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Massage Today
July, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 07

NCBTMB to Implement New Eligibility Requirements, Exam

By Rebecca J. Razo

Earlier this year, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) announced it will make three changes relative to its current national certification system, including updating content on the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB); creating a new exam, the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM) that - unlike the NCETMB - focuses solely on massage therapy; and implementing new eligibility criteria to take both exams.

The changes are scheduled to take effect June 1, 2005.1,2

According to an NCBTMB press release, the "new massage-only certification program [NCETM] will offer more options to states that desire to separate regulations for massage and bodywork by providing more specific entry-level credentialing."2

Content for the NCETM and updated NCETMB - both entry-level exams - was created based on the results of job analysis surveys of approximately 500 nationally certified therapeutic massage professionals throughout the country who responded to questions relative to knowledge and skill, tasks, approaches to bodywork, background, general information and test content recommendations.1,2

Although the exam eligibility requirements have increased, candidates meeting the new criteria can sit for either the NCETM or NCETMB. Exam eligibility requires candidates to graduate with a minimum of 500 hours of in-class, supervised instruction from a state-approved school, which meets or exceeds the following curriculum:

  • 125 hours of in-class, supervised instruction in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology (an increase of 25 hours over the previous requirements);
  • 200 hours of in-class, supervised instruction in massage and bodywork assessment, theory and application;
  • 40 hours of in-class, supervised instruction in pathology (a new requirement);
  • 10 hours of in-class instruction in business and ethics, with a minimum of six hours in ethics (an increase of 4 hours); and
  • 125 hours of in-class, supervised instruction in an area or related field that completes massage program of study.2

In an article posted on the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) Web site, ABMP Executive Vice-President Les Sweeney expressed concern over the new requirements. "Changing a school's curriculum, as many school owners can attest, is not a simple or quick process. In many cases, the changes must be reorganized and/or approved by the regulatory authority that oversees post-secondary education in the state in which the school resides," the article said.3

However, according to the NCBTMB, school officials have had ample time to prepare for the changes. "These updated content outlines and eligibility criteria were originally announced in January 2004 at the Council of Schools meeting. Additionally, letters notifying schools of the eligibility criteria changes were sent out to the more than 1,200 schools whose students apply for the national certification examination."1

But Dr. Gregory T. Lawton, owner of the Blue Heron Academy of Healing Arts and Sciences with campuses in Michigan and Indiana, has other concerns. "The NCBTMB has unilaterally assumed authority for complex school curriculum decisions that are best determined at the state level and by the state legal authorities and departments that regulate post-secondary and vocational education," he said. "Serious concerns have been raised within the massage profession that question the validity of the NCETMB, its quality, and its acceptance within the profession."4

Sweeney's article raises yet another issue. "Should the new [NCBTMB] requirements be adopted in late 2004 or early 2005, it is highly likely that many massage school graduates and enrolled students would be in the midst of a program that would not qualify them for the national certification examinations - [which is] especially problematic in the regulated states where the NCE has been established as a requirement to practice."3

However, the new exam criteria will only apply to massage students who begin their programs on or after June 1, 2005, while students entering massage school prior to the date of implementation will be evaluated under NCBTMB's current eligibility criteria; moreover, practicing massage therapists ineligible to take the exam under either criteria can continue to utilize NCBTMB's portfolio review process, which assesses relevant training and work experience to establish exam eligibility.2

Massage Today will publish relevant updates as they become available. For more information about the NCBTMB, visit


  1. E-mail interview with Alan Greilsamer, Account Director, Communications Marketing Group, on behalf of NCBTMB, with Massage Today. June 2, 2004.
  2. Press release. "The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Announces Content Outline and Eligibility Criteria for New Credential." NCBTMB, Jan. 22, 2004. releases/content_and_eligibility.htm.
  3. Sweeney, Les. "National Certification Examination Requirements to Change." Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.
  4. E-mail from Dr. Gregory Lawton to Massage Today. May 28, 2004.


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