Advance Your Career

Advance your career with NCBTMB Certification

What is NCBTMB?

What does NCBTMB stand for, what is their purpose, and why should a massage therapist care?

Your journey begins today!

Credit: NCBTM1Link to NCBTMB video

Published: Aug 5, 2015

Note: Video transcript shown below


Who We Are

NCBTMB stands for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

As a volunteer-based organization, NCBTMB is comprised of:

  • Board of Directors
  • Various committee members
  • Staff members

Oftentimes, the Board of Directors will collaborate with other professionals and various peer organizations to ensure knowledge based decisions are made that live up to NCBTMB’s mission statement.

What We Do

Perhaps you’re wondering why NCBTMB was created in the first place?

Before the 1990s, very few states had regulated massage therapy, meaning many massage therapists required little to no formalized training before practicing.

In 1988, things changed.

The American Massage Therapy Association’s Board of Directors proposed the idea of credentialing that would separate educated massage therapists from those without formalized training.

In 1990, committees formed to write test questions as well as shape the requirements for certification, paving the path for the country’s first certification credential, national certification.

In 1992, NCBTMB was founded by the same group of dedicated massage therapy professionals.

National certification through NCBTMB was the nation’s first entry-level credential to create greater reciprocity between states.

As state boards began licensing massage therapists, many needed a competency tests to prove each candidate had a minimal knowledge of massage therapy modalities, ethics, and standards.

In turn, many states incorporated NCBTMB certification tests into their licensure requirements.

Eventually, the national certification exam was used for entry-level state licensure, blurring the difference between licensure and certification.

As NCBTMB researched other professions, we found certification to be regarded as a higher, voluntary credential than entry-level licensure, and massage therapy should be no different.

To do the same for our profession, we knew that we had to do two things:

  1. Elevate our standards
  2. Modify the content of our certification exam

In 2013, we did just that.

BCTMB Credential

We retired our national certification examination and replaced it with board certification, the highest voluntary credential obtainable in massage therapy and the bodywork profession.

Board certification meant raising our minimal requirements as well as a new exam to align our board certification credential with other professionals higher certifications.

BCTMB Credential logo
Official seal

Image credit2Board Certification in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (BCTMB) Link to NCBTMB website

In doing so, NCBTMB became the only organization within the profession to offer a psychometrically sound, higher voluntary credentialing exam.

What is Certification?

There are two main credentials within the massage therapy profession:

  1. Licensure
  2. Board Certification

Licensure is a mandatory, entry-level credential, required to practice legally in most states.

Board Certification is a higher, voluntary, credential similar to other professions such as optometry, dentistry, healthcare, etc.

Think of it like an airplane. You come in at economy level – “Licensure.” You have the basic requirements needed to start your travel.

After a while, when you’ve added to your tool belt and have more experience in practice, you can move to business level – “Board Certification.”

And in the future, you’ll be able to upgrade to first class with specialty certifications.

Go beyond entry-level. Your career is worth it, and your clients are worth it, too.

Importance of Board Certification

As you are likely learning, massage therapy can be a rewarding career for people that enjoy working with others.

With that said, there are many different types of modalities within the massage therapy and bodywork profession, opening the door to endless possibilities for you and your career.

Mission & Goals

Remember the NCBTMB mission statement? It is:

To define and advance the highest standards within the massage therapy and bodywork profession.

This means that we are constantly looking for ways to show both the profession, and public, that massage therapy is more than just rubbing people’s shoulders.

Our certificants are educated, and more importantly, have proven hands-on experience empowering them to confidently work with the public.

As a massage therapy student, you will soon begin gaining experience.

Many of you will want to excel in this profession.

With the credentials BCTMB 3BCTMB stands for “Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork” after your name, you have the opportunity to prove to all of your clients that you are more than just an entry-level massage therapist.

You have gained the experience, improved your skills, earned the reputation, and are living up to higher standards and ethics with NCBTMB.

What’s not to be proud of?

Benefits of Board Certification

If you’ve begun looking for a job recently, here’s something you should know.

Board certification is now recognized and often required by many healthcare facilities and even some high-end spas.

Owners and managers who only hire board certified massage therapist know that they are getting the best our profession has to offer, providing numerous benefits for both practitioners and the public.

As a board certified massage therapist, your benefits may include:

  • Recognition by third parties and other professionals such as healthcare
  • Increased credibility and professional reputation among peers in the public
  • Commitment to lifelong learning through continuing education to advance your skills
  • Increased opportunities for career advancement
  • Potential increased earnings with access to higher positions

As an added benefit for both employers and board certified massage therapist alike, NCBTMB performs a criminal background check on each of its therapist when they apply, and again each time they recertify, reassuring employers and the public they are working with a reputable and trusted massage therapist.

Your clients will thank you, too!

Based on feedback we’ve received, clients have reported several benefits, including:

  • Confidence in selecting a dedicated professional committed to excellence in their chosen profession
  • Validation of a chosen professionals knowledge and skills with credentials that matter
  • Appreciation for chosen professionals significant accomplishments

Let’s put this into perspective by looking at the medical profession.

Like us, those in the medical profession are very proud of their credentials.

Anyone entering the medical profession understands that in order to excel, he or she must need higher standards and attain higher credentials.

Each medical student must:

  1. Complete all necessary pre-med education
  2. Complete residency hours
  3. Begin working in their specific area
  4. Take his or her specialty certification exam, whether it be in pediatrics, family medicine, or neurology

The medical profession pathway is similar to massage therapy.

As a student, you will:

  • Complete massage therapy school
  • Similar to the medical residency, you will complete clinic hours before you graduate
  • After graduation, take the BCETMB 4BCETMB stands for “Board Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork” exam while the information is still fresh

You will have two years from the date you graduate to gain a hands-on experience.

You may also need to take additional education during this time to meet the 750 hours of education.

Like doctors, we as massage therapists should always seek improvement to be the best we can be for our clients and our profession.

Board certification is the path to do just that.

How to Become Board Certified

So how do you become board certified?

To become board certified, you must commit to these seven steps:

  1. Pass the BCETMB exam
  2. Complete 750 hours of Education
  3. Complete 250 hours of documented, hands-on work experience
  4. Pass a national background check
  5. Obtain a current CPR certification
  6. Agree to uphold NCBTMB’s:
  7. Commit to oppose human trafficking

Curious how to submit proof of your education and experience? It’s pretty simple.

To satisfy the 750 hours of education, submit your transcripts proving hours completed in your massage therapy program.

If you need additional education hours to meet the requirement, you’re encouraged to complete continuing education.

You may also submit courses from an accredited college or university.

To prove your 250 hours of work experience, your employer will need to submit a letter to NCBTMB, on company letterhead, stating you have completed the requirement.

If a letter from your employer is not available, or you are an independent contractor, you are welcome to submit a letter (click example below) describing your work experience.

Sample massage contractor letter to NCBTMB
Sample letter

Image credit5Screen capture from NCBTMB video

How to Apply for Board Certification

Once you’ve completed your education and have the required experience, you’re ready to apply for board certification.

You can do this very simply with our online registration system.

To begin, please visit NCBTMB.org and click on REGISTER, found in the top-left corner of your screen.

Since this is the first time you will be creating an account on NCBTMB’s website, you will need to agree to our Terms of Use and fill out the required personal information.

Once you’ve completed the profile page, you will be directed to your email.

This is where you will follow the directions, create a username and password, and login to your account.

Once logged in, click on COMPLETE A FORM located on the left-hand side of your screen under the FORMS & APPLICATIONS section.

Here you will see the Board Certification Application in your list of options. Click this to get started.

You will complete the application and upload your transcripts, legal form of identification, and current CPR certification.

You may not have your work experience completed at this time, but you can upload that in the future along with any additional education you may need to submit.

In the future, if you need to add the additional work and education documents, you can do this using the Board Certification Document Upload form.

Preparing for the Board Certification Exam

The BCETMB exam consists of 160 questions, and you will have 160 minutes or roughly two and a half hours to complete it.

As a unique exam, the BCETMB consists of mainly assessment-based questions, including real-life scenarios you will encounter as a certified massage therapist as well as assessment-based questions about:

  • Documentation
  • Consent
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Pathology

Certification Exam Questions

Here’s a brief breakdown of what makes up the 160 questions.

  • Communication accounts for 10-12% of the exam.
    • Questions focus on your ability to:
      • Conduct an effective intake interview
      • Discuss treatment plans
      • Collaborate with other healthcare professionals for the best possible care for your client
  • Law and ethics account for 8-10% percent of the exam.
    • Tests your knowledge of:
      • Physical and emotional boundaries with clients
      • Legal scope of practice
      • Maintaining client confidentiality
      • and more
  • Evaluation, planning, and documentation account for 34-37% percent of the exam.
    • Questions focus on your ability to:
      • Perform and interpret soft tissue range of motion
      • Client lifestyle
      • Postural analysis gate assessments
      • and more
  • Massage and bodywork techniques and application account for 43-46% of the exam.
    • Questions focus on your ability to:
      • Determine applicable massage and bodywork techniques
      • Apply techniques appropriately
      • Refer as necessary to other healthcare professionals

Online Practice Exam

Here’s the good news. There’s more to help you prepare.

The NCBTMB has created the online practice exam for you to use to study for board certification.

It can also be used for any licensure exam.

Created by massage therapy professionals, the online practice exam contains over 3,000 questions in two levels.

  • Level 1: Licensure Exam
  • Level 2: Board Certification

When preparing for your board certification exam, we encourage you to study the Level 1 questions first.

It’s important to know you have the fundamentals down before moving forward.

The best way to study for any test differs for everyone.

You must really know the fundamental material. It’s about more than memorizing questions and answers.

Don’t expect to see the same questions and answers on the actual exam. These practice questions are only meant to give you a better understanding of the types of questions you will likely see on your exam.

It won’t break the bank to purchase the online practice exam, either.

In fact, once you sign up for the board certification exam, you automatically qualify for a discount.

You can also talk with your school to see if purchasing the online practice exam in bulk would be worthwhile, saving you, your classmates, and your school.

For more information on the online practice exam, please visit NCBTMB.org and click on ONLINE PRACTICE EXAM on the left-hand side of the homepage.

Board Certification Awareness

After all the information you’ve learned today, we hope this is clear:

NCBTMB created the certification credential for the profession.

With that said, it is the responsibility of all of us, students and professionals alike, to inform the public about what board certification is and why it’s important.

Just as in other professions, we must strive to inform each client we encounter that we have obtained a higher credential, and be proud of that credential, especially when we interact with other professionals and industries.

NCBTMB is one of the few credentialing organizations that also works with its certificants to inform other professionals and the public about board certification.

We do this by actively working to inform the public about the benefits of certification on:

For over two decades, NCBTMB has also been known for our exemplary continuing education program, a key component to each board certified massage therapist renewal process.

This is yet another benefit to achieving the board certification credential and committing to lifelong learning with respected and trusted continuing education providers nationwide.

You can help to increase awareness about board certification too, even while you’re still in school.

This starts with a simple conversation.

Talk to your peers, your teachers, family, and friends about your interest in board certification.

Explain to them what it is and why it’s important to you.

Give them a tour of our NCBTMB website, or invite them to connect with us on social media, so they too can learn more about your aspirations.

There’s never a wrong time to start learning about board certification and there’s certainly never a wrong time to start educating others about the power of such a credential.

Your Career Pathway Options

How does this all work for you?

As we stated earlier, board certification is gradually being incorporated as a requirement to work in some healthcare settings as well as some high-end spas throughout the country.

Regardless of where you see your career down the road, you certainly do not have to aim for one of these positions to become board certified.

Board certification is a commitment to be the best you can be.

We will be the first to admit that board certification is not for everyone.

Board certification was created for professionals that strive to be more than entry-level therapists.

Much like in the medical profession, we believe credentials matter.

With board certification, massage therapists have a credential we can all be proud of.

As you are mapping out your career pathway, we encourage you to make board certification a part of that path.

The credentials can only help you.

Whether you hope to work with athletes, in a hospital setting, with the elderly, or even in a massage therapy education setting, the message is all the same.

Achieving board certification, sooner rather than later, will ensure you’re opening doors to improve your career.

What Have You Learned Today?

We’ve introduced a lot of information today.

  1. Complete your education
    • Massage therapy curriculum was created to include all of the knowledge and techniques you will need to successfully run your practice, but also to help you make important decisions.
  2. Once you graduate, take your entry-level state licensure exam
  3. Begin practicing
  4. Sign-up, take and pass the BCETMB exam
    • You will have two years to meet the minimal hands-on work experience
    • You may have to take additional education during this time
    • Submit your:
      • 750 hours of Education
      • 250 hours of hands-on work experience
      • Current CPR certification

As we’ve highlighted, the online practice exam will prepare you for the test.

Remember, this tool can be used to help you prepare for both your entry-level state licensure exam as well as the board certification exam.

Board certification is proof that we should never limit ourselves within the massage therapy and bodywork profession.

All of us have different visions of where our career may lead us, all of which should be celebrated and embraced.

Your board certification will help you achieve your goals, whether it be working in a high-end spa, education, or even a medical facility such as a chiropractor’s office or hospital.

You will discover an exciting new journey with massage therapy as you continue to grow your knowledge and skills through continuing education.

The possibilities are endless.

Contact NCBTMB

Have a question?

Connect with us anytime:

  • Online at NCBTMB.org
  • Emailing info@NCBTMB.org
  • Call our customer support team: 1-800 296-0664
    • Customer support hours: Mon-Fri 8am-5pm CT

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to connect with us on our various social media communities:

Facebook Review icon Twitter icon Linkedin icon YouTube icon

You’ll find a great deal of inspiring and educational content and you’ll be in the loop on all of our latest news and events.

Even more, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with, and learn from, other inspiring board certified massage therapists who are doing great things for the profession.

All of us at NCBTMB look forward to connecting with you and helping you along on your journey with board certification.