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License vs. Certification: What’s the Difference?

Knowing which credentials you need to practice is crucial when building your wellness business. But when it comes to the difference between a massage therapy license vs. certification, the distinction is confusing for many.

So which one do you need in order to practice? What’s the difference between a massage therapy license and certification?

Depending on the state that you’re in, what you’ll need to practice as a massage therapist will vary. Currently, the ability to practice massage changes from state to state. There are now 44 states that require some form of regulation for massage therapists (AMTA).

If you’re ready to discover the difference between a massage therapy license vs. certification, which ones you’ll need, and which states don’t have regulations, keep reading.

stamp that reads "licensed"

What is Licensing?

Your state may require you to have a license in order to practice as a bodyworker.

But what exactly is licensing? And how does it differ from certification?

Licensing is when a government body or state regulates a profession. For example, if licensing laws are passed in your state, it is illegal to practice without one.

Typically, healthcare professionals are licensed at the state level but not the federal level. Often, you’ll be called a “Licensed Massage Therapist or Practitioner” (LMT or LMP)— though some states use the term “Certified Massage Therapist” instead (CMT).

States Without Licensing

Right now, there are only three states without a set of licensing regulations. They are as follows:

● Kansas

● Wyoming

● And Minnesota

New Hampshire requires that you register as a massage therapist, but the state does not require licensing.

Although these are currently the states that don’t require licensing, requirements can change over time. So make sure to double-check your local government sites for the latest information to make sure you’re on top of things.

City or County Business License

It’s essential to check with your local city or county government to see if you need a business license to conduct business in your area.

These types of licenses are for each business establishment. So you may need to apply for a business license if:

● You work for yourself

● Or you are a business owner of a spa or massage clinic.

If you work for someone else as an employee, the establishment’s pre-existing business license usually covers you. So, in this case, you wouldn’t need to worry about it.

If you work for someone else as an independent contractor, then you are self-employed in your own business and should have your own business license. This also comes with the benefits of owning a business such as business tax deductions.

Business licenses usually have a sliding scale of fees. These fees depend on the amount of revenue you make or the number of employees you have. Moreover, this time of license tends to renew annually.


What is a Certification?

A certification is usually given by a private body such as a school or a person that is accredited. Depending you local government or state, they maybe required to practice under the legally protected title of “massage therapist.”

For instance, you can go to school to get a degree in massage therapy as a general practitioner, which counts as a certification. You can also get additional certifications to show your mastery in more specific modalities.

Sometimes, you can even get an additional title with a new certification. For instance, if acquire certification in Craniosacral therapy, you also acquire the total of  Registered Craniosacral Therapist  (RCST®).

It’s important to note that getting a certification is a professional seal of approval which differs from getting a certificate in a class.

For instance, sometimes certificates might be given to award participants in a class that is not accredited. You may gain additional knowledge, but these don’t usually officially certify your mastery in a given modality.


Some states, such as California, offer voluntary certification processes. In California, the local government at the city or county level currently determines licensing laws.

Your state might have specific requirements. But they may also use the state certification board to set the standard.


When aiming to become a massage therapist, making sure that you have the proper credentials is crucial. The majority of states require you to obtain a license to practice.

Although certifications are sometimes optional, they mark you as a professional and reflect your expertise. Usually, you can obtain these from accredited school. Start Massage Biz is accredited by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) as an Approved Continuing Education Provider.  Check out our courses here.

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