Proposed Massage Ordinance Would Add Standards to Unregulated Field

California has one of the lowest requirements in the country when it comes to massage work. But creating an ordinance that creates standards for training would improve overall care and weed out bad operators, writes one local therapist


By Tiahna Skye

Regulating massage therapy in Petaluma is rife with questions and issues, and demands the serious attention it has been given… and more.

What should we be regulating?  What are the possible unintended results? Will legitimate massage therapists be adversely impacted while attempting to restrict prostitution? And how do we oversee the healthy growth of massage therapy as the next advancement in collaborative health care?

I am concerned that the goal of establishing quality controls, educational requirements, and best practice standards is getting lost in a “power struggle” while the dialogue between law enforcement, the community, and massage therapists deteriorates. 

Many currently practicing massage therapists want a more lenient local regulation that would create a “grandfather clause”, separate from the new State permit requirements set forth by the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC). A clause of this nature would allow these working massage therapists to continue practicing in town without the need for additional education. The argument has been made that those with less than 100 hours of massage specific education have historically provided good care, and should not be subject to additional burdensome requirements.

CAMTC was founded by massage therapists to regulate our own field. The requirements set forth were agreed upon by a large and diverse group of massage, law enforcement, and other health care professionals seeking to define standards of expertise in the interest of public health and safety. Additionally, the hope was that these efforts would further the recognition of massage therapy as a legitimate and valuable health service.

The reality is that even if Petaluma chooses to adopt CAMTC requirements, California still has one of the lowest requirements of any state in the country. Massage therapy has become part of the medical field, and as such, there needs to be definition of the training, practices and ethics of the field. The public has a right to know that the therapy they seek for pain relief or injury rehabilitation is going to be performed by a skilled therapist with in-depth knowledge of applicable techniques, benefits and contraindications.

While I appreciate the City of Petaluma is striving to support the ongoing success of local businesses, I think it is important to also consider the profession in terms of emerging national standards and changing regulatory landscape.

No one opinion or constituency comes out the sole “winner” in this current version of the ordinance.  I do believe however, that it addresses the issues well.  For example, dictating a specific, professional dress code is unnecessary for lawful massage therapy businesses.  Having been a massage therapist for 35 years, I have seen the field change and gain public recognition as a legitimate health service. It is a bit disheartening that we still must deal with any misperceptions as being entangled with the adult entertainment industry.  

Nevertheless, I think it is important to remember, as we consider this ordinance, that the city and law enforcement are responding to valid issues of prostitution, and did not create this unfortunate circumstance. While I personally find denigrating the need for a dress code stipulating such things as opaque clothing, I recognize the need to take such measures is a result of the fact that illegal businesses use massage as a front for prostitution.

There are some who feel burdened by the need to meet the hourly educational requirements of the CAMTC certification.  I know without a doubt that there are many current massage therapists who do perform a wonderful massage with only 100 or 150 hours of training.  I was able to start my own career with 120 hours of training. That said, it is also a fact that at this time the public has no means of distinguishing between those who provide massage designed purely for relaxation, from those who practice therapeutic, issue-related massage techniques.  

Regardless of training and experience, we all fall under one heading, Massage Therapist. Because of that I feel strongly that it is important to establish minimum education requirements that ensure public health and safety.  As an educator in the field, I am committed to elevating the standing of our profession.  To that end, National Holistic Institute offers support in the provision of free continuing education courses to help local practicing massage therapists achieve their permitting requirements, and hopefully alleviate some of the sense of burden they might feel.

I wish that I could say that as a community we had reached consensus about this ordinance.  Unfortunately we did not arrive at that destination.  My hope is that despite our differing views, we can rise above our individual wants and agree to the steps necessary to further our profession and support our local law enforcement in having the tools they need to ensure the safety of our entire community.

In the end, I think we all want the same things.  

We would like to offer legitimate massage therapy services that provide support for the health and well being of those we serve. We would like to live and work in a community that is safe and free from crime. We would like to stand as professionals in the field of massage therapy and be recognized as legitimate and respectable.  We would like the freedom to earn a livelihood through the means of our talents and skills. And, we would like to have a sense of belonging and meaningful contribution in the community in which we live and work.  I think the city’s proposed ordinance meets those goals and I am in favor of approving it.

Tiahna Skye is the Petaluma campus manager of the National Holistic Institute, a massage therapy school with locations in Emeryville, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and Southern California. For more information about NHI, visit them at www.nhi.edu

Laurel Wolfe Surles, LMT February 08, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Well said. I believe Ms Skye has her hand on the pulse of this discussion, being both an educator and a long time practicing massage therapist. As a practitioner myself, originally schooled and certified in CA, I personally learned the licensing requirement differences from state to state, with my move to OR. I must say, if I did not have the financial support of my husband, I'm not sure I could have survived the 8 month hiatus from being able to provide income, while I paid for continuing education to bring me up to OR licensing requirements. Successfully, I am now an LMT Licensed Massage Therapist) in OR. But seriously, I came here with 25 years in practice, 18 thru verifiable Chiropractic offices, only to be put thru financial & educational demands that in many cases, would cause one to choose another profession. This is my passion, and I am skilled at it. Other talented practitioners I'm sure have folded. A shame really. Lets continue to get the healing art practice of massage therapy, be it therapeutic rehab, or therapeutic relaxation & stress reduction, equal across the board without the extra burden being put fully on the practitioners shoulders. I applaud NHI for offering CE classes for free, keeping our educational standards high, helping sincere practitioners during this transition of our healing arts field.


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