Massage Therapist Certification and Licensing

Massage therapy is a licensed profession in most states. In states that do not issue licenses, massage therapists may still be subject to local regulations.

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The first step is generally completion of an approved postsecondary education program. In most cases, the program will need to be at least 500 hours. Some states set the requirement higher. (They may, however, grandfather in experienced therapists, holding them to different standards.)

States have differences in policy, but a majority will accept licensing exams through either the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The NCBTMB is very specific about required coursework for exam eligibility, but has an alternate portfolio review process for candidates who don’t meet all requirements. The organization offers the exam in Spanish as well as English, but it’s up to individual states what they’ll accept.

Some municipalities don’t require an exam if a candidate has graduated from an approved local school that meets standards set by the board. States may allow candidates the option of submitting their credentials to the FSMTB or NCBTMB and meeting their requirements or submitting credentials directly to the state board. Massage therapists who have national certification may find it easier to transfer their credentials from state to state.
States may have other licensing requirements. They may, for example, require massage therapists to have HIV/ AIDS training; liability insurance is another possible requirement.

In all cases, it’s important to become familiar with the state board and its regulations. The FSMTB site includes links to the state boards of all federation members. The American Association of Massage Therapists includes a summary of each state’s licensing requirements, including the number of hours of education required for initial licensure, and the CE requirement for license renewal.