Choosing a Practitioner of Massage and Bodywork

Massage Therapy

Massage therapists are designated by a variety of titles, some referring to state regulation and others to other forms of certification. Various counties and cities may also have ordinances regulating the practice of massage.

It should be noted that practitioners of many health care disciplines often learn some massage therapy techniques during the course of their training without necessarily having any of the following credentials. Thus they may practice massage therapy (and facilitate insurance coverage) under another kind of license or credential such as nursing, chiropractic, or the like.

The AMTA has recently begun to discourage practitioners from using initials after their names, feeling this may be confusing to the public because there is no standardization and such initials tend to mimic academic degrees. Instead the AMTA encourages practitioners to spell out what their credential is. In some states the use of initials is controlled (such as licensed massage therapist, L.M.T.), but in many states it is meaningless.

The most common titles for massage therapists are as follows:

Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. This title designates the person has completed the requirements for and passed the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (N.C.B.T.M.B.). This is the leading national certification exam.

Massage Practitioner (M.P.). This title is often used by practitioners whose training is less extensive than that required for certification by schools or by the AMTA as a massage therapist.

Certified Massage Therapist (C.M.T.). This is a voluntary, professional, non-governmental certification from organizations that can attest to the therapist’s competency. This is granted by many massage therapy schools, which may or may not meet AMTA standards for training. Thus the quality of this credential depends on the quality of the certifier and its standards. (For example, even a person who has only taken an eight-hour course can claim to be certified.)

Registered Massage Therapist (R.M.T.). This is a form of voluntary licensing for the use of a specific professional title. Rarely used in the United States, some Canadian provinces use this to designate government licensing. At one time it also designated a special credential for members of the AMTA who had advanced training in therapeutic massage and passed a special exam, but this usage has been discontinued.

Licensed Massage Therapist (L.M.T.). This refers to occupational licensing by a state or local government. Nineteen states have licensing laws requiring massage therapists to meet minimum standards of training. The basic requirement is usually five hundred hours of classroom training with instructors present, followed by a written and practical exam. The following states have licensing laws: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington, D.C.

In states that do not require licensing, a good credential to seek is graduation from an AMTA-accredited program that meets the five hundred-hour standard. There are many schools of massage therapy and bodywork that require fewer hours of training (often one hundred to two hundred hours), so the extent of training is an important question in choosing a practitioner.

The American Massage Therapy Association is the predominant organization for massage therapists with over eighteen thousand members, representing all fifty states, D.C., the Virgin Islands, and several foreign countries. Membership is a good indication of professional preparation. It requires one of the following:

1. Graduation from a training program approved by the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation/Approval. This is an accreditation agency commissioned by the AMTA. This assures the practitioner has completed a program of a minimum of six months duration with five hundred in-class hours of training. There are currently fifty-eight massage therapy schools accredited by COMTAA. Subjects include anatomy and physiology, massage techniques, and practical training.

2. Holding a state license that meets AMTA certification standards.

3. Passing an AMTA membership entrance examination.

4. Passing the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. Six states have adopted this exam, developed by the AMTA, as their licensing exam. It is anticipated that eventually all the states that license massage will adopt this exam and the number of such states is expected to increase.

In early 1994 this exam was accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, a major independent agency that evaluates professional certification programs according to stringent standards.

Membership in the AMTA also requires six hours of continuing education every two years.

The AMTA publishes a membership registry for use by its members and provides referrals to local practitioners. Address: 820 Davis St., Suite 100, Evanston, IL 60201-4444, phone (708) 864-0123.

A Case of “Broken-Hearted Feet”

Amy was a fifty-year-old woman who came to a Rosen Method practitioner for help with a variety of stress related symptoms in her body. She was particularly concerned about a sensation that the bones in her feet were crumbling, though there was no physical indication of this. She had several sessions over a period of months.

During the course of one session the practitioner asked her what happened to the free, fun-loving little girl that she once was. This stimulated Amy’s recall of an experience of riding her horse all around and being free. She then remembered that one day during her adolescence her parents, without warning, sold her beloved horse. She recalled that the horse had bad feet. The practitioner commented, “It’s interesting about the horse’s feet …” At this, Amy began to experience a welling up of deep feelings of unexpressed grief at the loss of her horse, feelings she hadn’t been able to express before.

Gail Gardener, a Rosen Method practitioner in Sebastopol, California, recounts this story as an example of how bodywork can help bring to awareness previously unexpressed feelings, resulting in their release.

Other Forms of Bodywork or Energy Work

Finding a competent practitioner of the other forms of bodywork or energy work is essentially a matter of asking whether they are certified by the particular professional association for the method being used. Some practitioners integrate multiple methods, but if they are not certified in any one, their preparation is dubious. It is best to work with someone who has completed training and thereby has achieved a standard of expertise in at least one method.

Following are the professional associations for the most common forms of bodywork and energy work.

Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. The training is typically twelve months long for basic certification. A Certified Advanced Rolfer is one who has practiced at least five years and has taken an additional six weeks training. A list of certified practitioners is available. Address: 205 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, CO 80302, phone (800) 530-8875.

Hellerwork, Inc. Training is a 1,250-hour program leading to certification as a Hellerwork practitioner. Trainings are offered internationally. Address: 406 Berry St., Mt. Shasta, CA 96067, phone (800) 392-3900 or (916) 926-2500.

Rosen Method Professional Association. Certification training is two years plus an eighteen-month internship. Certified practitioners must also hold a state-approved massage certificate. A directory of practitioners is available from the association. Address: 2550 Shattuck Ave., Box 49, Berkeley, CA 94704, phone (510) 644-4166.

The Trager Institute. Training for Trager practitioners takes a minimum of 269 hours usually over at least six months. A list of certified practitioners is available. Address: 33 Millwood St., Mill Valley, CA 94941, phone (415) 388-2688, FAX (415) 388-2710.

The Feldenkrais Guild. Only people trained by Moshe Feldenkrais or graduates of guild accredited training programs are eligible to be members of the guild. Practitioner members are qualified teachers of Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration. Associate members are qualified teachers of Awareness Through Movement. The professional training program spans 160 days over three and a half years. The guild publishes a directory of certified practitioners. Address: 3611 SW Hood Avenue Suite 100, Portland, OR 97201, phone (800) 775-2118 or (503) 221-6612, FAX (503) 221-6616.

North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (NASTAT) formed in 1987 to educate the public about the Alexander Technique, to establish and maintain standards for certification of teachers and teacher training courses in the United States, and to ensure that the educational principles of the Alexander Technique are upheld. It publishes a directory of certified teachers. Training to become a teacher takes three years (sixteen hundred hours). Address: P.O. Box 112484, Tacoma, WA 98411-2484, phone (800) 473-0620 or (206) 627-3766.


Marianne had injured her neck several months ago but still had so much pain that she could not tolerate having it touched or moved. She was seeing a physical therapist but her sensitivity to pain prevented her from receiving much of the routine physical therapy care that was indicated for her injury.

She received a Jin Shin Jyutsu session that lasted one hour with extremely light contact on her neck. After the session her pain increased slightly, but the next morning it was less than half of what it had been and she could begin to move her neck.

According to Joanna Chieppa, a practitioner in Sonoma County, CA, with this type of work often there is an immediate decrease in pain. Occasionally, however, the client may experience a temporary increase in pain as more energy moves through an area that is inflamed or blocked. Once the blockage is cleared this brief discomfort is typically followed by a significant improvement in symptoms.

After Marianne’s next session two days later there was no increase in pain and she felt even greater relief. Within two weeks she could move her neck freely, had minimal pain, and was able to receive and benefit from the prescribed physical therapy.

Nurse Healers Professional Associates, Inc., provides information about Therapeutic Touch and training for health care providers. The length of trainings varies and there is no formal certification. Address: P.O. Box 444, Allison Park, PA 15101, phone (412) 355-8476.

Jin Shin Jyutsu, Inc., is an organization for practitioners who have completed a five-day training course in this method. Practitioners are encouraged to repeat the basic training several times, but there is no formal certification. There is also an advanced course. Address: 8719 E. San Alberta, Scottsdale, AZ 85258, phone (602) 998-9331.

Jin Shin Do® Foundation for Bodymind Acupressuretm; is a network of authorized teachers and registered practitioners who have received standardized training in this approach. Registered practitioners have 250 hours of training plus practical experience. A directory of registered practitioners and authorized teachers is available from the foundation. Address: 366 California Ave., Suite 16, Palo Alto, CA 94306, or P.O. Box 1097, Felton, CA 95018, or call J.S.D.F. in Palo Alto, CA at (415) 328-1811.

American Oriental Bodywork Therapy Association (AOBTA) is an educational and certifying organization for practitioners of a variety of forms of oriental bodywork. Associate members have at least 150 hours of training with a certified instructor and a hundred hours of practice. Certified practitioners have completed five hundred hours of such training and passed a certification exam. AOBTA has about eight hundred members and publishes a membership directory. Address: 6801 Jericho Turnpike, Syosset, NY 11791, phone (516) 364-5533.

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) provides professional support and legislative advocacy for massage therapists and bodyworkers. Membership is of two levels: practitioner level requires a hundred hours of training. Professional level requires five hundred hours or state licenser or registration. ABMP also publishes Massage and Bodywork Quarterly. Address: 28677 Buffalo Park Rd., Evergreen CO 80439, phone (303) 674-8478.

The Upledger Institute, Inc., is an educational and clinical resource and training center for manipulative therapies such as CranioSacral Therapy™, visceral manipulation, and other holistically oriented approaches used by bodyworkers. Founded by John Upledger, D.O., it conducts training nationally and internationally. It also produces several instructional publications and a directory of alumni of its trainings. Address: 11211 Prosperity Farms Rd., Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410, phone (800) 233-5880.

American Academy of Reflexology conducts training in ear, hand, and foot reflexology and can provide referrals to certified practitioners. Address: 606 E. Magnolia Blvd., Suite B. Burbank, CA 91501, phone (818) 841-7741.

International Institute of Reflexology conducts two-day trainings nationally and internationally and a certification exam in the Ingham Method of reflexology. They also can provide referrals to trained practitioners. Address: 5650 First Avenue North, P.O. Box 12642, St. Petersburg, FL 33733, phone (813) 343-4811.

Zero Balancing Association offers training in this method, a fifty-hour basic course, and an eighteen-month certification program. Address: P.O. Box 1727, Capitola, CA 95010, phone (408) 476-0665.

Published by arrangement with Warner Books, Inc., New York, New York, U.S.A. All rights reserved.

Nothing in this book should be considered as medical advice for dealing with a given problem. You should consult your health care professional for individual guidance with specific medical problems.

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Written by William Collinge MPH PhD

Explore Wellness in 2021