The Truth About California Massage Licensing


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Many people are confused about massage therapy licensing in California. Much of this confusion comes from massage therapists that advertise their state certification. This is simply not true; There is no such thing as state licensing or state certification for massage therapists in California.

First of all, some terms:

Licensing versus Certification. Students obtain a certificate when they complete a Massage Training program from a state approved school and then use the title of “Certified Massage Therapist. " Licensed means the massage therapist holds a business license in the local entity (city or county) that they do business in.

Another area of confusion is the different titles and abbreviations used by massage therapists.

CMT - Certified Massage Therapist - it means you have a certificate as a massage therapist

LMT - Licensed Massage Therapist - used in some states where there is state licensing of massage therapists

RMT - Registered Massage Therapist - used in some Canadian provinces where therapists are registered with the province

All licensing of massage therapists in California is done by the city or the county due to the fact that California currently has no state certification. The majority of cities and/or counties in California require that you graduate from an approved program in massage therapy. Hence why some therapists advertise being a “state certified massage therapist. "

Licensing requirements vary greatly from city to city and county to county. In Southern California, various communities require 500 hours of training. Here in Northern California most municipalities require a minimum of 100 hours of training so that our 126 hour massage certification program or our 120 hour acupressure certification program will satisfy their requirements. Two main exceptions in our area are the city of Auburn, which requires 200 hours of training, and the city of Sacramento which requires 250 hours of training, plus 12 hours of continuing education per year. By taking one or both of our certification programs plus some of our continuing education classes, graduates are able to get enough hours to satisfy the licensing requirements of Auburn or Sacramento.

One strategy some Sacramento students pursue is to take our 126 hour massage certification program and then get licensed to do massage in Sacramento County (Orangevale, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, etc. ). Then they can practice outside Sacramento city limits until they complete enough training to qualify for a Sacramento city license. Once they are working in the field any continuing education may be tax deductible.

Future licensing requirements may change in California though. Currently there is legislation (SB 412) under discussion that would license massage therapists at the state level and require 500 hours of initial education. There is a provision for a 250 hour level of certification that will be phased out by 2013. In another article “Shorter Training Can Be Better", I outline why I believe the high initial hours aren't necessarily better and have a chilling effect on many who are just starting out and cannot afford the increased time and cost to start a new business. The outcome of the legislation is uncertain and the earliest it would take effect is Jan. 1, 2009. The legislation also has grandfathering provisions to protect therapists that are licensed or certified before the law would take effect.

Now you are an expert on licensing and certification in the state of California!

Dr. James Mally runs the Healing Arts Institute, a Sacramento massage therapy school that offers a Massage Certification Program and Acupressure Certification Program plus continuing education classes in subjects such as Deep Tissue Massage, and Sports Massage. The website offers massage continuing education training videos or DVDs for sale in Swedish massage, sport massage techniques , deep tissue massage and a musculoskeletal anatomy audio CD.


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