When Pennsylvania announced in 2010 that it was going to pass legislation to grant licenses to massage therapists, a friend remarked, rather cynically, “They’re just looking for a way to make more money.” I couldn’t have agreed less. I had wondered why it had taken so long for the state to treat massage as something other than a recreational activity.
When I first started practicing in 2002, Pennsylvania was one of 19 states that did not offer a state license to practice massage. What that meant was anyone could hang a shingle and claim to provide massage services – having taken no classes, having no credentials, and having no requirement to conform to oversight regarding their conduct or qualifications. This hurts the consumers, the legitimate therapists, and the practice of massage in general.
My first endeavor in this profession was opening a small practice in a local health club. There were five or six personal trainers employed, and the owner was looking to provide massage services as an additional benefit to the members. I set up shop, and soon had another therapist working with me – both of us having recently graduated from a nationally recognized institution for massage study.
I was soon contacted by the local yellow pages rep trying to sell me an ad, and I asked to see the other listings to get a feel for what the massage practitioners in the area were doing. I was frankly shocked at what I found.
There were two headings, one for “Massage Therapist” and one for “Massage.” The listings under “Massage Therapist” all looked like legitimate businesses, with language and offers that were in line with credible therapeutic massage offerings. The “Massage” listing, on the other hand, contained offers that were mostly thinly veiled escort services. And that’s giving more credit than is deserved. It was sex trade, and I couldn’t believe these ads were legal, much less sanctioned by the publisher. I guess they were hurting for business.
There was no way I was going to list my service in a book that wouldn’t make the distinction between a legitimate health care service and something that was another thing altogether. It was a major red flag, and as there was no one governing what could and could not be called “massage,” I took this as standard practice.
Then, not two months later, one of the personal trainers approached the owner of the gym claiming to be a massage therapist. The best we could determine, she had taken a weekend course in the Poconos on some massage-related topic. Unfortunately, this passed as qualification in the eyes of the owner, and she was allowed to use our room and solicit massage business.
She was, at least, performing some variation of a legitimate massage, but in addition to being underqualified (by any reasonable standard), she was actively soliciting business from the clientele base the other therapist and I had begun to build! The impropriety of this was too much for me. I was all for creating a community of therapists who would work together, but it became clear to me that the ethics and business training I had received in massage school was not just to fill the national requirements, but a necessary part of the massage curriculum.
So what does it mean to have a license? It means you have attended an accredited school that devotes hours of class time to clinical massage techniques, anatomy, physiology, ethics, business, alternative therapies, and practical clinics to ensure you have a sturdy knowledge of what massage therapy is and what its scope of practice includes. It means that every two years, a practitioner has earned at least 24 hours of continuing education credits and is showing some degree of growth and maintenance in his or her practice.
There is also a national certification program with similar benchmarks and requirements – including minimum hours of massage work performed – needed for recertification every four years.
Having a license doesn’t ensure any given therapist is the greatest in the state, but it’s a far cry from having zero qualifications other than printing a business card. This goes a long way toward informing the public, protecting legitimate therapists, and promoting the legitimacy of this profession. For that, I consider it money well spent.