Nova Scotia

Anyone calling themselves a massage therapist in N.S. now must have training

New legislation goes into effect Jan. 1 stipulating that anyone advertising as a massage therapist or a registered massage therapist must have specific education, insurance and be part of a professional organization.

New legislation means education, insurance needed to use term 'massage therapist' or RMT

Nova Scotia is still the only province in Atlantic Canada that does not have a College of Massage Therapists overseeing practitioners. (Robert Short/CBC)

People now have to be qualified in order to call themselves a massage therapist in Nova Scotia.

The largest association representing practitioners in the province calls it a welcome step toward more recognition and oversight of the profession.

New legislation goes into effect on Wednesday stating anyone using the term "registered massage therapist" or "massage therapist" must meet specific requirements.

The requirements include completing 2,200 hours of training from a recognized institution, having insurance and being a part of one of three professional associations that operate in Nova Scotia. 

People who don't comply could face a fine of up to $15,000 for a first violation and up to $30,000 for subsequent violations. 

Previously, anyone could offer massage therapy services and accept payment. However, only therapists registered with one of the professional associations could bill with insurance companies.

"Title protection legislation provides an additional layer of security to the public by ensuring that the massage therapist has the proper training and that they have proper certification," said Amy-Lynne Graves, president of the Massage Therapists' Association of Nova Scotia.

Therapists must disclose charges, convictions

Massage therapists are now required to declare every year whether they've been charged with or convicted of a crime or violation of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

They also have to report to their association whether they're been under investigation, faced a sanction, a disciplinary process or have been disciplined by a massage association or a province that regulates massage. 

It's up to the associations to decide whether someone can continue to be a member. 

The massage therapists' association representing about 1,100 members — roughly three-quarters of the practitioners in the province — already required a criminal record check and that members make annual disclosures while renewing their membership. A board of directors looks at each case individually. 

Graves said while the new legislation "is a great stepping stone," further legislation is needed to protect the public because associations are still limited in the type of discipline they can impose. 

Amy-Lynne Graves, president of the Massage Therapists Association on Nova Scotia, says regulation benefits the public and practitioners. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

The most any association can do is revoke a practitioner's membership. A therapist could still keep working if they joined another association. 

"Even if they are found guilty of an offence with our association, all we can do is remove them from the membership," Graves said. 

Five provinces, including the rest of Atlantic Canada, are already regulated and have colleges of massage therapists that investigate public complaints and discipline members. They can impose sanctions like suspending or revoking practitioner's licences.

Still no College of Massage Therapists

The self-regulating colleges don't replace professional associations, which still operate in other provinces and focus on professional development and promotion of the profession. 

Over the past year, Graves said her association has been receiving more complaints from the public about massage therapists, which she attributes, in part, to greater awareness about expectations. 

"Massage therapy has often been referred to as going in for a leisurely, spa-like experience — a back rub, something like that," Graves said.

"I think people are recognizing that it's part of the health professional system and we do need to be held accountable if we're expecting to be perceived as health professionals," Graves said.

Up until now, anyone in Nova Scotia has been able to call themselves a massage therapist or registered massage therapist, regardless of their training. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

Physicians, dentists, workers compensation and insurance adjusters all frequently refer people to massage therapists, and Graves said her members want to ensure the work is recognized as a health profession alongside others like physiotherapy or occupational therapy. 

She also said regulation would allow massage therapists to work in other provinces without having to take an entrance exam. 

The massage therapy association has been working with one of the other associations operating in Nova Scotia, the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada, on a proposal for self-regulation and plans to meet with the Department of Health and Wellness early in 2020. 

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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