By Erin Howk, BCTMB
I’ll admit, I didn’t learn my massage therapy craft in Minnesota. I was living in Chicago at the time I decided to make this life-changing career move. While I was in school, the state of Illinois was just implementing their state regulations for massage therapists and the city of Chicago had their own strict requirements. I hauled myself down to the South Side of Chicago to the police headquarters to have myself fingerprinted and background checked. I passed, but then had to start over with the State of Illinois a few months later. Soon after school, I moved back home to Minnesota.
I thought I had been educated on the importance of credentials. I was initially glad that the community in southern Minnesota I chose to move to didn’t have any regulation to speak of.
Great! One less business expense! And then I opened my business.
My first year was rough, as it always is for the uninitiated. I didn’t have a credential from the state or city, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have to prove myself to my community. When I was interviewed by Mayo Health Systems to work in their hospice department, they hadn’t had a massage therapist on staff before. They asked me, “How do we know we have a qualified candidate?” This question stumped me. How could they know by glancing at a resume who to call when there was nothing to indicate minimum qualifications?
Even though I didn’t have to in Minnesota, I became board certified with the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) to show the dedication to my craft. I joined the AMTA to network with other professionals, and then went out and met chiropractors and medical doctors to build a relationship for referrals.
As I’ve matured as business woman and massage therapist, I’ve learned that the investment in my credentials is more important than ever. It became less about the fee, and more about informing the public and my clients what it was about my services that were different from the people around me. Having a voluntary credential through the NCBTMB was (and still is) a boon to my reputation and a motivator for me to keep up the requirements for the Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB) credential. I didn’t end up spending less on my career, because education and being in touch with my profession are extremely important to me.
I’ve been in Fairmont, MN, for more than a decade and I’ve seen questionable behavior by fellow massage therapists (borrowing money from clients, suggesting they stop medications) with no recourse (what is there to take away?) and other therapists strike out on their own, only to find that the business of being a Professional Massage Therapist is not as easy as hanging out your shingle and saying, “I’m open!”
A chiropractor friend of mine had a low opinion of massage therapists because he felt they didn’t understand basic business practices (as in, showing up on time to appointments) and didn’t want to rent space to them anymore. Even though I have an industry credential through the NCBTMB, I need something to show that I know what I am doing. I need something that means something to others outside of the massage therapy industry, and something that indicates my professional status. This is where Voluntary Registration of Massage and Bodywork Therapists comes in.
It’s true, voluntary registration won’t solve a perpetual tardiness habit, or teach you how to balance your books. What it does do, however, is give you a Mark of Distinction above others in our vague and undefined industry. It says, “Here is a professional who took the time to become educated, who dedicated themselves to the highest standard of their profession in Minnesota, and can be trusted to uphold ethical and professional behavior. Here is a person I can trust with my health, a person I can refer to, a person I can hire.” I want that for myself and for all the hard work I’ve put in the for the last 11.5 years. I want that for all Massage Therapists in Minnesota.