Small business owners face a number of challenges. For massage therapists in some areas, certification and continuing education are an important part of keeping their business in compliance with local and state laws. Failing to do so could result in fines or even jail time if they are convicted of performing massage without a license.
Can You Be a Massage Therapist Without a License?
Having a massage therapist license prominently displayed for clients to see isn't just about compliance, though. It helps build trust with new customers and establishes a professional environment where they can truly relax. Since certification and licensure requires extensive classroom work and hands-on experience in many areas of the country, even new massage therapists who are licensed have a great deal of experience working with clients.
Understanding Federal and State Massage Therapy License Laws
Regulations about massage therapy certification and licensure are often misunderstood.
Massage therapists aren't subject to any national regulations (except for Oklahoma) when it comes to running this type of business. There isn't a national licensing or certification program that would allow a single massage therapist to practice anywhere within the United States.
Many states have a massage therapy board that sets educational requirements, testing requirements, and issues licenses. So, it's important to understand and follow the regulations that apply to massage therapists in the state or states where the therapist practices.
Practicing Massage Therapy Without a License
Wyoming, Vermont, Minnesota, or Kansas are states that do not require a massage license.
While these are the only states where you can be a massage therapist without out license, there may be additional requirements. Before setting up a practice, it's crucial to check with local authorities to find out if there are licensing or education requirements that apply to massage therapists or their businesses. It's also important to understand any local and civil penalties that may apply if you are practicing massage therapy without a license in the area.
One way to do this is to speak with other massage therapists in the area. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is also a trusted resource for up-to-date information about massage certification requirements.
Practicing Massage Without a License in California
In California, certification is voluntary, so it could qualify as one of the states that do not require a massage license.
Issued by the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), the certification allows a therapist to practice inside the state without having to complete additional requirements imposed by the city or town.
If you don't have a massage license or certification in California and the city or town where you practice doesn't impose additional requirements, there isn't a penalty for practicing massage without a license in California.
Indiana's Title Protection Law
Those who would like to claim the title of a massage therapist in the state of Indiana must meet the requirements of "title protection."
This means that anyone can practice massage without a license in the state, but they aren't allowed to call themselves a massage therapist without first getting an Indiana state certification.
Massage Education and Exam Requirements
In all other states, massage therapists are required to get a license in the state where they'll practice. Licensure requirements differ from one state to the next, but typically include 500 to 650 hours of massage education. Failure to do so means a massage therapist could face penalties associated with practicing massage without a license
Passing the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx) is another common requirement. Here are the components of this standard test:
- 12%: Anatomy and Physiology
- 11%: Kinesiology
- 13%: Pathology, Contraindications, Areas of Caution, Special Populations
- 14%: Benefits and Physiological Effects of Technique that Manipulate Soft Tissue
- 17%: Client Assessment, Reassessment, and Treatment Planning
- 5%: Overview of Massage and bodywork Modalities/Culture/History
- 15%: Ethics, Boundaries, Laws, Regulations
- 13%: Guidelines for Professional Practice
The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards administers and oversees the test. It's available in Spanish and English at high-security testing centers throughout the country. Every five to seven years, the test is revised and updated to reflect current practices and knowledge within the industry.
Before a massage therapist can take the test, they must prove that they completed training in all areas of the MBLEx outline or that they graduated from an approved massage therapy program. There are 100 multiple choice questions on the test. Test takers have two hours to complete the exam and results are issued as pass/fail.
The State of Oklahoma Requires a License
Oklahoma now requires aspiring massage therapists to obtain a license from the Oklahoma State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering. In order to get approved for a license, you need to do at least 500 hours of class work from an approved massage therapy program, such as Integrated Massage Therapy College or Clary Sage College. You then need to pass the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), pay the $50 application fee and submit an affidavit that shows you're a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, legal permanent resident alien or qualified alien.
Penalty for Practicing Massage Without a License
Depending on the state, there may be a criminal penalty for practicing massage without a license in areas where certification or licensure is required by law.
For example, in Florida, a practicing massage therapist without a license could be sentenced to up to one year in jail. In Oklahoma, even advertising services using the word "massage" without a valid massage license is a misdemeanor. In the state of New York, practicing massage without a license is a felony.
Penalties vary widely by state. It's important to understand the exact rules about licensure as well as the penalties for failing to follow the rules.
Other Legal Requirements for Massage Therapists
States are allowed to set their own rules about licensure requirements for massage therapists and massage therapy businesses.
In some states, like Alabama, a therapist must complete 16 hours of continuing education (CEU) biennially in addition to 650 hours of board-approved massage therapy education. In Ohio, there are no CEU requirements but they require a total of 750 hours of education. In Colorado, a massage therapist can practice after completing 500 hours of education and they aren't required to participate in CEU.
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) offers a state-by-state guide to licensing requirements with links to current legislation for each state.
Insurance Requirements for Massage Therapists
In many areas of the country, small business owners must carry a certain amount of insurance.
The AMTA recommends that massage therapists carry massage liability insurance to protect their business from malpractice lawsuits. Students should also consider getting general liability insurance for school-sponsored and career-related educational activities. Massage therapist insurance is widely available, but it's important to understand local regulations as well as the needs of the business before purchasing a policy.
Small business insurance, including general liability insurance (GL) and professional liability insurance (PL) is an important part of running a small business. Those practicing hot stone massage or massage therapists who are also yoga instructors or estheticians may have special needs when it comes to insurance.