Exploring the FSMTB - Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards

Exploring the FSMTB: Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards

If you’re entering the world of professional massage therapy in the US, it’s important to get familiar with the key organizations that guide the profession. One organization you’re sure to come across early in your career is the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB). The FSMTB plays an important role in ensuring that the massage therapy profession upholds the strictest standards, with a clear focus on protecting the public and streamlining the licensure process.

So, what is the FSMTB? The FSMTB is an independent organization that unites the state massage therapy boards and regulatory agencies. Its primary function is to support the member boards in ensuring that massage therapy and bodywork practitioners provide safe and effective therapeutic services to the public. Through its support, guidance, resources, and entry-level massage licensing exam (MBLEx), the FSMTB ensures that massage professionals are well-informed and prepared to work within their scope of practice.

In this article, we’ll unpack everything you need to know about the FSMTB, from its core mission to the essentials of the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). Whether you’re an aspiring massage therapist, already in practice, or simply curious about the industry standards, this guide will offer insights, clarify the licensing steps, and show how the FSMTB plays a central role in nurturing a thriving and ethical massage therapy profession.

FSMTB History and Organization

The FSMTB is a core massage therapy organization that plays a vital role in the US massage therapy industry by promoting consistency among state boards, safeguarding the public, and confirming the competency of licensed professionals via the MBLEx. This ensures not only the standardization of state criteria but also the preservation of the profession’s reputation by assuring that practitioners possess the essential expertise to deliver safe and effective services.


This non-profit entity was formed in 2005 when the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) organized a meeting with massage regulators from several states and national educators, aiming to rekindle a former alliance within the massage regulatory community. Participants identified the essential need for a unified organization, focusing on public protection, a valid and reliable entry-level massage licensing exam (MBLEx), and promoting consistency in scopes of practice and licensing requirements for professional mobility.

This initiative led to the birth of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), which held its initial formative meeting later that year. During this assembly, attended by 22 states and the District of Columbia, bylaws were unanimously adopted, and the inaugural board took shape, establishing the foundation to address core concerns like consistent practice standards, a universally accepted licensing exam, and a centralized licensing database with essential disciplinary data.

Board of Directors

The FSMTB is guided by a board of directors, which includes seven elected voting members and two non-voting members. Nominations for these positions consider professional experience as well as diversity in location, ethnicity, and gender.

FSMTB Policies

FSMTB has established policies including their Board Member Code of Conduct Policy, Non-Discrimination Policy, Conflict of Interest Policy, Massage Education Policy, Volunteer Management Policy, and other policies which are viewable on the FSMTB website. The purpose of these policies are to establish clear, comprehensive guidelines that ensure operational transparency, fairness, ethical conduct, and compliance with statutory and professional obligations, ultimately contributing to the safeguarding of the public and upholding the standards of the massage therapy profession.

Massage School Classroom

Functions and Mission of the FSMTB

The FSMTB plays a leading role in shaping the landscape of the massage therapy profession. Looking into its functions and mission provides insight into how this organization upholds standards, ensures public safety, and fosters professional excellence in the world of massage therapy.

The primary goal or mission of FSMTB is to protect the public by making sure that massage therapy is provided in a safe and skilled manner, which is accomplished by supporting its member boards, promoting consistency and cohesion among them, and upholding strict criteria for obtaining a massage license and practicing.

FSMTB’s Key Actions:

  1. Creating and maintaining a valid and reliable massage licensing exam (MBLEX) to ensure the competency of massage license candidates.
  2. Fostering cooperative and standardized processes, and compatibility of state license requirements in order to create efficient licensing processes and promote professional mobility.
  3. Facilitating communication among member boards and providing education and guidance to assist them in performing their functions.
  4. Collaborating with related entities such as accrediting agencies and massage education providers to elevate massage therapy standards.
  5. Represent member boards’ interests that are within the purview of FSMTB’s organizational bylaws.

What’s the Difference Between FSMTB and NCBTMB?

In the US, the massage therapy profession has a few national organizations that work to ensure competency standards of therapeutic massage or bodywork practitioners. Two well-known organizations are the FSMTB and the NCBTMB. Understanding their distinct roles can provide clarity for both students and practicing massage therapists.

FSMTB (Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards)

  • Mission: The primary goal of the FSMTB is to support its member boards in their mission to ensure that the practice of massage therapy is provided to the public in a safe and effective manner.
  • MBLEx: The Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) is the standardized test administered by the FSMTB, which was created to evaluate a massage therapist’s ability to practice competently. Its creation was intended to offer a consistent evaluation tool for massage therapy boards across member states. In most states, it is mandatory to pass this exam as part of the licensing process. *You only need to pass the MBLEx once. It does not need to be renewed and there are no continuing education requirements for the MBLEx (unlike requirements to renew a certification or a state license).
  • State Support: The FSMTB acts as a resource for state massage therapy boards, assisting with regulatory practices and offering a unified examination process.
  • Continued Education: The FSMTB has a CE Registry which is a registry of in-person and online continuing education courses to help licensed therapist meet their CE requirements for license renewal. These courses are currently accepted in 31 states.

NCBTMB (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork)

  • Mission: While the NCBTMB also aims to ensure high standards in the massage and bodywork profession, its focus is on board certification and continuing education for massage therapists rather than licensing. So its primary function is to support the professional development of massage therapists.
  • Board Certification: Unlike the FSMTB with that offers a licensing exam (MBLEx), the NCBTMB offers a board certification exam (BCETMB). This is seen as an advanced credential for massage therapists beyond entry-level state licensure. Advanced certifications are optional, and they typically need to be renewed. The NCBTMB used to offer the NCETMB which many states used as as part of their licensing requirements. However, the NCETMB was retired as a licensing exam in 2014 when the MBLEx became the nationwide entry-level licensing exam.
  • Continued Education: NCBTMB sets the standard for continued education in the massage therapy profession. Through its approved providers, it ensures that professionals have access to quality education throughout their careers.

In summary, while both the FSMTB and the NCBTMB play a role in the massage therapy profession, their focus areas differ. The FSMTB centers around supporting state massage therapy boards and administering the MBLEx for licensing, while the NCBTMB leans more towards advanced certification and ongoing professional development.

Overview of the MBLEx

Overview of the MBLEx

What is the MBLEx?

The MBLEx is a standardized test administered by the FSMTB to assess the qualifications of massage therapy practitioners. It’s designed to evaluate a candidate’s knowledge and understanding of therapeutic massage and bodywork practices. Currently, passing the MBLEx is a key step for licensure in 46 U.S. states for those pursuing a career in massage therapy.

Structure of the Massage Licensing Exam

The MBLEx is a computer-based examination composed of 100 multiple-choice questions that covers seven subject areas including human anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, pathology, client assessment, and professional ethics. The exam is a computer adaptive test (CAT) which means that the difficulty of the exam increases or decreases depending on whether preceding questions are answered correctly or incorrectly. The examination’s design ensures a comprehensive assessment of a candidate’s readiness for a career in massage therapy.

Importance of the MBLEx

Licensing exams, particularly in healthcare and related fields, are instrumental in ensuring that professionals possess the requisite knowledge and skills to provide safe and effective care. For massage therapists, the MBLEx acts as this critical benchmark, validating their proficiency and understanding of therapeutic techniques, anatomy, ethics, massage contraindications, and other core areas of knowledge. Passing the MBLEx is a mandatory requirement in the licensing process in 46 states in the US.

Preparing for the MBLEx

Since the MBLEx is arguably the most relevant aspect of the FSMTB that massage students and therapists are interested in, let’s take a minute to discuss preparing for the MBLEx.

In health and wellness professions, preparing for a licensing or board exam requires a systematic approach, rooted in comprehensive understanding and regular practice. For massage therapists gearing up for the MBLEx, the tactics often mirror those employed by candidates of other healthcare licensing exams such as nursing, physical therapy, and other allied health careers. While many MBLEx candidates find it to be a difficult exam, good test prep strategies can increase your chance of success.

  • Study Plan: Create a structured study plan outlining the topics to be covered, time allocation for each topic, and deadlines for completion. Having a well-organized plan promotes better time management, ensures comprehensive coverage of all essential areas, and helps maintain a consistent study rhythm leading up to the exam. Regularly updating the study plan based on progress and changing needs can also optimize preparation efforts.
  • Content Review: Dive deep into core topics, ranging from anatomy and physiology to therapeutic techniques and effects of massage. In addition to a well-rounded review, it is a good study strategy to prioritize studying subjects that carry the most weight, like assessment and treatment planning.
  • Practice Tests: Regularly take full-length MBLEx practice exams to simulate the testing environment. This form of self-evaluation not only familiarizes candidates with the question format but also helps in identifying areas needing more focus.
  • Study Groups: Engaging in occasional group studies can provide diverse perspectives, enabling a more holistic grasp of complex topics. Discussions can often clarify doubts and solidify understanding. It is ideal for a study group to be small so participants can stay focused and on task.

Another integral component of preparing for the MBLEx is time management. Allocating specific chunks of time for each topic and incorporating regular breaks can optimize retention. It’s beneficial to start preparing early, allowing for periodic revision and minimizing last-minute cramming. Using varied resources, like flashcards can further enhance preparation and boost confidence leading up to the exam day.

You’ll also want to do plenty of hands-on practice. Not only will this kinesthetic form of learning help solidify what you learn in the books, but it will get the blood moving and help relieve test anxiety. Remember, the exam is as much about knowledge of practical applications of massage as it is theoretical knowledge (there is no hands-on component of the exam though).

Writing or reviewing massage case studies can also help with understanding the process of massage, from client assessment and treatment planning, to documentation and assessing outcomes.

If you’ve been out of school for a while or seek a thorough review for the exam, a comprehensive MBLEx Prep Course can offer numerous benefits. With structured lessons, it ensures no critical topic is overlooked, and its organized format can assist in pacing your studies effectively. Such courses are designed to bolster understanding, making your preparation both efficient and thorough.

MBLEx practice tests for the massage exam

MBLEx Practice Exams

Studying with our MBLEx practice tests will give you a much greater chance of passing the MBLEx the first time. These quizzes and full-length simulated exams cover of all seven content areas of the exam. You can track your progress and watch your scores improve.

Taking the MBLEx

Successfully completing a licensing exam such as the MBLEx is a significant milestone in a massage professional’s career and requires a blend of preparation and test-taking strategy. While the knowledge base is essential, how you approach the exam on test day can significantly influence your results. When sitting for the MBLEx or similar licensing exams, consider these tested tips and strategies:

  • Time Management: Allocate enough time to complete all 100 questions, ensuring you don’t rush through but also not spending excessive time on any single question.
  • Read Questions Carefully: Misinterpretation can lead to avoidable errors. Ensure you grasp the core of what’s being asked before selecting an answer. Watch out for negative keywords in the question like no, not, or except.
  • Eliminate Incorrect Answers: When faced with difficult multiple-choice questions that you don’t know the answer to, rule out the least likely options and then make an educated guess. This way you’ll increase your odds of guessing correctly.
  • Stay Calm and Focused: Anxiety can hinder recall. Deep breathing and short mental breaks can help refocus and reduce stress.

Moreover, it’s crucial to familiarize oneself with the exam’s format and rules ahead of time. For instance, understand the MBLEx’s breakdown in terms of content areas and the number of questions for each. Remember that on the MBLEx you cannot skip questions or go back to review or change an answer. Many education professionals also recommend simulating the exam environment during study sessions, making the actual test day feel more familiar and less daunting.

Key Takeaways and Final Thoughts

  • The FSMTB is instrumental in maintaining safety and standards within the massage therapy profession through the administration of the MBLEx.
  • The MBLEx serves as a consistent benchmark for gauging the competence of future massage therapists, ensuring both professional consistency and public trust.
  • Uniform standards set by the FSMTB not only validate a therapist’s skills but also simplify professional mobility across states.
  • Massage students and therapists should prioritize understanding and aligning with the guidelines set by industry organizations such as the FSMTB, NCBTMB, and AMTA, regularly updating themselves on any changes.

Entering the massage therapy profession is not just about mastering techniques; it’s also about adhering to state regulations and industry standards that uphold public safety and professional excellence. By staying informed and prepared, therapists can ensure a successful, compliant, and impactful career.

Links and Resources for Success

Embarking on the massage therapy journey requires dedication as well as the right tools and guidance. Here’s a concise list of invaluable resources to guide you:

  • MBLExGuide: Undoubtedly a top resource for aspiring massage therapists. From the comprehensive MBLEx Prep Course and online practice tests to convenient flashcards, MBLExGuide ensures you’re ready for the MBLEx and starting work as a professional massage therapist.
  • FSMTB’s Website: The FSMTB website provides the most current information about the MBLEx, as well as information for massage schools and educators, about continuing education, contact information, and consumer information. If you need to take the MBLEx, be sure to view a copy of their most recent Candidate Handbook (PDF).
  • Local Workshops and Conferences: Engage in hands-on learning and network with experienced professionals. These events keep you updated on the latest techniques and industry shifts. New massage therapists can often find opportunities for mentorship within their community.
  • Professional Associations: Membership in associations such as AMTA massage offer continuous learning opportunities, information on regulatory updates, and platforms to discuss and learn from fellow therapists.

FAQ About the FSMTB

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the FSMTB, from details about its mission and functions to specifics about the MBLEx and other essential aspects of massage therapy regulation. For more answers to questions about the massage licensing exam, be sure to see our other resource: FAQ About the MBLEx.

What does FSMTB stand for?

FSMTB stands for the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, an organization that supports state massage therapy boards and administers the MBLEx, which is a standardized examination for massage therapists who are seeking licensure in one of the 46 member states in the US.

What do I need to know about the FSMTB for the MBLEx?

If you’re preparing for the MBLEx, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the FSMTB’s role in the licensing process for the Ethics, Boundaries, Laws and Regulations content area of the exam. Also understand the basic structure and functions of the FSMTB.

How does the FSMTB differ from other professional massage organizations and associations?

The FSMTB primarily focuses on regulatory and licensing aspects of the massage therapy profession, administering the MBLEx and supporting state massage therapy boards. In contrast, other professional organizations or associations, like the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), often emphasize professional development, continuing education, and advocacy. While the FSMTB ensures standardization and public protection in licensure, other associations cater to the broader professional needs and advancement of massage therapists.

What is the process to apply for the MBLEx, and what are the eligibility criteria?

To apply for the MBLEx, candidates must submit an MBLEx application through the FSMTB website. The eligibility requirements include meeting the education requirements, submitting the application and fee, and agreeing to follow FSMTB examination policies. See the Candidate Handbook for details on education requirements. Once the application has been submitted, the FSMTB reviews the application, verifies eligibility based on respective state’s regulations, and then authorizes the candidate to schedule the test.

How does the FSMTB ensure the MBLEx remains relevant and up-to-date?

The FSMTB regularly reviews and updates the MBLEx content based on current best practices and industry standards. Through periodic Job Task Analysis surveys, the federation assesses the evolving roles and responsibilities of massage therapists, ensuring the exam reflects the most pertinent skills and knowledge. Input from experienced professionals and experts in the field ensures the MBLEx remains a valid and relevant measure of a massage therapist’s competence in today’s practice environment.

How often can I retake the MBLEx if I don’t pass on my first attempt?

If you fail the MBLEx on your first attempt, the FSMTB does require a 30-day waiting period before you can retake the exam. This delay ensures candidates have adequate time for additional study and preparation. While the FSMTB has set no strict limit on the number of retakes, each attempt necessitates a new application and associated fee. Always check with the FSMTB for the most current policies regarding re-examination.

What resources does the FSMTB provide for MBLEx preparation?

The FSMTB offers an MBLEx Candidate Handbook, which outlines the exam’s content, structure, and provides sample questions. This ensures that candidates understand the examination’s expectations directly from the administering body. They also sell a study guide that comes with a single (1) practice exam for $39.95 (paper version), or $35 (digital version). In addition, they offer The MBLEx Check, which is a single (1) online practice exam for $25.

What continuing education requirements does the FSMTB have for licensed massage therapists?

The FSMTB itself does not have specific continuing education (CE) requirements for licensed massage therapists since the MBLEx does not need to be renewed. Instead, CE requirements are typically established by individual state massage therapy boards. However, the FSMTB does provide guidelines and recommendations to ensure therapists maintain their skills and knowledge in the profession. It’s essential for therapists to check with their respective state licensing board for specific continuing education mandates.

Are there any upcoming changes or updates to the MBLEx or the FSMTB’s guidelines?

Starting in 2022, those taking the MBLEx encountered a mix of four-option multiple choice questions as well as some three-option questions. Given the feedback and outcomes from candidates, there’s potential for a rise in three-option questions in upcoming exams.The FSMTB regularly reviews and updates the MBLEx to ensure its relevance and alignment with current massage therapy practices. While specifics of upcoming changes might vary, it’s recommended that massage therapists and candidates regularly check the FSMTB’s official website or contact their state massage therapy boards for the latest updates. Staying informed ensures therapists are well-prepared and compliant with any new guidelines or exam alterations.

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