Massage Licensing vs Certification

One of the confusing concepts in the massage profession is about the difference between the words licensing and certification.


Massage therapy licensing is done at the state level. Each state (except for a few states that do not have licensing yet) has a board of massage and different laws, rules and regulations around becoming a massage therapist. State licensing is used to make sure that individuals meet a minimum standard of education and skills to become a massage therapist. State licensing creates a ‘scope of practice’ and outline what tasks and function can be performed legally by those who obtain licensing. States create Practice Acts to

The goal of occupational licensing is to protect the public from harm. It usually is not a way to enhance the profession. States adopt “practice acts” which create and empower a board to regulate the profession in the interest of public protection. Each state has different laws, rules and regulations regarding the licensing of massage therapists, making it difficult to move to other states. The practice acts and laws set requirements for the overall number of hours of education required and also specific numbers of hours in each subject that are required.

State Licensing in Mandatory except for a few states that do not yet require it. The Federation of Massage State Boards (FSMTB) oversees the testing for licensing in most states. Some states still offer their own testing system.

Certification in massage therapy

Certification is a VOLUNTARY process that is given by private certifying organizations to recognize special or advanced training in specific areas.

The credibility and integrity of the certifying agency determines whether the agency’s certification means anything to the public, and therefore, ultimately, its value. Accordingly, certification agencies may seek out recognition by an outside agency that will, in turn, attest to the certifying agency meeting a standard.

You will receive a certificate of completion from your massage therapy school, but this is not a Certification.

Many schools and teachers will use this term inappropriately calling their program a certification. The main organization in the massage therapy profession that can legally create a certification is the National Certification Board for Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). There is also a certification program offered by the Lymphology Association of North America and one by the Certification Board for Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists.

See also: Certificate vs Certification: Credentialing Terminology Matters by Whitney Lowe