A Strong Foundation

You know massage therapy can help people, but you are also aware that getting people to truly understand the massage therapy profession can be difficult.

Misconceptions abound, and changing people’s perspective isn’t easy. But with more and more consumers seeking out massage therapy, having a clear, easy way to define your profession is important.

Regulation is a good foundation to stand on when you’re trying to educate consumers. Having laws in place that work to protect your clients and raise the reputation of the massage profession can be invaluable to massage therapists who are working to bring the benefits of massage to more people.

Getting sensible laws passed, though, is key. To do this, massage therapists need to understand the current regulatory climate, as well as some of the things they can do to move the profession forward.

Making Sense

Although the idea of regulation always makes sense, the practical application can be more complex. Ideally, laws regarding the massage therapy profession should help bolster the profession’s reputation, providing for minimum competency standards and educating consumers on the benefits of massage therapy.

Unfortunately, the reality of regulation isn’t always so kind.

In many areas, local regulation for massage therapy is a hodgepodge of laws. Even today, there are cities that still single out massage therapy as a source of prostitution, categorizing legitimate massage practices as “adult entertainment.” Erroneous business classifications and sometimes prohibitive fees make it difficult for massage therapists to open and maintain a practice.

“In 1994, all massage therapists were required to get fingerprinted and have their mug shots taken by the local police department,” explains Felicia Brown, a licensed massage therapist in North Carolina. “We were also required to show proof that we were free of communicable diseases.”

Other times, the licensing process is so complex, massage therapists have to negotiate a seemingly endless line of red tape.

“It took me almost six weeks to obtain my license in San Francisco,” says Leslie Z. Hollingsworth, who owns the San Francisco Massage Supply Co. “I had to make five trips to city hall, one to the department of health and another to the hall of justice for paperwork, mug shots, fingerprinting and a background check.”

Bruce Carpman, owner of an Elements Therapeutic Massage in Royal Oak, Michigan, had no idea he’d be closing his business before he ever really had the opportunity to open. The day he was scheduled to open, a city inspector visited to tell him the staff members weren’t properly licensed. Although Carpman had a business license, Royal Oak categorizes massage therapy as adult entertainment and requires every massage therapist to be individually licensed, a process that includes a police background check. But getting those individual licenses proved cumbersome.

“The city commission was very specific in needing to know for certain that we were closed and out of business,” Carpman explains. “Then, and only then, did they grant a license to the massage therapists I had hired.” Waiting a month after the original closure for these issues to be cleared up, though, has made it difficult for Carpman to get his business off the ground.

For massage therapists just entering the profession, some of these difficulties may be a real obstacle. “The lack of continuity among city regulations presents one of the greatest challenges for anyone graduating from a massage therapy program in California,” says Karyn Laitis, executive director of Marinello Schools in California and Nevada. “A new graduate may have to have multiple permits to cover a 10 to 15 mile radius, and these permits can be costly.”


Moving Forward

The frustrations that have plagued massage therapists in some cities serve to bolster the overall enthusiasm for statewide regulation. Many massage therapists view statewide licensure as a sure way to gain respect from consumers and decision makers who may have the wrong idea about the massage therapy profession. “In New Jersey, it has been a long battle to get state licensure, and it just occurred this year,” explains Antima Sadhukhan, owner of Namaste Holistics. “Massage therapists continue to suffer from misperceptions of the massage profession. I believe state licensure is a step in the right direction.”

For many massage therapists who have invested both time and money into their career, taking the steps to ensure their clients understand the professional standards they are upholding is worth the effort. “I feel that national certification will raise the public perception of massage therapy as a profession instead of a vocation,” Sadhukhan says. “When different states have different requirements for education and licensure, the quality of the profession becomes diluted and diminished.”

Others agree, adding that being licensed by your state helps raise the bar in the massage profession. "I think it is wise to be both licensed by the state and nationally certified,” Brown says. “To me, being nationally certified is a great credential that separates me from the rest of the pack. It’s a clear sign to my clients and prospects that I am a qualified professional.”

Feeling is Believing

Felicia Brown, licensed massage therapist and owner of Spalutions! in Greensboro, North Carolina, has seen some changes in her state since she first started practicing massage therapy. “I had been in practice for about a year,” she remembers, “when there was a big uproar about potential licensing changes.”

Interested in improving the licensing procedures already in place, Brown attended the city council meetings, where, to her surprise, a cross-gender ban—barring massage therapists from working on clients of the opposite sex—was proposed to reduce problems with massage parlors. She couldn’t let the comparison between massage therapy and massage parlors go uncorrected, so she created a “Massage Therapy Awareness Day,” inviting the general public and city council members to enjoy a free massage.

“We had more than 100 people attend the event, as well as local media coverage,” she explains. “The event was a great learning experience. I was able to help educate the public and the city about massage therapy, and increase my customer base.” One other benefit—the cross-gender ban wasn’t approved.


It Starts with You

You know the benefits regulation can provide to the massage therapy profession. Legal recognition and standards of minimum competency give you a more meaningful way to talk about what you do, and provide consumers a way of identifying massage therapists who are committed to the profession and can best meet their needs.

Yet, knowing regulation helps move the massage profession forward doesn’t always make getting something done seem any less intimidating. So, you might be thinking that if you wait long enough, someone else will champion the cause. Following in someone’s footsteps might seem easier than taking that first leap yourself, but for change to happen, you’ve got to get involved.

When thinking about the changes you’d like to see on the state level and what you’d like your state representatives to understand about the massage therapy profession, the only question you need to ask yourself is: Why not me?

AMTA’s Grassroots Advocacy Manual can help you get started. It provides easy ways for you to get the attention of the people who can get things done. One AMTA member, Maj-Lis Nash, used the advocacy manual when trying to get a law changed in her home state of Tennessee, and here shares her experience and offers some pointers.

mtj: How did you find out about the Grassroots Advocacy Manual?

Nash: I saw the manual at the 2007 Chapter Volunteer Orientation Program. There was a law we wanted to see change, so I thought the manual might give us some help.

mtj: How did you use the advocacy manual in your efforts?

Nash: I used it to research how to contact a senator and the wording I should use when presenting the changes I wanted to see happen. There was information on how to research lobbyists, as well, which was helpful.

mtj: What were some of the challenges of using the manual?

Nash: The one drawback, which I don’t think can be avoided, is that the manual isn’t very interesting to read.

mtj: What was the best thing about using it?

Nash: Just having the manual on my desk made me more confident that I could propose a law change, write a bill and talk to a senator.

mtj: Can you give any tips that might make it easier for other members to use the manual?

Nash: I would suggest they read it through in entirety first. The material is a little dry, but you find bits and pieces along the way that you otherwise might skip over if you just begin looking for specific topics.

mtj: Why is the work of advocating for regulation important for massage therapists?

Nash: We need regulation to grow the profession of massage therapy and assist the public in understanding what we do as massage therapists. With regulation, people take a second look when you offer them information on a profession because they take it more seriously. In Tennessee, we still fight hard to educate consumers that what we do is a professional, safe and effective alternative-care option. Licensure gives us a foundation to stand on.


10 Things You Can Do To Make a Difference

  1. Know the message you need to deliver: AMTA believes that fair and consistent licensing by all states of the practice of massage therapy is the best way to meet the needs of the public and profession. AMTA seeks licensure with a minimum entry-level massage therapy education of at least 500 supervised classroom hours.
  2. Write to your state legislators: Educate them about your practice. Share with them your specialized education and discuss the many benefits massage therapy offers to the public.
  3. Schedule a meeting with your state legislators: Visit the state capital and talk to your legislators about the importance of fair and consistent massage therapy licensing laws.
  4. Attend a meeting of your AMTA chapter’s legislative coalition: Learn about the issues affecting massage therapists in your state and find out how you can help. This is also a great networking opportunity for you and your colleagues.
  5. Understand your state legislative and regulatory environment: Contact your AMTA chapter government relations chair and legislative coalition for information on the political climate in your state. Be sure you understand your state lobbying laws as well.
  6. Talk to a massage therapy instructor: Find out what issues and challenges are facing the massage therapy profession. Request that instructors address these issues with their students.
  7. Meet with city officials: City officials are as important as state legislators to the massage therapy profession. Restrictive municipal ordinances are in place across the country that create significant obstacles for massage therapists. Educate your local city officials on how massage therapists are educated and trained. Discuss the problems associated with prohibitive business permit and zoning regulations with your city officials. Let them know that state licensing is the best way to regulate the profession.
  8. Make connections with the local media: Use the media to educate your community about massage therapy. Invite the media to public AMTA government relations events and draft editorials for your local newspaper when issues relevant to the practice of massage arise in your community.
  9. Recruit a colleague: Set a good example for a friend or colleague by personally asking him or her to work with you on legislative activities. A unified and mutually supportive effort is the most effective.
  10. Keep the AMTA National Office connected: For information or assistance, please contact the AMTA Government Relations Department at 877-905-2700.

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