Another Kind of Business, Not Massage

Well, California can once again be accused of being different and difficult. It’s a land of fruits and nuts, yurts and yogurt, movie stars and serial killers. And one of the oddest hybrid massage licensing laws ever.

First, after a long-fought battle mostly amongst ourselves, the California licensing law isn’t a license, it’s a voluntary certification designation. And required education hours are set quite low, at 250 and 500, in deference to our economy and our quaint three-states-in-one political climate.

In Southern California where I practice many cities require close to 1,000 hours for licensing, and some require the higher hours plus national examinations. Further still, some require all that and add on their own exam and a long, expensive application process. Once obtained, the licenses have all kinds of interesting practice restrictions from “no glutes” (try skipping those on people with low back pain) to specifying the wattage of room lighting (Sixty watts can feel like a night baseball game to someone with a migraine.)

As you may suspect, the Southern California cities are trying to regulate another kind of business, not massage, that involves touching clients.

Up north in the other California, education minimums are less arduous, and in some cases not required. Our northern folks, much more civilized that they are, feel quite happy with 100 hours or two for good if basic rub. The great in-between, the valley where the fruits and nuts are grown alongside with the politicians, is a hop-scotch of regulations.

When I went to the Long Beach police station get a license in 1996, I had to hold up a chalkboard sign in front of me with my name and application number while a policeman took my pictures, front and side. I love the idea that we are finally getting away from city-by-city funhouse of regulations.Yip Yip Hooray.

But at the same time I must say that the California certification agency, which began taking applications in August, is a little too easy on education. Figure a good massage therapist needs to know more than Swedish and basic contraindications. And long haul in mind, shouldn’t it take a few months of teachers yelling in your ear to learn proper body mechanics? (OK. It did me. My mechanics are not perfect, but I’ve been massaging for almost 15 years, thanks to a deafening stream of Portuguese exclamations.)

Increasing hours, of course, would put a crimp in the big spas and resorts, who try to juggle big overheads by keeping labor costs low. Keeping required hours down helps ensure a good labor pool of recent graduates for the big players. Unfortunately, requiring less education also makes it easier for those in another kind of business, not massage, to operate.

I would like to think of massage as more of a therapeutic profession-in-the-making, heading say, for the education level of a vocational nurse as opposed to a certified nursing assistant. I say that, of course, knowing I have the hours already and such a requirement would force a lot of experienced therapists who haven’t taken certified hours back to the classroom.

As the California Massage Therapy Council bravely tries to herd all of us cats, I can say that as diverse as Californians are, at least we are on the brink of a high hill. Soon I can work wearing a V-neck scrub shirt without being in violation of my city’s cleavage regulation.

3 thoughts on “Another Kind of Business, Not Massage

  1. Brad

    I agree, Sue, reducing the hourly requirement for licensing is a mistake. Therapists will suffer.

    Massage therapists must remember that their practice is a business. As such, therapists need to reinvest some of their earnings in their practice in order to make it grow. It’s not too disruptive in one’s practice to take one massage class (16 to 32 hours) every six to twelve months after completing the basics. Your clients will benefit, you’ll learn how to increase your longevity in the field (15+ years instead of the average 5…), and the time with fellow therapists is invaluable for practice building ideas and networking.

    For now we’re seeing the results of licensor judgement errors, hopefully they’ll think things through and do what’s really best for our profession, not just for their bottom line.

  2. Anonymous

    Interesting….. as a Day Spa owner, former instructor of 1250 hour MT program and LMT the flaming hoops of the past are altered. I agree the gates have opened for the Reflexology places etc. to run whatever the see revenue generating. Shady possibilities…..but remember who backed the new state option.$$$.The Chiropractic Association and Massage Envy. Lobbiests once upon a time … cost less then therapists. Both industries are known for burn and churn attitudes. Most importantly it is bad for the clients and bad for the service providers. Owners that care now must train NEW service providers to “Do no Harm”. I currently have two newbies that both have chiro exp. One is being retrained for pushing against the venous flow. GREAT!!!;-( Look to the details for answers they are always there….

  3. Anonymous

    From Sue P: Ah, yes, it is a big change in store, and yes, it allows more investment in massage businesses. That is progress, I think.
    Where will it take the profession? It will certainly make solo practititioners (most therapists) less worried about breaking local regulations. The investors? downright gleeful, it seems. Newbies? watch out!


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