NCBTMB Explains Changes, Plans for Future

By Leena S. Guptha, DO, MBA, BCTMB, Chair of the NCBTMB Board of Directors
November 17, 2014

NCBTMB Explains Changes, Plans for Future

By Leena S. Guptha, DO, MBA, BCTMB, Chair of the NCBTMB Board of Directors
November 17, 2014

To move forward as a profession, is important to ensure we understand our past, our present and our priorities for the future. We did not make it to this point alone. We have dedicated so much of our time, energy and resources to an advanced credential, Board Certification, and an evolving Approved Provider Program — reminding all massage therapists and the public that credentials matter. Our work matters. And for those that choose to go beyond entry level, you deserve to be recognized. But, how did we get here?

Recognizing Our Past

Here are some highlights of our history all massage therapists should know to gain context into the recent decisions we have made.

1988: AMTA Board members, along with several of our esteemed authors, massage therapists, school owners and leaders of the profession, began to brainstorm the needs of our profession. At this time, only a handful of states regulated massage therapy — which meant that in several states, someone could dream about becoming a massage therapist and decide the next day to open a business. Despite their good intentions, these therapists did not have the necessary training to help the public heal.

1990: The AMTA Board of Directors invited a handful of massage therapy professionals to create a test that would help with reciprocity throughout states. With this test, massage therapists would prove they had graduated from a formalized massage therapy program. Most importantly, the test would be accepted in the few states that regulated massage therapy. Successfully passing this test would show a higher understanding of massage therapy, as well as how to work with the body.

Mid-1990: Soon after, this same group contacted NOCCA to follow proper certification guidelines — and even hired a Psychometrician to ensure the test would be measured properly. The NCETMB was the first psychometric test for the massage therapy profession.

1991: Massage therapy school owners nationwide came together to write and edit test questions.

1992: The first test was delivered by pen and paper in 40 different locations. More than 5,000 massage therapists took the first test — proof that this test was something worth fighting for.

Mid-1992: The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork is founded and National Certification credential created. The main purpose of creating this credential was to create reciprocity throughout the United States.

2005: State board members from 22 states come together to talk about aligning the profession and creating standard licensure requirements. This organization, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), creates an entry level licensure examination to create reciprocity throughout the country, the MBLEx.

2013: NCBTMB introduces the Board Certification credential, the highest voluntary credential in the massage therapy profession.

2014: NCBTMB agrees to no longer offer licensing examinations to the public, focusing exclusively on Board Certification, Approved Providers and Assigned Schools.

Blurred Boundaries

Throughout the years following 1992, states began regulating massage therapy and many utilized NCBTMB's test as one of their entry level requirements for obtaining a state license. Over time, it seemed that within massage therapy the boundaries and functions of the two credentials (licensure and certification) were blended together and the value of the certification credential was slowly diluted. When compared to healthcare and other medical arenas, however, certification is typically regarded as a higher voluntary credential beyond entry level licensure. These professions are not satisfied with only entry level requirements. In fact, many healthcare professions embrace various higher level certifications — why should massage therapy be any different?

Licensure and Certification

Licensure and certification are not the same. We hope to clarify the distinct definitions here and now and encourage you to spread the word to your fellow massage therapists.

Licensure is a mandatory, entry level credential that allows a massage therapist to practice legally within his/her state.

Board Certification is a voluntary, higher level credential that extends beyond the basic entry level requirements. It shows a deeper commitment to both the profession and the public, including more education, hands-on experience and requires a background check.

If you are licensed, it does not necessarily mean you are certified. You must meet the minimum requirements for Board Certification, as well as pass the Board Certification exam, to become Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and hold the credentials BCTMB.

If you are currently Nationally Certified, you may transition into Board Certification without taking the exam as long as your National Certification is current, you meet the minimum requirements for Board Certification and you complete the "Transition to Board Certification" application on the NCBTMB website. Remember, National Certification will officially expire as of December 31, 2016.

For more information on Board Certification, please visit

Recent Changes

On October 3, 2014, NCBTMB and FSMTB signed a collaborative agreement, marking the beginning of what we believe will provide greater licensure portability for massage therapists. This agreement stated that, as of November 1, 2014, NCBTMB would no longer offer its NCETM and NCETMB licensure exams to the public. Moving forward, NCBTMB supports FSMTB's MBLEx as the country's entry level licensure examination.

How does this affect you? If you are Nationally or Board Certified, our agreement with FSMTB has not and will not affect current National or Board Certified massage therapists, Approved Providers or Assigned Schools.

This agreement does, however, affect new graduates who need to pass a licensure exam as part of their state licensure requirements. Please be sure to check with your state (and any state in which you wish to practice) to verify licensure requirements.

If you were previously licensed through an NCBTMB Exam, NCBTMB will gladly send score reports to any state(s) to show proof of your credentials as long as the state(s) previously accepted NCBTMB exams. Generally speaking, most states who have previously accepted an NCBTMB exam will likely accept score reports from us. Both NCBTMB and FSMTB want this transition to be a smooth process for all of our current and future therapists. Most importantly, we would like to emphasize that you have not lost your credentials as a result of NCBTMB no longer offering licensure exams.

If you are licensed, along with these recent changes, it's important to note that NCBTMB's decision to no longer offer licensing examinations does not mean you no longer need to maintain your state license. NCBTMB is not a licensing entity, but we do strongly encourage and require each massage therapist to adhere to their state licensure requirements before seeking out Board Certification.

This change also does not mean that you have to take the MBLEx. You are already licensed and do not need to take an additional test for entry level licensure.

Our Decision

By exiting the licensure realm and instead supporting FSMTB's MBLEx as the country's entry level licensure examination, NCBTMB's leadership will focus on doing what's best for our profession and following our mission statement to, "Define and Advance the Highest Standards in the Massage Therapy and Bodywork Profession" with a renewed focus on Board Certification, our Assigned School code program, and strengthening and evolving our Approved Provider Program. In doing so, we simultaneously are furthering our commitment to collaborating with profession-leading peer organizations and our massage therapists to continue improving our programs and processes and create a profession that we can all be proud of.

With our decision to exit licensure, NCBTMB will now exclusively focus on Board Certification, our Assigned School Code program and an evolving Approved Provider program. This change and renewed focus on certification and continuing education empowers us to elevate our profession by mirroring other medical professions that have previously conquered the challenges that lay before us.

Moving forward, another major emphasis for NCBTMB is to work with each individual state on its continuing education requisites to ensure massage therapists continuously seek out and participate in courses that satisfy each state's requirements.

Board Certification

In short, Board Certification was created to mirror other healthcare and medical professions and to tier the massage therapy profession. With this credential, NCBTMB Certificants can be proud of achieving higher credentials than an entry level massage therapist. For some, Board Certification also presents the opportunity to seek out and embrace stronger, more rewarding positions within the medical profession and high-end spas.

Simply put, certificants who have obtained Board Certification can proudly state and prove that they have obtained the highest, voluntary credential within the massage therapy profession. Even more, certificants who commit to and achieve Board Certification understand the progression within our profession and have made the choice to strengthen our profession for our future massage therapists.

Just like in other allied health and medical professions, a new graduate takes a licensing exam and then gathers greater training and experience, all of which actively advances one to become "board eligible." In medicine, once a physician is considered board eligible, he/she may so choose to become Board Certified with a specific focus, such as Internal Medicine. After further fellowship and professional development, he/she also has the option to sit for a specialty board certification. We believe massage therapy should be no different. As a profession, we have hopes and dreams to move in this direction together, but we need the complete support of the profession at large.

Earlier this year, we organized a volunteer-based Think Tank to better advise NCBTMB on continuing education categories represented throughout the profession today. With our new collaborative culture at the forefront, we plan to put this volunteer work out to you, the profession, for your comments and input. We want to be sure we see the full landscape of our evolving profession, which means actively listening to the profession and continuing to make knowledge-based decisions.

We believe that through education and experience, we can work side-by-side with you to integrate with other medical professionals in an allied healthcare setting. Most of all, we believe we will reach the goals that our profession has for so long requested: a single entity licensure examination organization (FSMTB) and a single entity certification and continuing education approval organization (NCBTMB).