We've all seen them—the small, hole-in-the-wall places that offer back rubs for cheap. So what is the real difference between a practice with Licensed Massage Therapists and an unlicensed practicing masseuse? In New York State, practicing massage without a license is a felony. Like other professions that require a license - dentistry, doctors, etc, you wouldn't want someone practicing without a license for a reason. Many unlicensed establishments don't follow basic health and safety requirements (used sheets, dirty tables, not washing hands between clients). Many overwork and underpay their therapists, contributing to injuries and exploitation. Also, if you suffer from an injury, an untrained masseuse may make it seriously worse. The bottom line: you get what you pay for.
Licensed massage therapists are extensively trained in a variety of techniques (over 1,200 hours in NY State), as well as how to identify certain orthopedic conditions. Unlicensed therapists are most often not familiar with this vital information and not only will they ignore your injury or discomfort, they may also make it worse and injure you. Legitimate massage therapists are dedicated to making your session relaxing, informative and most of all safe. We're not doctors; however, we are at the front line of the healing process and the fight against chronic pain.
Also, we can't go any further without talking about the REAL reason massage therapy is so strictly regulated in the first place. Many years ago, massage parlors here and abroad combined the services of their masseuses with another type of, ah, “service”. Any professional massage you receive should be of a non-sexual nature, and if you think your therapist is acting inappropriately in any way—before, during, or after your session—then odds are they aren't running a legitimate practice.
So what should you do if you suspect your therapist isn't licensed to practice? First, if you are not sure for whatever reason, it's fine to ask to see a copy of the therapist's license or registration. Per the laws in New York state, the license must be displayed in a conspicuous area in the session space. Another tip: If while working with you they do not respond to your requests for a change in pressure or ignore your pain, don't be afraid to end the session. Be sure to keep an open dialogue with whomever is working on you and you won't put yourself at risk for injury. From the start, make sure that your therapist is a NY State Licensed one, and you're sure to have a much better, consistent and safe massage.
For more information about the practice of massage therapy, visit amtamassage.org.