Why Quality Education Matters

By Lance Hostetter
[ABMP Legislative Advocacy]

When I joined the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) team, I came to my job as government relations director with a deep background in public policy, advocacy, and government relations and a limited background in massage therapy. One thing I’ve learned quickly—I need to be educated by content experts. So, I seek out opportunities to talk to experts in the field, join continuing education classes at conferences, and read articles and previous policies to help get me up to speed. I still have work to do, and I’ll continue to seek opportunities to learn so I can do my job better each day. 

I believe the same is true for any profession—including massage therapy. Nationally, massage therapy has been thrust into a situation that demands our attention. The US Department of Education released new rules in 2023 that require massage schools to offer programs that do not exceed the licensing requirements set by their state in order for its students to be eligible for Title IV financial aid (Pell Grants and federal loans). For example, if a state requires 500 education hours for licensure, then massage programs cannot require more hours if they want to be a Title IV school. 

This is a drastic change. Formerly, this rule allowed schools to provide programs at 150 percent of the state requirement. So, a school in a 500-hour state could have a 750-hour program. The idea was simple—the state requires a bare minimum for licensure, which focuses on safety. The school ensures education meets the safety requirement and the quality aspect (no client wants just a safe massage; they want a quality massage).

ABMP believes that quality education falls somewhere in the range of 600–650 hours. In 2011, ABMP and six other national massage organizations—what came to be called the Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations (“Coalition,” for short)—assembled to identify key aspects of massage practice that were candidates for improvement, with entry-level education being identified as the single greatest priority. 

ABMP took charge of creating a major project to identify the skills and knowledge that should be included in a core massage education to prepare someone to practice safely and effectively. A companion piece of the project was to assess how many hours this core education should require for a capable instructor to impart this knowledge. The collective result was the Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP), which recommended entry-level curriculum guidelines of 600–650 hours. 

Not every Coalition member agreed with every item in the 350-page ELAP blueprint, yet all seven Coalition members signed on to a December 2013, eight-page summary, the “Statement of Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations.” The ELAP subsequently informed revised, entry-level educational requirements in several states and was incorporated in Model Practice Act Guidelines created by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

Of the 48 states that offer a massage therapy license, certification, or registration, 25 require a minimum-hour requirement of 600 hours. Therefore, approximately 50 percent of states that require a massage therapy license mandate their students receive more education than their peers in 500-hour states. 

Now, more than ever, is the time to reevaluate massage education requirements. ABMP believes in the ELAP recommendation because it takes into account both public safety and quality. Given the new federal rules, it’s time to align education requirements across the country. Those with states that are below the 600-hour threshold must consider increasing their hours. Doing so is the responsible thing to do. 

And, you, massage professionals, can help be the voices of change. If you live in a 500-hour state, ABMP wants to work with you to make this change possible. 

Lance Hostetter is the ABMP director of government relations. To contact ABMP government relations, email gr@abmp.com.