We’ve heard the phrase, “as California goes, so goes the nation.” As the country’s most populous state, and one in which massage therapy is popular among consumers, many people in the massage profession have kept an eye on The Golden State as massage groups tried repeatedly—and failed—over the past decade to initiate mandatory statewide massage regulations.

A compromise of sorts was struck between major stakeholders that included voluntary certification. Additionally, a compromise was made that the massage certificate would be state recognized but not state run. The nonprofit California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC) approves certificates.

Since its first meeting in 2009, the CAMTC has certified more than 20,000 massage therapists through its voluntary process.

CAMTC Chief Executive Officer Ahmos Netanel sat down with MASSAGE Magazine‘s Editor in Chief Karen Menehan to talk about the state of certification in California.

MASSAGE Magazine: Why would a California massage therapist want to complete the voluntary certification process?

Ahmos Netanel: There are three very important benefits. First is freedom. Certification provides them with complete portability anywhere in the state, without the need to obtain a local massage permit or police permit by city or county.

Next is the issue of respect. When massage professionals need to get a local permit, it is typically through police departments, where they get investigated by vice squad officers and deal with very onerous local regulations. The certified title is designated only for CAMTC certificate holders, which distinguishes them professionally. It’s against the law to use the titles Certified Massage Therapist, Certified Massage Practitioner or the initials CMT or CMP unless the person is specifically certified by CAMTC. CAMTC protects the rights of certified massage professionals in California.

The third point is affordability. The application fee is $150 to be certified for two years. We found, when we did an analysis, the average fee that massage professionals currently pay for one jurisdiction or city in California is $482.

MM: Although certification was created to be voluntary in California, an increasing number of cities are requiring massage therapists to be certified through CAMTC in order to practice locally. Why are cities doing so? Is this a trend you think will continue to grow?

AH: What’s actually happening is the cities are seeing how popular certification is among massage professionals. Many cities are telling us that since certification became available, they are seeing a drop in applications for permits. What’s the point of keeping all the administrative apparatus there when it’s just sitting there?

I do see it as a trend. It makes perfect sense, because CAMTC has more resources not available to cities and counties, especially in terms of verifying education and professional background.

MM: Is the public paying attention to certification?

AN: The more people get certified, obviously we will find ourselves in a situation where more clients will ask massage therapists if they are certified or not. Currently, at www.camtc.org, the public can go to the “consumers” tab on our website to search for a massage therapist either by name, city or certificate number.

We are also seeing more massage employers requiring CAMTC certification. When massage professionals apply with us, they often let us know employment is pending upon certification.

MM: You survived a legislative challenge in 2010. If then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had not vetoed AB 1822, then law-enforcement members would have been added to the CAMTC board. Do you feel the council is protected from such measures now?

AN: No, we can’t rest on our laurels; there is new legislation that will be introduced in 2011. The American Massage Therapy Association is sponsoring a bill, and we still do not know if the California Police Chiefs Association will be introducing a bill; however we plan to be proactive to advance a bill that will serve to strengthen the current massage law for the benefit of the entire massage community.

MM: What else would you like to share with our readers?

AN: No one is required by state law to be certified, so the fact that 25,000 people have already applied tells a story. Don’t wait to apply. Especially those qualified massage therapists that have been working with less than 250 hours of education, CAMTC will be accepting applications only until the end of this year for the Conditional Certified Massage Practitioner (CCMP) which requires 100 to 249 hours of massage education from an approved school. That grandfathering provision will then expire and starting Jan. 1, 2012, all applicants will need a minimum of 250 hours of massage education to apply for CAMTC certification.

Obviously people realize the benefit—but we’d like to encourage people who are already certified to spread the word. Our website has the most comprehensive information for massage therapists who might be considering California certification.

There is tremendous power in numbers. In case the profession faces some kind of challenging legislation, lawmakers pay very close attention to groups that have a large constituency.