As of 2007, there are 38 states as well as the District of Columbia that have laws regulating massage therapy. Typically, massage therapists in these locations must receive a specific number of hours of education and pass an examination for certification. Some states require a practical exam in which you physically demonstrate your knowledge of various techniques. Some states also require continuing education in order to renew your certification. The American Massage Therapy Association offers a listing of state practice laws, education requirements, contact names, and other information for these locations. In addition to state regulations, some communities at the city and county level have unique laws pertaining to the practice of massage therapy.
If you plan to practice in one of the states that regulates massage therapy, then chances are good that you will need to take the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM) both of which are administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). These exams are multiple choice and cover topics including anatomy, physiology, pathology, a general knowledge of body systems, massage assessment and applications, and professional ethics and business practices. You will also need to have completed at least 500 hours of education in massage therapy.
If your state does not require national certification, then it likely requires you to take a state examination for licensure or certification. Another option becoming more widely accepted by many states is the licensure program offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. Due to the many varied requirement from state to state, it is important that you check with the state where you plan to practice to ensure that you obtain all the required education and pass any necessary examinations.
Not only is it important to discover this information to obtain your initial certification, it is also important to know the state regulations prior to deciding on a school for massage therapy. Because of the differing standards, it can be difficult to get your education in one state with the expectations of practicing in another state. If you took one of the National Certification Exams (NCE), then you can apply for certification in one of the states that uses these examinations for certification. However, if you want to practice in a state that does not use an NCE, then you will need to follow the guidelines for that state, which could include needing to attend a massage school in that state.
In states that do not have laws regulating massage therapy, you will need to check at the local level for any specific requirements. Many local areas can be quite stringent with very strict laws governing massage therapy. Because of the old massage parlors that were popular many years ago, some local governments not only require very high educational requirements, but they may also have uncommon regulations such as those prohibiting massage therapists from going into private homes or same-sex massages.
As you can see, the regulations vary widely from place to place, so it is important that you take the time to research the laws governing massage therapy for your specific location prior to attending massage school.