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Massage Today
September, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 09


"Touching the Massage Today readers one letter at a time"

By Lynda Solien-Wolfe, LMT


I have a question regarding chair massage regulations/licensing. I live in Penngrove, California; I used to live in Union City (the Bay Area).

Each city has different regulations for massage, but I have never been able to find any information on chair massage. I know that many people have businesses advertising on-site chair massage. I have tried contacting a few of them for information regarding how they were able to establish themselves in this line of work. One gentleman was kind enough to e-mail me back; he told me that the city in which he practices doesn't have the stringent policies that Union City and Fremont [another Bay Area city] does. I picked up an application for Fremont; it was rather lengthy, and I had trouble understanding all the regulations. (It just wasn't clear to me.) The business license dealt strictly with massage; it didn't elaborate on any specific regulations relating to on-site chair massage or in-home massage.

How do you go about traveling to someone's home or doing on-site chair massage? I would really appreciate any information that you could provide.

-- Regina from California

Dear Regina,

I sent your e-mail to David Palmer, founder and director of the TouchPro Institute, an international professional association dedicated to training, certification and support of chair massage practitioners ( Here is what he had to share:

Regina, You have every right to be confused. Local municipal ordinances are often difficult to decipher, and Fremont, CA is no exception. I suggest that if you get a copy of the actual ordinance and go through it with a magic marker, the application form you received from the city will make more sense. I found the current massage ordinance on Fremont's city website at Locate the "Municipal Code" link, then enter "massage" in the search box on the next page to locate the ordinance. Most cities now have their municipal codes on line, which saves a lot of phone calls and trips to city hall.

The Fremont ordinance is a typical attempt to control local prostitution by controlling commercial massage. It includes provisions such as annual STD testing, stringent establishment requirements, and specifications as to what parts of the body are acceptable to touch. There are two sets of training requirements. Practitioners with only 100 hours of training must also pass a written or oral exam and a practical exam. These exams are waived for practitioners with over 500 hours of training who also belong to a national professional association.

Fremont has two business licenses: an establishment license and an outcall license. They have a single massage technician license; practitioners can work at home only if they live in a neighborhood zoned for home business. There is no mention made specifically about chair massage but, presumably, you would have to have both the outcall license for your business and the massage technician license for yourself and anyone else working with you.

Don't be afraid to ask the local authorities for any clarification. The Fremont massage ordinance is administered out of the city tax department, specifically Dennis Robinson (510-494-4791). All of this research took about 15 minutes on the web and one phone call. Why don't you try a similar search for Union City?

Good luck in your practice!

Dear LyndaLMT,

I've been a therapist for about five years. Many of my former (female) classmates were readily accepted into the community (by both male and female clients) after becoming licensed. On the other hand, for myself many of my male therapist friends, it has been a different scenario. It is frustrating to see prospective clients constantly choose a female therapist because they don't want a guy touching them. It also is frustrating to see guys wanting a pretty girl to give them a massage. Many men have a homophobic attitude about another guy touching them. I have seen many good male therapists let there license go, which is sad. If you can provide some suggestions, myself and many other male massage therapists would appreciate it, because I believe this is a fairly common occurence.

-- Michael

Dear Michael,

Just wanted to share that my therapist is male - and one of the best massage therapists I have ever had work on me. I am glad he has stuck it out, found his niche, and built his clientele enough to stay in business, if only to take care of me.

I contacted three male massage therapists to help answer your question: Henry Tobelmann relocated about a year ago and had to rebuild his business. Henry brings 12 years of professional experience to the table. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Henry practices core structural bodywork, and promotes the power of touch at every opportunity. Here is what Henry had to share:

Well Michael, I agree that at times it can be frustrating when rejected by potential clients because they prefer a therapist of the female persuasion -- particularly when you believe your training and experience make you the perfect candidate to address their needs. Gender bias is a prominent pattern, and little can be done about it if you are building a "general" massage practice. This preference goes a long way in explaining why four out of five therapists are female.

Still, this market reality should not prevent you, or any other therapist with talent, commitment, tenacity, and a passion for massage, from enjoying a successful -- and lucrative - careers as a bodyworker. I would urge you, or any other male planning to enter the bodywork community, to target a segment of the population that requires particular services. For instance, athletes demand sports therapy and flexibility protocols. To establish a solid niche in the marketplace, distinguish yourself in a particular style and philosophy that will satisfy the specific needs of your potential clients. In athletics, you can even target narrower markets by learning sport-specific strategies for golfers, soccer players, swimmers or runners. When you are able to offer a unique service, people will specifically seek you out, and the rejection and frustration caused by gender preferences with be replaced with acceptance and accolades from a grateful, supportive clientele.

The power of touch is generally underappreciated and underestimated. Educate your community about the benefits and virtually countless practical applications of therapeutic massage. Demonstrate to the local population how your particular style can impact their lives. Let them know that you possess training and expertise ideally suited to their special needs. Opportunities exist beyond sports therapy -- explore your options. You may choose to specialize in addressing knee and hip replacement patients, frozen shoulders, or TMJ pain. Unfortunately, there are no shortages of pain, mysterious syndromes, debilitating injuries and disease conditions in this world. However, these hardships translate into opportunities to promote freedom, comfort, and ease, and a higher quality of life on this magnificent planet.

Good luck, Henry!

Next, I contacted Michael McGillicuddy LMT, NCTMB, who owns the Central Florida School of Massage Therapy. Michael mentioned that he addresses this very question in his classroom. Here is what Michael had to share regarding your question:

Many of the leading continuing education providers in the country are male: Benny Vaughn; Rich Phaigh; Bob King; Paul St. John; Eirk Dalton; and Aaron Mattes, just to name a few. These male therapists started years ago, when massage therapy was not as popular as it is today. They all had to educate themselves, put years of experience in massage, and learn how to promote themselves to be as successful as they are.

I remember talking with two male massage therapists at the beach one day. They were telling me how there were too many massage therapists, and that they could not make much money as a massage therapist. I asked them how long had they been hanging out at the beach that day, and how much time they had spent marketing their business. People who are not successful are not successful for a reason.

I believe that all massage therapists need to develop their own personal message about why massage therapy is so important to them. Your message should be more important than you are. Keep delivering the message to the appropriate groups until you build a successful practice. Be careful who you take advice from. People who are not busy have plenty of time to complain. People who are busy are usually busy working.

I also contacted school owner Michael Pizzuto, LMT, NCTMB, who has been a massage therapist for over 15 years. Here is Michael's response to your question:

As you believe, so shall you perceive. In several states and settings, I have heard from both employers and other therapists: "Men prefer female massage therapists, and women prefer female massage therapists." I have been doing massage for more than 15 years, and only had a slow time of it in the beginning. My immediate thought/retort to that type of statement is that it doesn't matter who the hands belong to (male or female), it's all about the quality of the massage that matters. You must keep a positive attitude and allow those who need your work to come to you.

Dear LyndaLMT,

Just a quick question after reading your August column; I thought the next New England conference in March 2002 was to be held in Boxborough, Massachusetts, the same as last year. Did they change it to Vermont? I know the Vermont Chapter is sponsoring it.

-- Vivian from Tennessee

Dear Vivian,

You're right, a few errors were made to the last DearLyndaLMT. (Editor's note: See the August DearLyndaLMT on line at The next New England Regional Conference (2002) will be held in Massachusetts, same as last year. The Vermont chapter of the AMTA will host next year's event, with sponsorship by all of the New England chapters: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

If you have a question on the massage profession for DearLyndaLMT, e-mail them to her at: or write her at:

c/o Lynda Solien-Wolfe
P.O. Box 173,
Cocoa, Florida. 32923

Lynda Solien-Wolfe is Vice President, Massage and Spa at Performance Health. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and has been in private practice in Merritt Island, Florida for more than 20 years. Lynda graduated from Space Coast Health Institute in West Melbourne, FL.


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