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To have and have not

Regulating the massage therapy industry is spreading east across Canada.

January 7, 2015  By Jack Kohane

Regulating the massage therapy industry is spreading east across Canada. From Newfoundland and Labrador  (regulated since 2002), to New Brunswick, which enacted regulation legislation last year, to the “nearly-have” Prince Edward Island (pending), to the “not-quite-yet-on-deck” Quebec, the national drive to bring massage therapy into the fold of other health professions may be just a matter of time.

have and have not  

For Mary Ellen Murray, a massage therapist based in Summerside, P.E.I., the absence of regulations adversely impacts her practice.

“Regulation would impact my practice by possibly increasing clients to come to my clinic versus someone who is not registered with our association and has not received the required education to practise safely. It may increase doctors’ referrals versus another modality, thus increasing client awareness of what we can do,” she says.

Public awareness, or lack of it when it comes to massage therapy practice, is part of the challenge. “Most of my clients don’t even know regulation in P.E.I. is non-existent. So, obviously and detrimentally, they don’t care. Clients who know about regulation agree that it is necessary.”


Murray recently posted a message on a social media network regarding the case of a massage therapist in another province who sexually assaulted a client. Her posting elicited heated comments from colleagues across the country, as well as several of her clients.

“Their comments underscored that this is another example as to why massage therapy should be regulated,” she adds.

From her experience, Murray believes that public awareness of what massage therapists do versus the so-called “masseuse/massage parlour” has come a long way.

“As soon as I hear a client use the term rub, I interject with treat; masseuse, I interject with massage therapist; bed, I interject with table.” When she is asked the difference between masseuse and massage therapist she would respond: “About $30,000 invested and two years of painstaking learning in the massage therapy educational system.”

Marilyn Sparling, clinic owner and the national representative for the P.E.I. Massage Therapy Association (PEIMTA), emphasizes the time has come for regulation of this profession everywhere in Canada.

“We need a national strategy for educational standards for examining emerging therapists and continually increasing the education and efficacy of the therapy that we do each day,” she says from the organization’s Charlottetown headquarters. The association has 70 members across the Island.

The P.E.I. government’s final proclamation of their legislation “Regulated Health Professions Act” was in 2014. There is now a framework in place to move forward with the government on seeking regulation for the province’s MT profession. The PEIMTA, as Sparling points out, has been in contact with the legislative specialist within government for the past few years and has participated in consultations on an ongoing basis. The government has included “massage therapy” as one of the professions wanting to become regulated.

“There have been no road blocks thus far. There is simply work to be done,” she says. “Most people’s attitude to regulation, I think, is that they are surprised we are not already regulated as a course of action. Please realize not only are RMTs not regulated here, neither are more than 20 other health-care groups such as naturopaths, acupuncturists, dental hygienists, lab techs … so we are not alone in this situation here.”

New Brunswick
No longer a “have-not,” New Brunswick ushered in regulations in December 2013, when the provincial government’s Bill 25 (“An Act to Incorporate the College of Massage Therapists of New Brunswick”) received royal assent. One who enthusiastically welcomes the launch of a regulated environment in the profession is John MacKenney, president of the New Brunswick Massotherapy Association (NBMA-AMNB) and the chair of the Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance (CMTA).

“A regulated practice will increase awareness of what our roles are within the professional health team,” says MacKenney in Saint John, N.B. “It will help define what our scope of practice is in comparison of other health professionals. It will increase our professionalism. It will create new education opportunities. Lastly, we have a way to govern our profession.”

Some immediate hurdles of transitioning to a regulated profession, from MacKenney’s perspective, centre on many of the activities that his association was doing to protect the public before regulation has been handed over to the college.

“NBMA-AMNB is very busy putting plans into action which will help out therapists become more educated about research with the plan of starting research of our own in the next few years,” he notes. “Regulation defines minimum standards, promotes audits and educates the public; all with the goal of protecting the public. We are looking for mobility for professional massage therapists to move, unencumbered by bureaucracy, to wherever in Canada there is a need for massage therapy.”

With efforts to get the province’s massage therapy profession regulation accomplished, MacKenney enthuses that his organization will now focus on enhancing its efforts to promote massage therapy. To help deliver that message to the public, the NBMA-AMNB has initiated collaborative projects with the Horizon Health Network, University of New Brunswick, Community College New Brunswick, and Dalhousie University (Medical) to increase awareness and reputation of the MT profession.

“Regulation will also increase the massage therapy profession’s credibility with insurance providers,” he claims.

Newfoundland and Labrador
Having joined the “have” provinces with lengthy histories of regulation (British Columbia and Ontario), Newfoundland and Labrador has since made historic strides of its own since being regulated in 2002. The Newfoundland and Labrador Massage Therapists Association (NLMTA) was formed in 1990 with five members; it now boasts about 250 members.

Members of the NLMTA are required to be active members of the College of Massage Therapists of Newfoundland and Labrador. NLMTA members must follow high standards of practice, maintain a strict code of ethics and are required to participate in continuing education.

“We started as a small group but we came together in a place of commonality and common purpose,” states Sara Sexton, a RMT and former NLMTA president. “We have a unique setup wherein all members of the regulatory body of the College of Massage Therapists of NL (CMTNL) must also be active members in good standing with the one and only professional association in our province – the Newfoundland Labrador Massage Therapists Association. Our association continues to do radio advertisements to boost the public’s understanding of what we do. And we continue to work very closely as a part of the national group (the CMTA) to bring about a cohesive representation of our profession. That is still the challenge.”

Claudette Marie Warren, a RMT with In Motion Health Centre in St. John’s, N.L., says more needs to be done to educate the public on the benefits of regulation.

“Even though massage history dates back to the age of Hippocrates, the massage therapy profession is still underestimated. Newfoundland Labrador has managed to jump on the regulation train early, but areas of our profession are lacking. For one, the idea of research is only now surfacing within our province.”

In the province of Quebec, where the twinkling neon signs of massage parlours signal services beyond relief from muscle ache and joint strain, the drive to professionalize the practice of massage therapy is making major strides.

“Professionalization means that massage therapy must be recognized as a therapeutic practice within the health profession, and based on this assessment, the FQM asked for regulation in 1992 and still carries on,” says Sylvie Bédard, president and CEO of Montreal-based Fédération Québécoise des Massothérapeutes (FQM), representing 5,500 MTs throughout the province.

“In February 2012, we applied for legislation and did representations to the Ministry of Justice… We are still in the process,” she stresses.

On the issue of massage parlours, Bédard insists it’s not a question of confusion in the minds of the consumer, “But more one of exasperation and a feeling of injustice as people see MT removed from their health insurance package.”

The massage therapy profession in Quebec has a formidable political ally in Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, who is spearheading a crackdown on massage parlours masquerading as legitimate businesses and wants them shut down. Part of his solution: regular inspections of “erotic parlour” establishments and hefty fines for those falsely representing their

For its part, the FQM is waging a multipronged educational campaign aimed at professionals and the public. It is using a range of social media, posting informational videos on the web, and writing content for Pharmablogue, a blog dedicated to pharmacists and other health professionals. Last year, the organization launched an informational web platform called (in French only).

“We are explaining and sharing all the information related to our work towards regulation,” adds Bédard.

Expressing less optimism that more stringent regulation is imminent, Mark Balchunas, spokesman for the Association du Québec des Thérapeutes Naturels (AQTN), an association whose members include MTs, naturopaths and reflexologists, laments that despite multiple attempts by some of the province’s largest complementary medicine associations, “the situation has remained unchanged.”

“One of the major obstacles for regulation is demonstrating to the government that massage therapy poses a danger to the general public. This has proved particularly difficult. People who enjoy a massage regularly know good technique from bad. In the longer term, less competent massage therapists simply don’t get the business to keep them operating.”

Balchunas goes on to say that all Quebec massage associations can have an impact on demand (from consumers), whether through networking, partnerships, marketing campaigns, awareness campaigns, among others.

“Every opportunity must be seized, and new opportunities must be created when possible,” he insists.

Julie Eyelom, a Joliette, Que., massage therapist and AQTN member, strikes an upbeat tone. “The process of regulation must be done in a structured way. Schools must absolutely be included, as should massage therapists themselves. One path towards regulation in Quebec, in my opinion, begins with teachers. We need to ensure they are competent, experienced and qualified. This is much easier said than done when anyone can open a massage school. This is why associations have recognized schools, but it is clearly not enough.”

Across Canada, there is almost universal agreement regulation not only benefits MTs but also clients who would benefit more from better-care treatments.

“You wouldn’t expect anything less of your doctor or dentist, so why should RMTs be exempt from these sorts of obligations?” says P.E.I. massage therapist Warren.

Other articles the Regional Focus Series:

Western Canada (Spring 2014)
The regulation debate

Ontario (Summer 2014)
Onward and upward

Prairie Provinces (Fall 2014)
There’s an ad for that

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