• The Massage Client’s guide to Massage Therapist Credentials

    massage diploma When I worked at a day spa/wellness center, I got asked all the time, “Did you have to go to school for this?” I would explain that the “certified” part of “certified massage therapist” meant that I had graduated from a massage school. Now that my state licenses massage therapists, I still have to occasionally explain that you can’t get a license in any field without fulfilling educational requirements and passing a test proving that you actually paid attention and retained what you learned.

    Most therapists get really annoyed when they’re asked if they went to school, and I get that. I used to get really annoyed too, because it sounds like the people asking think that any Joe Blow could walk in off the street and do a competent massage, which we all know isn’t true. I’ve come to realize, however, that it doesn’t usually have anything to do with perceived competency, but instead most often to do with just not understanding what all those letters and credentials after our names mean.

    So today, I’m going to play the alphabet game with you and let you in on what all those letters actually mean.

    CMT, LMT, BCTMB, MS, BS, ETC.

    Let’s just jump into this alphabet soup and start swimming shall we?

    • CMT – Certified Massage Therapist. Certified means the person finished a course of massage education and received a certificate.  This designation is rarely used anymore, except in states that don’t license or register massage therapists. If someone in a licensed state is still using this designation it’s very possible that they aren’t licensed and are hoping you won’t know that they’re supposed to be. If a state has only recently licensed their massage therapists and you see this on printed material, they are likely using up their current stock of business cards, brochures, etc., and who can blame them. To be fair though, some therapists who’ve been around a long time may choose to continue using CMT as they’ve always done. Still… if you live in a state that licenses massage therapists and someone is using CMT, a quick Google check will get you the state’s license verification webpage where you can double check that they are indeed licensed before booking with them.
    • CBT – Certified Bodywork Therapist. Certified means the person finished a course of bodywork education (usually techniques that don’t feel “massagey”) and received a certificate. In many states, some, and possibly all, bodywork modalities are not covered by massage licensing. This designation will be used if they practice bodywork but not massage.
    • CMBT – Certified Massage and Bodywork Therapist. Certified means the person finished a course of massage and bodywork education and received a certificate. It’s rarely used in states that license massage.
    • LMT – Licensed Massage Therapist. Licensed means that they have fulfilled their state’s educational requirements, passed a test proving their knowledge, and take a minimum number of hours of continuing education each licensing period.
    • LMBT – Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist. Licensed means that they have fulfilled their state’s educational requirements, passed a test proving their knowledge, and take a minimum number of hours of continuing education each licensing period. Some licensed states offer this as a protected title and some don’t. In Michigan, where I live and work, it’s not specifically listed as a protected title (although it IS covered by the “similar terms” clause) so you won’t find many people using it here.
    • RMT – Registered Massage Therapist. Some states don’t license massage therapists, they register them. It’s similar to licensing in that there are educational requirements that need to be met and only those who formally meet those requirements can use the designation.
    • NCTMB – Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. This is a voluntary entry level credential and means the person passed a test administered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and fulfills a minimum number of hours of continuing education each certification period. This credential got its start in the days when most states did NOT offer licensing; it gave therapists a credential to prove that they were serious about their profession. This term is on the way out, because the credential has been discontinued and will no longer be valid as of Jan 1, 2017. It’s being replaced with an advanced credential: BCTMB
    • BCTMB – Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. This is a relatively new, voluntary credential and means the person fulfilled educational requirements for both massage and bodywork, including CPR and ethics, and passed a test set forth by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. They must also accrue a minimum of 24 continuing education hours every 2 years, 3 of which must be in ethics and 3 of which must be in research. They must maintain a current CPR certification at all times.
    • BA – Bachelor of Arts degree. This person has a 4 year college/university degree from a college that offers BA degrees. (This can be ANY sort of major/degree. Yes, you can get a BA in science.) We usually put college degrees on our business cards and other promotional literature  to let people know that we have a college education.
    • BS – Bachelor of Science degree. This person has a 4 year college/university degree from a college that offers BS degrees. We usually put college degrees on our business cards and other promotional literature  to let people know that we have a college education.
    • MA – Master of Arts degree. This person has a graduate degree from a college that offers MA degrees. (This can be ANY sort of major/degree. Yes, you can get a MA in science.) We usually put college degrees on our business cards and other promotional literature  to let people know that we have a college education.
    • MS – Master of Science degree. This person has a graduate degree from a college that offers MS degrees. We usually put college degrees on our business cards and other promotional literature  to let people know that we have a college education.

    There you have the most common terms and abbreviations that we massage therapists use. I hope that clears up some of the confusion caused by all those letters. Did I forget one? Does your state use one of these terms more or less than I indicated? If so, let me know about it in the comments below.

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