The two main membership associations in the massage profession are the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). Professional associations are not just about liability insurance and CE classes that come with the membership. These organizations have our future in their hands.
American Massage Therapy Association was first on the scene on August 16, 1943 when a group of graduating massage students in Chicago, IL was given the idea by organizers from WA State. It started out under the name American Association of Masseurs and Masseuses (AAMM). They started as grassroots advocates in various states who needed help with legislation and laws. States had Charters and each state could have multiple Charters. The Charters grew into State Chapters (or it could be the other way around.) Early meetings talked of forming a union which of course never happened. You can read the history of AMTA from the WA State Chapter in their past newsletters and timeline that I created from those documents here. and here in the history of AMTA. AMTA has been the leader in licensing and legislation issues and many states have lobbyists paid for by AMTA. They have been a membership driven organization, but it recent years things have changed. They used to give each State the chapter fee which funded activities in each state. That ended and they stopped supporting their local ‘Units’ which were groups of massage therapists in specific areas in the state that met regularly for support, networking and CE presentations. They also used to have a vote to elect their board but have moved to what is called a Slate vote where AMTA actually picks the people that they want and then the membership votes either yes or no on the full slate. (Read more on the history of the AMTA to see how they were once a very grassroots effort and evolved into what they are today.)
AMTA created the National Certification Board for Massage and Bodywork in about 1988. It started out as an entrance exam for AMTA and evolved quickly into a National Certification. At the time it was very controversial and many fought it. Robert Calvert, owner of Massage Magazine at the time created a group called Head, Heart, and Hands to fight the movement toward creating a National exam. The idea at the time is that a National Certification would be needed as massage therapy was becoming more medically oriented. AMTA gave $150,000 at the time and later another $75,000 for startup. In 1990, it became separate from AMTA. (See more on the history of the NCBTMB in my history section.) The National Exam was changed to the Board Certification exam that only requires 500 hours of education. Currently, the NCBTMB is funded by AMTA because the NCBTMB lost most all of their income to the Federation of Massage State Boards when they created their new exam. The NCBTMB is offering Specialty Certificates which are not true Certifications. (See the difference between Certification and Certificates.)
The finances of the NCBTMB are currently in a hot mess. They are not making enough money to sustain themselves so it looks like AMTA has stepped in again. (The only mention I could find of this is in a Facebook post from Sandy Fritz from 2016 where she is reporting on the AMTA Convention- “AMTA is providing a support umbrella for NCB”.
In 1990, AMTA created the AMTA Massage Foundation which later changed it’s name to the Massage Therapy Foundation It started with a grant which was later paid back, making it a separate organization. It is still mainly funded by AMTA.
In 1992, AMTA created The Commission on Massage Therapy Training/Accreditation (CMTTA) later changed to Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) to accredit schools which would help in creating better schools and massage therapists. It separated from AMTA in 2004. The COMTA Accreditation process was too expensive for small schools to get so COMTA made an additional Endorsed Curriculum Option that schools could go through. It’s a step in the right direction.
At about this same time, the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) was created by Sherri Williams (who was referred to as a disgruntled massage therapist by Robert Calvert in his book “The History of Massage Therapy”). There had been years of disagreement as the profession became more divided about what we wanted.
April, 1996, ABMP sold to a group of 4 people and remains a for-profit association owned and operated by Professional Assist Corporation, DBA Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, and including subsidiaries Associated Skin Care Professionals, Associated Hair Professionals, and Associated Nail Professionals. ABMP is not as involved in legislative issues or creating policy and are not at the table with insurance carriers (as far as I know). I have heard of them being present at State Board of Massage Meetings more recently and I just remembered that a very long time ago (probably mid-90s) they sent a letter saying they were trying to organize local groups but that never went anywhere. ABMP was the first to get the information out that we needed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to lead the way in that arena.
In 1999, The National Alliance of Massage Therapy State Boards (NASMTB) was created by David Frostad with the goal of:
The National Alliance of Massage Therapy State Boards (NASMTB) mission is to serve as a resource to the member boards in their efforts to improve the quality, safety, and integrity of massage therapy services in the interest of public health, safety, and welfare by (as copied from archive.org version of their website from 2002):
- sharing and disseminating information to promote uniformity in the regulation of the practice of massage therapy
- serving as a source for regulatory information for the public, government, and other professional regulatory boards
- addressing multi-state massage therapy regulatory issues
- encouraging research to enhance education, evaluation, and examination for licensure and/or certification as well as continued competency in massage therapy.
“Whereas the professional organizations function to protect the profession, the regulatory bodies have been instructed to protect the public at large. Although both might appear to have similar goals, they are not always identical. By recognizing these differences, we can best utilize the strengths of both groups.”
See also: 2009 article on Massage Today on the Alliance for Massage Therapy Boards.
( Massage Today is now owned by AMTA according to an article on ABMP from 02/21/2019. but no public announcement from AMTA or any indication on the Massage Today Website who owns the company)
The National Alliance of Massage Therapy State Boards (NASMTB) failed because of a lack of financial backing and administrative support.
Aug/Sept 2005 – “Growing frustration some participants expressed with aspects of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) testing process, as well as various concerns over its business practices and status as gatekeeper into the massage therapy profession through the National Certification Exam (NCE). Federation participants determined that an alternative to the NCE may help establish options for potential massage therapists and bodyworkers, keep costs down, and speed up the testing process, thus increasing the momentum toward entrepreneurship and chances of success for entrants into the profession.”
In 2005, the Federation of Massage Therapy State Boards was created after a meeting or massage regulators and educators called by ABMP which was intended to “unite the regulatory community in its mission of public protection.” The individual states massage boards are members of this association. The FSMTB website mentions that it was to revive a ‘former Alliance of Massage regulatory community which was the National Alliance of Massage Therapy State Boards (NASMTB) which failed.
Their concerns were that the following needed attention:
- The need for consistent scopes of practice and entry-level standards across the country
- The need for a valid and reliable licensing exam that would be accepted by all jurisdictions
- The need for a common database with licensing and disciplinary information, as well as the ability to store critical documents”
ABMP has agreed to provide the initial seed money and staff support to launch the new federation, but there was general consensus that additional funding from other local, state, and national organizations and associations will also be sought. (see article on www.massagetherapy.com )
In 2009, The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE) was created after a white paper was written by Rick Rosen, outlining what it takes to become a profession. There was a Founding Member Campaign in the last quarter of 2009 that raised a total of $49,350 in contributions was generated to fund the launch of AFMTE. The AFMTE is working on creating teacher standards and elevating the education systems in the massage profession. Schools are members of this organization as well as individuals who support the mission.
Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations
- Alliance for Massage Therapy Education
- American Massage Therapy Association
- Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
- Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation
- Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards
- Massage Therapy Foundation
- National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
The Coalition funded the Entry Level Analysis Project that created “Core competencies” for massage school curriculums, legislation, model practice act, teaching standards, accreditation standards and help students decide which schools to choose.
The group’s work was funded by several of the Coalition organizations, but the work group worked independently and arrived at its conclusions independently, with no steering from Coalition organizations. AFMTE announcement.
The Coalition of Massage Associations continue to meet, as this announcement from 2015 shows:
FSMTB Model Practice Act, Continuing Education Oversight, Accreditation & Recognition/Massage School Landscape, Polaris Project/Human Trafficking, and identification of topics and issues for ongoing discussion.
The coalition agreed that future conversations would likely include focus on the following:
Continuing Education Oversight
Teacher Standards Project
The AFMTE posted this information about the coalition:
The AFMTE Board representatives to the annual May meeting of Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations have advocated for two goals to be implemented over ten years: programmatic accreditation for every massage education program and a certified therapeutic massage and bodywork educator in every classroom for CE courses and massage education programs.
In May 2020, they met again to talk about the Pandemic but we are yet to see any reports. All I could find was a post by COMTA:
A few of the organizations are duplicating efforts such as CE monitoring and Certification exams. Rick Rosen in his White Paper On Becoming a Profession back in 2008. recommended that our organizations work together and use an organization to help them work together.
A veritable ocean of resources is available from two groups that serve
this industry: CLEAR—The Council for Licensure, Enforcement & Regulation; and FARB—The Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards.
The future of the massage profession lies in the hands of these organizations.
These are some of the challenges I see in the massage profession. I am sure there are more and some may think that these are not problems. It is just a place to start the discussions and find answers and create the profession that we want rather than responding to what is happening elsewhere as most of the history of the massage profession has been a result of.
- Lack of licensing portability between states. We need state laws that are similar in requirements and need a Model Practice Act. (The Federation of Massage State Boards has a model practice act, but not sure why it is not being enacted in each state. It needs to be updated.)
- CE Conundrum – Our CE system and requirements are based on techniques and more modalities supporting CE teachers across the US rather than on session outcomes of less pain, more movement, less stress and wellness. Our profession is all over the place as far as providing accurate and up to date information on things like pregnancy massage, toxins, how and why massage works, and sharing the latest evidence on massage therapy. My idea would be to have a state test you have to take at renewal every so often based on a book put out every so often on the latest things you need to know. Modalities would be optional and someone needs to start policing them for evidence based material as well as professionalism and teaching qualifications. (I have heard many stories of sexual assault happening in classes, people getting injured from getting worked on all day in classes with people practicing techniques on each other with various skill levels, as well as people becoming attached to their guru. I would love to see a survey and some research done on what CE classes are needed to continue to further the development of a professional massage therapist.
In this paper by Rick Rosen in 2013, he asks the questions:
Should continuing education be mandatory for renewal of state licensure – and is it essential for the ongoing protection of the public?
Given the reported inconsistencies in the instructional design and delivery of CE courses, is it even possible for an approval process to provide quality assurance?
Does the cost of compliance for CE providers (both in terms of time and money) bring an equal or greater benefit to the massage therapy field, and to the public at large?
What kind of regulatory process – if any – is needed; and which organizational entity is best suited to perform this function?
- National Certification vs Specialty Certifications? We need some clarification as to why the NCBTMB is focusing on Specialty certificates that you can only get from specific CE providers. Why are they not creating Board Certifications in specific areas like Clinical Massage, Sports Massage, Hospital Based Massage, Pregnancy Massage to name a few that they could start with.
- Clarification of definitions of things such as Massage, Massage Therapy, Massage Therapy Practice, Bodywork, Medical Massage/Clinical Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Certification vs Certificate and make sure everyone in the profession knows this…possibly through required CE?
- More help in the job arena around issues of misclassifying employees and ways to get higher hourly pay, benefits and more. Unions? They have been talked about forever and there are now some efforts happening in this area.
- Illegal Massage Businesses or Brothels doing business as massage therapy. This needs to be squashed. How I don’t know, but many have approached AMTA and ABMP and the NCBTMB with class offerings that have been denied. What do we need to do to end the confusion once and for all? One of our local WA Groups had a big issue with the military and prostitutes and they created a local ordinance to clearly distinguish massage therapy from prostitution.
- Talk of a second tier of licensing qualifications has been talked about for years. Do we need a tier to separate basic wellness massage from clinical massage, clinical massage and hospital based massage? The State Boards are in the business of massage licensing and protecting the public— NOT elevating the profession. Who will do this for us?
- Has the ELAP competencies been integrated into every school? Who is sharing this information and making sure it gets implemented?
- Go back to our roots of small communities of massage therapists gathering to work together, learn together and create the profession from the ground up. In WA State we have a good start with groups that were the old AMTA ‘Units’ still getting together to do just that. I would love to see that grow into something bigger like www.usmassagenetwork.com
- What other issues need to be addressed? This is just the tip of the iceberg as they say. Join both of the associations and pay attention. Get involved. Be the next leaders creating the next generation of massage therapists who take the bull by the horns and create what we want rather than getting things handed to us because of outside forces requiring our attention.