Online Extras
Online Exclusives Home

California Regulation Moves Forward

To provide consistent certification and regulation throughout California, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is sponsoring legislation that would establish an organization to govern massage therapy statewide.

No state regulations for massage therapy exist in California. Instead, the profession is controlled by numerous county and city laws, while in some places there are no rules at all. Although this environment has allowed healing modalities to develop and flourish, it also causes problems for the state’s more than 30,000 massage therapists, mostly because whenever they travel outside their local area—sometimes only a few miles—they find themselves unable to practice without obtaining additional permits for the new location.

 “With all of the diverse requirements out there, it can be very difficult and expensive for massage therapists to gain the necessary permits,” says Beverly May, co-chair of government relations for the AMTA-California chapter. “We’re looking for one-stop shopping—one piece of paper that allows you to practice anywhere in California without getting additional permits.”

To accomplish this, Sen. Jenny Orpeza (D-Long Beach) authored California Senate Bill 731, which would establish a nonprofit group, called the Massage Therapy Organization (MTO), to regulate the profession and provide uniform certification requirements. In June the Senate approved the bill 29–4, but it must also pass the Assembly and be signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before it can become law. If SB 731 passes those hurdles, the MTO would take control July 1, 2008.

But even if state regulation becomes reality, certification will be voluntary. Because the legislation is a title act, which simply designates who can use certain professional titles, such as “massage therapist,” those who do not become certified will remain subject to local ordinances. The MTO will initially offer a two-tiered certification: Those with 250 hours of training from an approved school will be designated “massage practitioners”; those with 500 hours will be “massage therapists.”

“The tiered system was used to gain more support from within the profession,” says May. “It’s there to include people already practicing, who only have 250 hours, and it’s also for schools that didn’t want to update the number of credit hours in their programs.”

However, the lower tier will be phased out within five years, at which point no new practitioner certificates will be issued. Those practitioners certified before 2013 will be able to retain their title, provided they renew their certification and meet other eligibility requirements.

Though the AMTA has worked to appease the bill’s opponents, a few still remain. The California Physical Therapy Association claims the legislation is confusing and inconsistent because it assumes all massage is for health care and doesn’t account for services rendered for relaxation. Some massage therapists are also against the bill. Will Green, president of the International Massage Association, for example, argues state regulation would create a “monopoly” for massage schools and discriminate against therapists unable to meet certain licensure requirements.

“We know many talented and gifted practitioners … prevented from practicing because they do not conform to the definition and requirements of massage therapy licensure,” says Green.

It’s estimated that if the bill is approved by the Assembly, it could be on the governor’s desk by October.

—Chris Towery, MASSAGE Magazine Associate Editor