Why We Need Massage Therapy Regulation & Licensing

The public has a right to expect that a massage therapist has the qualifications needed to practice effectively and safely.  

Legal recognition of the practice of massage therapy and clearly-stated requirements to practice are essential to promote the profession and protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

Legal recognition of massage therapy in the form of state licensing creates standards of minimum competency for entry level practitioners and determines who can represent themselves to the public as state licensed massage therapists. Competency is measured and enforced through formal education, training and examination requirements.  

Scope of practice for massage therapists is a legal definition identifying the procedures, actions and processes unique to the practice of massage therapy. A scope of practice helps guide healthcare practitioners seeking to refer patients to a massage therapist and making clear to the public what a massage therapist is legally able to do in their practice.

Legal recognition of massage therapy through licensure enables a state or jurisdiction to discipline a massage therapist when warranted and to create standards of care. States cannot regulate a profession that is not formally recognized in statute. Professional licensing laws also enhance public safety by enforcing disciplinary actions against non-compliant practitioners.  Statewide licensing is an instrument for public protection to ensure a person cannot claim to be a massage therapist without demonstrated education training and knowledge.

Licensing is the most rigorous form of professional regulation, making it a violation of state law for anyone to practice as a massage therapist unless he or she has obtained a license.

Legal recognition of massage therapy through licensure protects the public through establishing a consistent standard of practice which is enforceable by a professional code of ethics. Licensing also establishes a formal grievance process for consumers that helps prevent unethical and/or non-compliant massage therapists from continuing to practice.

Under U.S. law, authority rests with states to regulate professions that have an impact on the health, safety and welfare of the public rather than through national legislation.

45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands each regulate the massage therapy profession. Depending on the state, this could be in the form of state registration, state certification or state licensure. Cities, counties or other local governments also may regulate the practice of massage, but they must do so within any state regulation.

Related: States with Massage Practice Laws

AMTA recognizes that state government regulation of massage therapy is the best avenue to meet the needs of the public and the massage therapy profession. Leaving massage therapy regulation decisions to local government results in inconsistent regulation or none at all, increasing the administrative and financial burdens on massage therapists. AMTA believes that state licensure is the most effective means for the states to regulate our profession.

The regulation of massage therapy requires that only a person who has met the specific requirements for that state can obtain a license, engage in the practice of massage therapy and advertise to the public that they are practicing massage therapy. Regulation also applies criminal penalties for people who practice without a valid massage therapy license, establishing a minimum level of competency for entry level practitioners necessary to safely and effectively practice. 

What Are the Benefits of Professional Licensing?

AMTA believes that the following are some specific benefits of professional licensing:

  • Protection of the public through the establishment of high standards for entry into the profession.

  • Protection of the public through the regulation of practice and recourse to effective disciplinary action.

  • Fair and consistent regulation applying to the entire state, regardless of location within the state.

  • The right of massage therapists to define their practice, through proposed legislation and regulation under an authoritative or advisory board of massage therapy.

These are a few reasons AMTA is proactively pursuing state licensing in all 50 states. These regulations are designed to protect the general public by demanding accountability from the profession and seek to unify the industry by providing a common governing structure, minimum competency for entry level practitioners, culture and language. Consistent and fair licensing of the profession can also facilitate portability of practice for massage therapists to move their practices to other states.

The Nonprofit Advantage

AMTA brings The Nonprofit Advantage® to the massage profession as we work to make sure therapists are operating at the highest standard. Join the association that promotes professionism and recognition for massage therapy.