Licensing vs Certification in Massage vs Certificate

massage licensing vs massage certificate and certification

To become a massage therapist, one must become licensed to practice in whatever state you live and want to practice.  There are still a few states that do not require a state license.

As part of the licensing requirements you will need to take a test that is approved by your state board of massage.  Currently there are two main exams – The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) Board Certification test and the Federation of Massage Therapy Boards offers and exam called the MBLEx  (Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam).

Each state also has very specific education requirements that vary by the number of hours of education and the classes that make up those hours. You have to meet the education requirements in that state in order to qualify to be licensed in that state no matter which test you take. Taking the test does not necessarily mean that you can move to another state and use passing that test as a way to obtain your massage license. You still need to meet those hours of education and class times that are required (and different) in each state. Learn more about what is required in each state to obtain a license to practice massage.

The Federation of State Massage Boards (FSMTB)

The FSMTB was created in 2005 for the purpose of trying to create consistent scope of practices and entry level standards across the US. A reliable and valid licensing exam was needed for every state as well as a database for storing licensing and disciplinary information and critical documents.

The National Certification Board for Massage Therapy and Bodywork (NCBTMB)

The NCBTMB Board Certification Exam let’s you qualify for licensing in your state. You can also become a Board Certified Massage Therapists by taking that exam AND meet the requirements for Board Certification.

 Why was Board Certification created?

Board Certification is an advanced credential separate from entry-level massage therapy state licensure.

As Board Certification is voluntary, its achievement represents the highest level of commitment to clients and to the advancement of the massage therapy and bodywork profession. Board Certificants must meet higher standards of education, possess a higher level of critical thinking skills, and pass a rigorous exam. The exam requires candidates to apply assessment skills, orthopedic knowledge, applied science skills (such as pathology, pharmacology, and more), and more to real-life scenarios in an effort to develop treatment plans that achieve positive results.

In addition, all Board Certificants must undergo a routine criminal background check upon initial application and renewal (every two years) as a means of ensuring employers and the public that they are working with a trusted and reputable professional. – NCBTMB website

The Federation states:

Why is voluntary certification an inappropriate tool for Licensure Boards?

The regulatory boards have no control over the decisions of the private certification agencies. State regulatory boards should not be at the mercy of, or beholden to any party that can dictate or jeopardize the regulatory boards’ function, decision making or integrity. The FSMTB exists to fulfill and protect the needs of the regulatory community without delegating that authority to any other entity.

Certification vs Certificate

Certification is different than getting a certificate. Whey you complete massage school or a Continuing Education (CE) Class, you get a certificate of completion.

Certification is a very different process. Certification requires that there be a Certification Organization. Currently there is only ONE such organization- the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). A person who is receives this certification can use the words/initials Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork or BCTMB. There are also a few other organizations that offer specific Certifications like the International Association of Structural Integration will give certifications to people who study ANY type of Structural Integration and the Lymphology Association of N. America provides certification of healthcare professionals who diagnose and/or treat lymphedema and related disorders.

The credibility and integrity of the certifying agency determines whether the agency’s certification means anything to the public, and therefore, ultimately, its value. ~AMTA

A Certification will be created based on a comprehensive job analysis study to learn what specific of knowledge skills, or abilities (KSAs) are required to perform a specific professional job or role. You can get those specific KSA’s in any manner and take the test to show you know those things. It is not tied to anyone specific school, training or program. Standards are set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation) that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills. The certification has to be renewed every so often to maintain that Certification. A person completing a certification process can use specific words or specified letters to show they are truly certified.

Certificates on the other hand, just say that you completed a course of instruction. They can be assessment based meaning that there may be tests or other things required to comply with receiving the certificate. That is provided by each individual or organization who gives a certificate of completion. No certifying agency is required nor job task analysis. No renewal is needed or required. The Course content is determined by the specific provider or institution, not standardized by a third party organization.

There are NO Certifications in anything called Medical Massage. They are incorrectly calling programs certifications in medical massage.

For more information:

Certificate vs. Certification: Credentialing Terminology Matters, Whitney Lowe. Academy of Clinical Massage

Board Certification at

Certification differs from licensing in that certification is nearly always offered by a private, non-governmental agency. These agencies are usually outgrowths of professional associations which create them to identify and acknowledge those who have met a standard

Massage therapy Body of Knowledge definition of Certification- Professional certification is the voluntary process by which a non-governmental organization grants certification to an individual that possesses certain skills or abilities relevant to a field of practice. The process of professional certification may include review, examination or assessment. The validity of any type of certification depends upon the integrity and authority of the certifying organization. In the massage profession, there are a few state governments that grant certification (rather than licensure) to massage therapists. In these cases, state certification empowers the certified massage therapists to use a specific title that noncertified therapists are restricted from using. But it does not limit noncertified therapists from performing massage.

Massage therapy certifications

There are other certifications in the massage profession that are usually obtained after you are licensed.

Structural Integration offers it’s own certification process. Some states exempt Structural Integration from massage licensing laws so you can practice without a massage license. Check with your state. The Certification Board for Structural Integration created this certification.

from the CBSI website: CBSI follows a rigorous process to create a psychometrically valid certification examination. A diverse, representative practitioner group works with a professional psychometrician to describe the practice of SI. The result is called a Practice Analysis (PA). The PA identifies broad domains of practice and lists the tasks within each domain with the specific knowledge statements needed to perform each task safely and competently. After the PA is validated by a profession-wide survey, it is used to create an exam that tests entry-level knowledge necessary for the safe and effective practice of SI. The CESI is not meant to define or limit the scope of Structural Integration. All BCSIs are encouraged to participate in writing questions for the next exam. CBSI hopes that you will consider participating in this rewarding process.

Lymphatic Drainage Certification from the Lymphology Association of North America. LANA does not approve or accredit training programs. LANA sets standards for certification of healthcare professionals who treat individuals with lymphedema and/or related disorders manage their lymphedema. LANA certification expires six (6) years after successful completion of the exam. The LANA examination has been written and administered under the guidance of Schroeder Measurement Technologies, Inc. (SMT). SMT has been providing comprehensive examination development and administration services to certification organizations and licensing agencies worldwide since 1995.