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New Jersey Legislation: Exploring the Massage and Bodywork Therapist Licensing Act

The Licensing Act for Massage & Bodywork Therapists
We first learned of the Massage and Bodwork Therapist Licensing Act last year from Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). We get our liability insurance through them. In September 2012, ABMP sent us, via email, notice of the Massage and Bodywork Therapist Licensing Act (that became effective, September 4, 2012) requiring all massage and asian bodyworkers to obtain a license. We read the definition of Massage and Bodywork to see whether the natural healing arts we practice (Reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu) are considered bodywork. Because we use light-touch and do not "manipulate soft-tissue", as the regulations state, we disregarded it.
The NJ Massage & Bodywork Licensing Act
The Regulations - How Does the Licensing Act Affect Light-touch Modality Practitioners?
Then, in June, 2013, the licencing act was brought again to our attention. We learned that other practitioners of light-touch modalities were also wondering whether the NJ Massage and Bodywork Therapist Licensing Act was relevant to them. We wondered where the confusion could be. We went back and carefully re-read the Statutes and Regulations. In NJAC Chapter 37A of the massage regulations, we found this sentence (highlighted below); "Massage and bodywork therapy practices are designed to affect the soft tissue of the body, including practices of structured touch of the soft tissues that affect energy fields of the body." Could this be interpreted to include the light-touch healing arts such as Reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu? Could it be?

The Minutes from the 2012 Meeting and Reiki
We delved some more. We wanted to find out what the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy meant by, "affecting the energy fields of the body". Was this being interpreted to include energy-work modalities that include light-touch? We found the minutes from the September 2012 meeting. The minutes cited a letter by Reiki Master Douglas Schon asking whether he needed a license to practice Reiki in New Jersey. The minutes state that if Douglas Schon is soley practicing Reiki, he does not require a license.

Minutes from the September, 2012 NJ Board and Massage Bodywork Therapy Minutes
Is Reiki Exempt?
Reiki can be practiced both by placing hands on the body, and off the body. We wanted to make sure that the New Jersey Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy was referring to hands-on-the-body Reiki. We emailed Douglas Schon directly. He replied sending us a copy of his original letter and the accompanying description describing hands-on Reiki.

Douglas Schon's Original Letter Read:

I am writing because I am a Certified Reiki Practitioner and Reiki Master (which means I am qualified to teach Reiki too) in New Jersey.  Enclosed you will find a description of Reiki. My question is do I need a license to practice in New Jersey? If possible, could you please put my question on the agenda at the September 26th Board Meeting? 

Read the Description of Reiki Sent by Douglas Schon to the Board

We were relieved. We thought, "Well, at least we can still practice Reiki." This didn't mean that we dropped the topic entirely because Jin Shin Jytusu was still in question. We kept our ears to the ground and the story that kept coming back to us was that the Board was telling folks who spoke with them that only hands-off Reiki was exempt, not hands-on. Consistently, were received mixed messages from the Board. One of Andrea's students was told that Reiki was exempt, and went so far as to show her where in the statutes and regulations this proved it. Others kept hearing that the Board's stance was, "If you touch the body, you need a license."

We Started Our Petition
Our next step was to find a channel for a unified voice to build awareness and support. On June 30, 2013 we created our petition asking to Exempt Light Touch/Energy Practitioners From Massage Licensure. If you have not done so already, we urge you to sign the petition. Every vote/voice counts!
The July 24, 2013 NJ Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy Meeting
Our petition made the agenda for the July 2013 NJ Board of Massage & Bodywork Board's meeting. Many practitioners advocating for a variety of modalities showed up to the meeting. The meeting began with Laura Anderson, the Executive Director saying that not one Board member could speak for the entire Board, and that the meeting would not be a discussion, but more of a platform through which we, the practitioners, could speak our case so the Board could listen, convene and reply. As we took our seats, we were instructed to take a one-sheet handout that you can download here.

Many practitioners spoke eloquently about why we are asking for energy and light-touch therapies exemption from the Licensing Act.

Going by the assumption that Reiki was expempt (as per the minutes from the September, 2012 meeting), we asked that Jin Shin Jyutsu and the other light-touch modalities represented here, like Reiki, be exempt. When prompted by Charles Manning, Regulatory Analyst, to explain how we assumed Reiki was exempt, we referred to Douglas Schon's letter. We read the description that accompanied the letter and pointed out that the minutes from the September 2012 meeting clearly stated that a practitioner solely practicing Reiki was not required to have a license and that a distinction had not been made between hands-on-the body Reiki, or hands-off-the-body Reiki, to which Charles Manning responded, "We will amend that" inferring that hands-on Reiki would not be exempt.

Still, we do not know the final outcome in regards to hands-on Reiki. As of August 20, 2013, the minutes have not been amended.

Please come to the next Board meeting on September 25, 9am at 124 Halsey Street, Newark, NJ.
What All This Means for Pracititioners of Modalities That Use Light-Touch
Honestly, we still don't know.

Even though a practitioner of a light-touch modality when touching a client, does not affect the soft tissues of the body (defined as "muscle, fat, fibrous tissue, blood vessels, or other supporting tissues of the body..."), the one-page handout that was provided us at the July 24, 2013 meeting appears to lead practitioners who touch a client as a part of their therapy to believe that they are practicing massage and bodywork, and therefore require a license. See excerpt below, or read the entire letter.

If you are not already a state certified Massage and Bodywork Therapist, or have not taken 500 hours of massage and/or bodywork education from an approved school, you can do one of the following:

1) Apply for a License as a Current Practitioner (First option)
2) Take the MBLEx exam
3) Sign up for massage school, or a state-approved/accredited school in your modality
4) Do nothing (wait to see what happens)

The September 25, 2013 NJ Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy Meeting
A summary of the Board's comments to us, as we understood it, were (Click here for further details of the meeting including the statement that we presented to the Board:
  1. The Board has not yet made a decision regarding the Licensure issue, specifically in regards to the forms of therapy that focus on the energetic system of the body.
  2. Licensed Nurses acting within the scope of their Nursing License do not need a Massage and Bodywork License to practice energy and light-touch healing arts either within or outside a facility. We continue to recommend that you check with the NJ Board of Nursing to ensure that these therapies are considered within the scope of nursing practice.
  3. Training and education for your Licensure does not have to be in massage, but can be in your specific modality. However, you must have obtained this training from a state-accredited or approved school. At this time, we do not know the criteria for a "state-approved" school.
  4. Now that the August 30 deadline has elapsed for being able to apply for a license under the 200 hours-of-education requirement, training and education must now consist of 500 hours, as per the regulations (NJAC13:37A-21 d).
  5. If you plan on writing to the Board, and would like a response, remember to ask specific, targeted questions.
We also learned the importance of having a unified, educated and professional voice in front of the Board because they need to hear a clear, consistent, concise message from us: United we stand! Divided we fall!
The October 23, 2013 NJ Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy Meeting
NHA Community! Bravo! High Fives all around. What happened at the meeting is nothing short of miraculous: Regulatory Analyst Charles Manning presented a statement that began with the following;

"The Attorney General has provided an opinion, which has been shared with the Board, that an individual offering "energy therapy" including "light touch" and "gentle touch" does not need to obtain a license if s/he does not 1) Engage in structured touch to affect the soft tissue of the body; and 2) Hold him/herself out as engaging in massage and bodywork therapy, either expressly or impliedly."

This means that if you are practicing a modality that includes gentle or light touch without the intention to massage or manipulate soft-tissue you do not require a license from the NJ Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy.

Based on what we heard at the meeting, our interpretation of the NJ Attorney General's statement and the Statutes (law) and Regulations, we offer guidelines for practice. Please note this is not legal advice:

If you wish to rescind your license application, send a letter to the NJ Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy asking to rescind your application and to fully refund of the $75 license application fee. For your convenience, here is the address:

NJ Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy
ATT: Laura Anderson
Executive Director
PO Box 47032
Newark, NJ 07101

November 14, 2013 Senate Bill Introduced
A new senate bill was introduced on November 14, 2013 by Senator Anthony R. Bucco of District 25 (Morris and Somerset Counties). The purpose of the bill is to "Exempt persons practicing certain techniques from the provisions of the "Massage and Bodywork Therapist Licensing Act."

The next step is for the bill to be sent to the Committee Chairperson who will decide if the bill will be presented to and voted on by the committee. At this point, we are waiting for Senator Bucco to let us know when we can take the next step to help support the bill's progression through the Legislature. At this time (as of November 2013), please do not write letters or contact the Sentator. There will be a time when this will be necessary, and we will be sure to let you know who to contact, when and the most appropriate way to do so.

We are not safe yet, folks! A permanent solution is to make sure this bill gets passed by both Houses. Remember, the Attorney General's statement is not a permanent change to the law or regulation, which means the Board can change its mind at any time. The NHA is committed to monitoring the bill's progress through the legislative process, to ensure it gets out of the committee and on the floor for a vote. We are committed to attending any public meetings to ensure the appropriateness and accuracy of the bill's wording.


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DISCLAIMER. PLEASE READ CAREFULLY. The Natural Healing Alliance (NHA) documents are for informational and educational purposes only. They are not legal advice, nor does the NHA make any representations of the accuracy of document contents, or that they accurately represent local, state, and/or federal statutes, laws and regulations. NHA documents, materials and information do not constitute legal standards of care, and are not represented as such. NHA codes, standards, policies, procedures, guidelines, and/or regulations do not establish a legal basis for negligence or liability. The views expressed in these documents represent those of the NHA and no other group, association, or organization.

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