locally-oriented responses to disasters.
The destructive effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 touched many lives, including AMTA members. After the storms, AMTA provided a Practitioner Member Rebuilding Kit to help members whose practices were destroyed by the storms. Members in the affected areas were offered membership dues relief or sent the Rebuilding Kit of products donated by leading companies, to help them get started again. The association also opened its online Career Center to all, offering free listings for open massage therapist jobs throughout the country and for members to post their resumes.
At the AMTA national convention that year, members donated more than $3,000 as an initial contribution through the AMTA-New Mexico Chapter toward a national plan to offset AMTA membership dues and chapter fees for those in the affected areas. Chapter initiatives resulted in donations of $50,000, which was matched by the AMTA national board of directors.
Many members volunteered to help relief workers cope with the physical and emotional stress of their efforts. AMTA members provided massage for Red Cross volunteers, initial responders and to many evacuees.
AMTA’s President announced in an email to all members, “All of us in AMTA can pull together to help our members who lost everything start practicing again. This is what AMTA is really about – a community of caring and compassionate massage therapy professionals.”
As a result of its years of experience in helping members give back to the community, the association established Volunteer Connections. Starting with an online volunteer database in 2004, AMTA created a formalized program in 2008 to organize this spirit of giving in productive ways.
In 2008 and 2009, nearly 1,100 AMTA members volunteered for 118 service activities. The association has collaborated with major non-profit charities providing the gift of massage, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure, American Heart Association, Special Olympics, American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Make-a-Wish Foundation.
In 2009, AMTA’s president publicly stated in an announcement about involvement in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk events, “This was a signature expression of AMTA’s caring culture. AMTA stands for highest quality massage therapy. High quality and a culture of caring is what makes AMTA what it is and our members who they are as healing professionals.”
Massage Advocacy Laws, Regulation & Licensing
From 1949 to 1950, the association officially began its efforts to help legitimize massage therapy through state laws. AMTA volunteer leadership formulated the Massage Registration Act as a model law for states to register legitimate massage therapists. Those efforts were strengthened with the establishment of the Legislation Fund in 1972 and continue today under the AMTA Law & Legislative Assistance Program (LLAP). In 1991, AMTA was a founding member of the Federation of Therapeutic Massage, Bodywork and Somatic Practice Organizations, to support cooperation between not-for-profit organizations representing these practices.
The number of states that regulate massage took major leaps forward in the 1980s and 90s. Up to 1980, only 9 states passed laws regulating the profession. Between 1980 and 1989, 3 more states voted to regulate massage therapy. From 1990 through 1999, another 16 states and Washington, D.C. took the step. And, since 2000, Mississippi, Illinois, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Montana have passed regulatory legislation. California approved a voluntary state certification process in 2008. As of spring 2010, the number of states that regulate the profession is 43, plus Washington, D.C.
AMTA’s Board of Directors voted in 2001 to more clearly define the association’s support for regulation of massage by stating that regulation of the practice of massage therapy, through state licensure, is the most desirable means of meeting the needs of the public and the profession. In 2006, AMTA centralized its government relations program and focused it to advocate fair and consistent licensure in all U.S. states. The goal of the government relations program is to eventually achieve portability of practice between states.
An important element in achieving portability of massage therapy practice is consistency in licensing. To that end, in January 2009, AMTA announced its view that the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx), developed by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), is the best choice for a licensing exam that can lead to portability of massage practice. The association also restated its long-held view that national certification is a valuable cornerstone of the massage therapy profession.
During the 1980s, the groundwork also was laid to move both the field of massage therapy and AMTA into a period of major professional development. This was reflected in the adoption of a revised mission statement in 1988. In 2004, the mission statement was again updated to reflect the focus of the association – The mission of the American Massage Therapy Association is to serve AMTA members while advancing the art, science and practice of massage therapy.
From the beginning, active AMTA members had to meet certain criteria for admittance to the association. In the late 1970s, AMTA’s qualifications for Massage Therapist and Registered Massage Therapist membership were toughened. Following up on its desire to distinguish areas of professionalism, sports massage certification was established in 1985. However, as the profession evolved and became more accepted, the association decided the sports massage team designation was no longer fulfilling its original intent. It was discontinued by the end of the 90s.
By the turn of the century, AMTA began stating its view that there are cornerstones of any profession that need to be clearly expressed – accreditation, licensure, certification and research. The association made a commitment to ensure these cornerstones were established for the massage therapy profession. One area the association felt was most important to develop was in the area of quality research confirming the efficacy of massage therapy. AMTA’s Board of Directors views massage research as vital to the future of massage practice and a necessary element in advancing the inclusion of massage therapy in health care. To that end, AMTA expanded its support for the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF), to promote massage research and research literacy among massage therapists.
In 2009, AMTA provided more than $500,000 to support research and the work of the MTF and more than $4 million from 2000 through 2009.
In 2006, AMTA’s Board of Directors made a commitment to support the assembly of a body of knowledge for the profession. The association began a process to convene massage therapy stakeholders who regularly contribute to the profession’s body of knowledge through their use of commonly-recognized research techniques to participate in a body of knowledge study. The board determined that “for the profession to advance in recognition, acceptance, professional knowledge and practice, a more complete body of knowledge needs to be stated in clear and meaningful ways. We believe the profession can best accomplish that through this study.”
AMTA convened the first meetings of stakeholders and the project evolved into the independent Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) Initiative. The Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge Task Force sought input from throughout the profession and scheduled release of the first phase of the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge in May 2010. The MTBOK will provide all stakeholders with information they can use to inform what they do in massage therapy. The association continues its support for the evolution of the MTBOK process.
AMTA continues to collaborate with key organizations in the massage therapy industry to define the best methods for building professional competency. This collaboration is meant to bring a clearer understanding for everyone of what massage therapists need to know to be competent and successful.
Education & Standards
AMTA has always emphasized setting standards of education for massage therapy practitioners. From the beginning of the association, Active (now Professional Active) members had to meet certain criteria for admittance into the association.
As membership skyrocketed and public acceptance of massage grew in the 1990s, the association made great strides forward in developing structures to reflect its values of competency in massage education and practice, as well as integrity and ethics. AMTA established the National Certification Program for Massage Therapists (now independently incorporated as the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork), the AMTA Commission on Massage Training Accreditation & Approval (now the independently-incorporated Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation), and the AMTA Foundation (now the independently-incorporated Massage Therapy Foundation), a Standards of Practice document, the Law & Legislation Assistance Program (LLAP) and the AMTA Government Relations Program.
The association’s board of directors also began a process of regular review of its core documents, including statements of its core values, to ensure they are kept current. This led to a revised AMTA Code of Ethics in spring 2010.
Continuing education (CE) has always been a part of what AMTA provides to its members and to the profession, at its national convention, chapter meetings and at special conferences. AMTA is the only national massage therapy membership organization that requires all practitioner (Professional) members to take continuing education. The association views CE as a vital part of professionalism.
In-person, supervised training has remained important to the association for initial massage training and for necessary hands-on continuing education at the AMTA national convention and chapter meetings. Recognizing the need for easier access and a variety of approaches for CE, in 2006, the association expanded its CE opportunities to online courses. Its Center for Continuing Education began offering courses based on articles in mtj, with great success. Within three years, courses had been accessed 15,400 times.
Annual Overviews of State of the Massage Profession Released
In January 2006, AMTA released its first summary overview of the massage therapy industry, based on research from a wide variety of sources. In 2007, the association expanded its research and released first to its school members and then to the profession a detailed report on the state of the massage therapy industry. Since then, this annual overview has become a major resource for massage therapists, massage schools and the business world to gauge the economic health and professional development of the massage therapy profession.
As the economic situation in the U.S. struggled in 2007-2009, AMTA’s industry report provided a snapshot of its impact on massage therapists, massage schools and producers of massage therapy products. It also has become a resource for journalists and business writers seeking data on the state of the profession.
Taking Positions Based on Research
In 2004, AMTA finalized a process to publicly express the views of the association on aspects of massage therapy through official statements. The process empowers AMTA members to research and propose position statements that would express the position of AMTA on these matters. Proposals are reviewed for accuracy and clarity, and presented for debate by the AMTA House of Delegates (HOD). If a position statement is approved by the HOD, it immediately becomes the official view of the association.
The HOD approved the first AMTA position statement in 2006, “It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association that massage therapy can be effective for stress relief.” By the close of the decade a total of six position statements had been approved by the association.
Significant governance changes have taken place in response to AMTA’s dynamic growth and changing times. A Special Committee’s design for internal reorganization was approved in 1989, instituted in the early ‘90s, and further developed by a Governance Special Committee. A Strategic Plan was first established in 1992 to guide AMTA’s direction, and the volunteer leadership has updated it frequently to keep plans current with rapidly-changing issues in the profession. In the mid-90s AMTA began surveying members regularly about their member benefits, their professional needs and what they expect from the association.
In 1992 AMTA Bylaws were reformed and streamlined, and in 1996 a Policy Manual was developed. In 2006/07 Bylaws were reviewed and streamlined again to ensure efficient operations. Election of national officers by mail ballot was instituted in 1996, allowing for greater member participation in choosing leaders. And, a Chapter Relations Program was established in 1992 to support chapter officers, by providing them with information, training and other services. Since 2002, AMTA has held an annual Chapter Volunteer Orientation Program (CVOP) near the National Office to train chapter leaders on their volunteer responsibilities. A Volunteer Development Program was begun in 2005 to match the skills and time commitments of potential volunteers with work AMTA needs at the national and chapter levels.
Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of both national and chapter volunteers took a leap forward in 2006 as job descriptions for volunteer positions began to be developed and approved by the national board. The association also began requiring volunteers to sign a code of conduct agreement to protect the volunteers and the association from legal risks, and to affirm that volunteers carry out their duties and responsibilities with care, loyalty and obedience.
By 2009, AMTA conducted its election of its national board of directors via electronic vote, fostering member participation and making more information about candidates available to members.
Image and Public Awareness of Massage
AMTA communications and public relations efforts accelerated with the growth of the association and are one of the reasons for greater public understanding and acceptance of massage. Since 1996, PR and media relations efforts have continually increased, that resulted in a tripling of the annual newspaper and magazine coverage of massage in just 6 years.
Beginning in 1997, AMTA began promoting National Massage Therapy Awareness Week® as a means to better inform the news media and the public about the efficacy of massage and the professionalism of AMTA massage therapists. The association built National Massage Therapy Awareness Week (NMTAW) into the most effective campaign to educate the public about massage therapy. In 2009, the association’s efforts presented information on massage to an audience of more than 100 million. In 2000, the Home Depot Building Better Health program became the first corporate supporter of NMTAW and promoted massage for its employees through the week for several years.
In 1997, AMTA also commissioned the first annual consumer survey on attitudes and usage of massage therapy. The results of the survey are released annually and have become the most consistent gauge of massage usage and consumer attitudes on massage.
In 2005, AMTA began occasional advertising on major internet search engines Google.com and Yahoo.com. The following year, the board of directors voted to expand advertising to consumers through major national magazine ads and websites and search engines. AMTA now has ongoing advertising on Google.com. The advertising program immediately boosted users of AMTA’s Find a Massage Therapist® national locator service by 73 percent and members began to hear from new clients who had seen AMTA’s ads. In 2009, there were more than 730,000 searches for AMTA members through the locator service.
Communications took on a dramatically new dimension in 1997 with the launch of AMTA’s Web site. The award-winning Web site now offers special sections for members, including the opportunity to renew membership and order AMTA products. It also has become a significant source of information about massage for the public and for the news media, attracting an average of 80,000 unique visitors per month in 2009. Following trends in communications and information, AMTA launched a multi-faceted social networking program for members and consumers in 2009. The program uses Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube to bring association updates and news to its members and others in the profession. These venues also provide information to the public, opportunities for questions and dialog with consumers.
Expanding Relations with Healthcare Communities
As interest in complementary and alternative therapies exploded in the 1990s, AMTA saw the need to be an ever more important voice to protect the interests of massage therapists and to ensure protection of the public.
AMTA became an influential force advocating for and representing the massage therapy profession. Governmental bodies, leaders in healthcare and national and local news media increasingly turned to AMTA as the resource on massage and as the organization that represents the profession. The association developed ongoing contacts with and often fruitful relationships with medical associations (including the American Medical Association), and many governmental agencies. In the 90s, AMTA provided testimony to national presidential and congressional bodies that gathered information on the efficacy of massage and the standards for the profession.
In the first decade of the 21st century, AMTA made great strides in building relationships with the healthcare community, and specifically with government and professional organizations within health care. It sought to improve opportunities for massage therapists who choose to work in health care and positively impact public health and policy through information about the benefits of massage therapy.
The association began providing regular information to government agencies and healthcare associations about the benefits of massage, supported by a growing body of research. In 2001, AMTA began supporting the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), whose mission is to direct the national healthcare agenda towards a health-orientated, integrated system, ensuring all people access to safe and regulated conventional, complementary, and alternative healthcare professionals. The association then became a member of the Academic Consortium of Complementary and Alternative (ACCAHC), created out of IHPC to provide a network of national CAM educational organizations and agencies to promote mutual understanding, collaborative activities and interdisciplinary healthcare education.
In 2002 AMTA contributed a report on massage to the White House Commission on CAM Policy. It reached out to the American Medical Association (AMA) to work toward future clarity on use of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Codes for massage therapy and partnered with representatives of the American Hospital Association to research the use of massage therapy in hospitals. AMTA now has a representative to the AMA on its CPT Health Care Professional’s Advisory Committee. This gives the association representation on the committee to review CPT codes associated with massage therapy. It also ensures AMTA is consulted when codes are edited or introduced that relate to massage therapy. Ongoing relationships with national organizations like the National Institutes of Health have allowed AMTA to reach important audiences who impact health care.
All these efforts have played an important role in establishing greater visibility, participation and influence for massage therapy in the nation’s health care.
Future Directions: Improving Today for Tomorrow
AMTA is committed to strengthening the stature of massage and of the massage therapy profession. Based on its bylaws and its legal structure as a non-profit association, AMTA is continuing its leadership and promotion of the profession.
AMTA seeks to create demand for massage therapy so it is viewed as a routine part of society’s health and well-being. AMTA wants members to be viewed as synonymous with high quality massage, and for consumers to prefer AMTA members for their massage. It works to make the name of AMTA and what it stands for well-known and well-respected among massage therapists. AMTA is committed to providing leading-edge products, programs and services to its members and continuing to be the leader of the profession.
AMTA is guided by its mission and directed by its national board of directors, which develops an annual Strategic Plan based on input from members and knowledge-based decision-making. The future of AMTA and the massage therapy profession promises to be a time of further creativity, growth and achievement.