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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT


Updated: Dec 19, 2023

You hear me introduce myself as Master Massage Therapist and Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. But what do those credentials really mean and what is the difference between the two?

Master Massage Therapist: a License

Most states require a license as an entry level credential to legally practice massage therapy. Each state has their own laws and rules that regulate the profession and issues their own licenses to practice in their state. (There are some states with no statewide regulations- just a patch work of municipal/city regulations) Arkansas (where I am licensed and practice) has a long and unique history in regulating massage- the first Massage Registration Act for my state came in 1951! Arkansas requires a specific minimum number of hours of classroom instruction at a register massage school, passage of the Arkansas state massage therapy law exam, and passage of the national exam for massage, the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx). As well as a background check for initial licensure as well as for every subsequent upgrade. I took and passed my MBLEx the first time in October 2014. I found it to be a challenging exam and was surprised to find out I had passed.

Uniquely, Arkansas is one of the few (in not, the only) state now that has different levels of massage therapy licensure.

  • Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT)

  • Master Massage Therapist (MMT)

  • Massage Therapy Instructor (MTI)

I currently hold a MMT license since I upgraded my LMT in 2020. As a Master Massage Therapist, I am allowed to practice massage and provide approved Continuing Education (CE) courses to other licensed therapists (just like with the LMT license), but I am also allowed to instruct classes to pre-licensed students in a massage school under the supervision of a MTI.

In Arkansas, renewal of a license is required every two years. A fee must be paid and proof of eighteen hours of CEs must be provided.

Again, a license is mandatory to practice massage therapy legally.

Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork: a Certification

In contrast, certification is completely voluntary (although some states require Certification in the pathway to Licensure). One can become certified in different disciplines and modalities of massage (like Reflexology, CranioSacral, Manual Lymphatic Drainage, etc.), but Board Certification is designed to assess overall knowledge and critical thinking skills (the exam is made up of the following categories;

Assessment, Applied Sciences(Anatomy/Physiology/Kinesiology/Pathology/Injury/Pharmacology), Massage Modalities/Techniques/Manual Forces,

Professional Communication,

Professionalism/Ethics, and

Laws/Business Practices).

The National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) offers the highest credential in the profession- the BCTMB. Becoming Board Certified is designed to demonstrate advanced knowledge and critical thinking to provide further credibility to clients and employers. Certification was created in 2012 to tier the profession and give therapists a credential to work toward beyond entry level licensure. Board Certification mirrors practices in other allied health and medical professions which builds more validity to massage.

Board Certification has its own set of requirements such as proof of education at assigned schools and licensure in your home state as well as their own examination. I recently took and passed the Board Certification Exam in December 2022. The exam was every bit as challenging to me as the MBLEx was all those years ago. I was once again shocked to hear that I had passed, but I am left with a sense of pride and a deflated imposter syndrome. Certification requires renewal every two years with a fee and proof of twenty-four NCBTMB approved CEs (three of which must be in Ethics) and passage of a background check.

I chose Board Certification because to me it demonstrates how serious I take my commitment to the profession and communicates my personal sense of accomplishment as a professional.

So, those are my current credentials as a professional Licensed and Certified massage therapist. I take great pride in maintaining both my MMT and BCTMB titles and hope that they convey to you my commitment to providing quality care, quality education, and personal strive for advancing my career.

Peace & Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT, BCTMB

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