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Regulations in Massage: Who benefits really?

March 07, 2015 4 min read


Law books with a wooden judges gavel on a wooden table
Around 2007, while I was on a VTCT Swedish Massage course, the rumours were circulating that the massage industry would soon be legally regulated. Well it’s now 2015 and no official laws are in place. Whether that is seen as a good or bad thing may largely depend on your attitude to life in general. Massage was not something that had been regulated in any way before the last couple of decades, and there are those that believe that such regulations are encouraged by bodies representing large massage schools that may benefit from restriction of the competition; students would then have to invest in a whole lot of training which may or may not be useful for the actual therapy in practice. Some think these regulations are also just an excuse for the regulatory bodies to rake in a bit more cash. 
On the flip side, there are undoubtedly many people who feel that any practitioner must be authorised by a higher body in order to be perceived as safe to use. As within any industry, there is clearly a place for protecting customers from poor service, injury or inappropriate behaviour. But it’s unlikely that a therapist with inappropriate intentions would make this obvious until they were in the position to execute such behaviour, so it probably wouldn’t be picked up by an assessor and result in a fail. If somebody is that way inclined, then studying for a qualification isn’t going to stop it.  Likewise, poor customer service is down to personal attitude. A good course will most certainly offer pointers, but it is unlikely to result in a drastic attitude change, and massage rarely causes any kind of injury. Perhaps some of the more rigorous forms of massage, like Thai Massage, could – but they’re not regulated in any way, shape or form in the country of origin and going by the booming nature of that industry, the therapists out there apparently manage not to cause much damage to their customers. 
Is self-appointed authority a bonus or a restriction? 
In the UK, therapists will be aware of the main bodies offering what is currently ‘voluntary’ regulation; for example, the CNHC who state that they were established ‘with Government support’. It sounds official, and in order to register you must have certain qualifications. Western society generally requires some kind of external seal of approval to feel comfortable trusting a practitioner or company. So there is a market for it… but of course the therapist is footing the inevitable bill for this. 
Whether enforceable massage laws will become a reality in the UK is yet to be seen. It seems that the City of London is already finding ways to make official enforcements at the cost of the therapist: If you want to work there, you need to be licensed as a ‘Massage and Special Treatment Therapist.’ Apparently, "Massage and special treatment licenses in the City of London are issued under Part IV of the London County Council (General Powers) Act 1920.” This will set you back £66, and an assessment letter from NARIC if your qualification was internationally acquired. 
Massage laws are now in place in many states of the US, where up to 1000 hours of education can be required before you are legally allowed to practice. There are some states that are still unregulated but in most places you are going to have to prove yourself. Australia, New Zealand, and most European countries are currently not officially regulated, while some of the larger Canadian provinces regulate the therapist but not the practice. 
If you look at the National Careers Service website in the UK, an aspiring massage therapist will find the following advice: ‘To work safely as a massage therapist, you will need to take an in-depth course of at least six months full-time or 12 months part-time. You may be able to get into this job through an Apprenticeship scheme if there is one available locally.”  Could this be somewhat misleading to a less discerning therapist, as it doesn’t say anywhere in the job profile that you don’t have to have a particular qualification in order to work? 
The proof is in the pudding 
One could argue that it’s common sense that we need to have enough training to be considered ‘safe’ – but is this not also down to other variants, like sensibility, natural ability, and so on? A person could train for a year and still not generally considered a ‘good’ therapist, whereas someone with a natural aptitude might offer a better massage experience after only a week or two of training in a foreign country. The proof is in the pudding – if we don’t do a good job, or we behave inappropriately – the customer won’t come back! 
The cost to the therapist is often massive if training for a six-month period (or more) in the UK; it’s an investment, for sure. Yet there are no guarantees that the Diploma student will make a great therapist. It all depends on what clients are looking for, of course. Specialist treatments will require specialist knowledge – it goes without saying, and those with serious injures or complications may be much more comfortable visiting a therapist who has recognised qualifications and experience. But if the majority of massage clients are mainly seeking relaxation or relief from muscular tension, could this not be achieved with say.. a shorter, intense training course, or home tuition by an experienced therapist? 
How do you feel about lawful regulation? Are you pro-regulation? How much time do you think it should take to become a competent therapist? To what extent do you think regulation is beneficial, and at what point does it become a tiresome and/or expensive imposition, or a deterrent to those starting out? Would you be happy going to a lesser-trained therapist for treatment, if they did a good job, but weren’t registered with the FHT?

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