The place to start is with credentials. Regarding state regulation, 33 states and the District of Columbia now regulate massage therapists. If you are in one of these states you will want to find out if your prospective massage therapist is licensed, though in some states it is referred to as state certification or registration. Some local governments may also have some form of regulation.
The primary national credential is the designation Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, which is designated by the initials NCTMB. Professional certification differs from governmental regulation because it is private (i.e., non-governmental) and not compulsory. The designation NCTMB is awarded by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), which is a non-profit corporation. The Board is elected by the people who are nationally certified.
People earn the designation NCTMB by meeting certain requirements, generally involving education and experience, to take an exam. If they pass it, they become nationally certified for 4 years.
They must then complete certain requirements to re-certify every 4 years. What is especially significant for the consumer is the national certification program has been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), located in Washington, D.C. This means the national certification program has been thoroughly evaluated by an outside agency according to very rigorous standards. AMTA is proud to have been a primary contributor to the creation of the national certification program.
Another criteria is education. The minimum number of hours of training AMTA recommends looking for is 500 hours, which is the standard followed by most of the states regulating massage therapists, though the required number of hours is increasing in some places. AMTA recommends you look for a graduate of a training program that has been accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) or an agency with equivalent standards. Why? To become accredited by COMTA a training program must offer a curriculum that meets certain requirements, submit an extensive self-evaluation, undergo a site visit inspection by a team of experts, and be evaluated by an independent accreditation board. This means a training program accredited by COMTA has qualified faculty to teach, proper equipment and classrooms, required teaching subjects, and other features needed to adequately train students in massage therapy. In turn, you the consumer can have some assurance about a massage therapist’s training if your prospective massage therapist graduated from an accredited training program.
Another factor to consider is whether a prospective massage therapist belongs to a credible professional association, such as AMTA. Of course, this being AMTA’s Website, we’re partial to AMTA …. and for reasons that are also good for consumers and the public. To belong to AMTA, a massage therapist must either pass the national certification exam, graduate from a training program accredited or approved by COMTA, or have a current AMTA accepted state, provincial, or city license. AMTA has practice standards that promote the highest standards in the profession. AMTA members must also follow a strict Code of Ethics, to which AMTA members are held accountable. Violations are subject to grievance procedures. AMTA is a non-profit organization whose leaders are democratically elected by its members, so its dedication to high standards and advancing the profession remains strong.
Next, you might want to ask about your prospective massage therapist’s approach to massage therapy. While some massage therapists may only use one or two types of massage, most massage therapists employ a variety of techniques in their practice. What you want to find out is if what the massage therapist offers is compatible with what you need. You can find out more about the various types of massage by looking at the glossary of definitions. The more specific your needs, the more important the massage therapist’s approach and specific skills may be. You could also ask about how many years experience the massage therapist has. By the way, some massage therapists with many years experience may have started out in an era when there weren’t as many training programs around and many of the profession’s standards were not yet in place. You can, if you wish, take their experience into account when considering their credentials.
Finally, you may find just the “right” massage therapist for you the first time you try. However, you may also need to try several massage therapists to find the “right fit” for you, because, besides credentials, there is also a personal element to massage. Personality fit is important too, so is trust. You should feel confident and comfortable with your massage therapist. Communication is an important element in massage therapy. Don’t be afraid to discuss any apprehensions or concerns.
We have a way to make finding a massage therapist a little easier …. AMTA’s Find A Massage Therapist® national locator service! By using the this service, you can receive the names of several qualified massage therapists near you. If you or someone you know needs to find a massage therapist, AMTA’s Find A Massage Therapist® national locator service is available on this Website to assist you.
Questions to Ask When Looking for a Massage Therapist
- Are you currently licensed as a massage therapist in this state? (If you are in one of the 33 states or the District of Columbia which regulates massage therapy)
- Are you a graduate of a training program accredited or approved by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), OR
- Are you certified by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork?
- Where did you receive your massage therapy training? How many hours of training did you complete?
- Do you have advanced training in any specific massage techniques?
- Are you a member of AMTA?