• Get Info

    Fill out the form below and someone will be in touch with you soon.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

September 7, 2020

What’s the Difference Between a Massage Therapy License and Certification?

A question we get a lot here at the San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork is, “What is the difference between a certification and a license?”

In the world of massage therapy, people often use the words licensed and certified interchangeably. While each term represents the involvement of local government in the regulation of the profession, licensing and certification mean different things.

deep tissue massage

What’s the Difference?

In California, massage therapists are certified through the California Massage Therapy Council or CAMTC. The CAMTC defines certification as a “title law”, or a law that regulates the use of a title; in this case, “Certified Massage Therapist.” In this type of law, what is protected is the
title of the profession and only those therapists who have gone through the certification process may claim to be a “CMT.”

States that have a license are a little bit different from states that have certifications. Licenses generally regulate the practice of massage therapy itself, not the title of the practitioner. In this sort of legal structure, government still regulates education and has a registration process that is not dissimilar to getting certified. In license states, certification generally refers to having completed state approved education and received a certificate, not being legally able to perform massage.

massage therapist working on getting his certification

Why it Matters

Both licensing and certification seek to address the same concerns of public safety and protection of the profession. The differences may seem semantic, but the point at which the regulation takes place allows for certain things to occur that may be desirable for one reason or another. For example, in a title law state like California, individual municipalities can still have local massage regulations that are less stringent than the state requirements. In such places, a person could technically practice as long as they did not claim to be certified by the state. While most cities and towns in California have adopted CAMTC requirements, there are still a few that wish to regulate massage at the local level. In these places, having a state certification is like a seal of approval while lacking one is a red flag to clients and customers.

In license law states, the practice of massage may be regulated as a means to clearly define what is and what is not considered massage. In this legal structure, the consumer is protected by not being subjected to having techniques performed on them by people who are unqualified. This may, for example, allow a spa attendant or personal trainer to perform certain massage techniques as a part of their job but would restrict them from performing something more advanced such as deep tissue or trigger point.

Whether you are in a certification state, a license state, or massage is just regulated on a local level, the goals are the same; to protect the public and to protect the profession by ensuring a minimum standard of practice and competence.

Which States Are Which?

For more information on whether your state requires massage certification or a license to practice massage, check out the list of state massage therapist titles below.

  • Alabama – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Alaska – Massage Therapist (License)
  • Arizona – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Arkansas – Licensed Massage Therapist, Master Massage Therapist, Instructor
  • California – Certified Massage Therapist
  • Colorado – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Connecticut – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Delaware – Licensed/Certified Massage and Bodywork Therapist
  • District of Columbia – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Florida – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Georgia – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Hawaii – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Idaho – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Illinois – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Indiana – Certified Massage Therapist
  • Iowa – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Kentucky – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Louisiana – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Maine – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Maryland – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Massachusetts – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Michigan – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Mississippi – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Missouri – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Montana – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Nebraska – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Nevada – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • New Hampshire – Licensed Massage Practitioner
  • New Jersey – Licensed Massage Therapist, Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist
  • New Mexico – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • New York – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • North Carolina – Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist
  • North Dakota – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Ohio – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Oklahoma – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Pennsylvania – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Rhode Island – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • South Carolina – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • South Dakota – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Tennessee – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Texas – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Utah – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Virginia – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Washington – Licensed Massage Practitioner
  • West Virginia – Licensed Massage Therapist
  • Wisconsin – Licensed Massage Therapist

If you read this far, you likely noticed a few states missing from the list. This is because Kansas, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wyoming have no state regulations in place. To find information about massage regulations in these states, check at the local level with the town or county clerk.


We hope that this article helps clarify the subtle differences between being certified and being licensed. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork!

, , , , , , ,

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith
4 years ago

I really appreciate your information about which states require a massage therapist to be licensed. My little sister is moving to Utah once she graduates high school and has shown interest in massage therapy. I think it would be good for her to start looking for a therapeutic massage college so she can get licensing and certification, as you’ve suggested.

Jean Taylor
Jean Taylor
4 years ago

My little brother has a really tight back that makes it painful for him to stand for long periods of time. I’ve suggested he find a massage therapist, but he’s not sure how to find a quality service. I’ll send this article to him so he knows to look for someone that is licensed or certified.

San Francisco School of Massage & Bodywork

School Campus
475 Valencia Street – 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
Student Clinic
– Located at the 16th Street Campus
2973 16th St., Ste 100 – Ground Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x