“I honor both sides of the argument about occupational licenses, but these requirements are over-the-top.”

When Ilona Holland moved with her husband to Nebraska, she thought that with her degrees, certifications, and over a decade of experience, she would be able to secure a license to practice as a massage therapist. She could not have been more wrong.

Ilona is a native of Malta. She earned a degree in sports and leisure management in her home country and planned to pursue a career as a physiotherapist. But she became interested in a more holistic approach to well-being, and decided to further her education in massage therapy in the United Kingdom at a School of Natural Health. 

She then moved to Maryland. For over a decade, Ilona pursued additional educational courses and trainings in various forms of yoga and reiki, a Japanese form of energy healing in which hands are placed just off the body or lightly touching the body, and obtained certifications in Aromatherapy, Theta Healing, Integrative Massage and Holy Fire III Karuna Reiki III, and is trauma and suicide informed. In 2013, she gained her license as a massage therapist from the state of Maryland. 

She and her husband decided to move closer to his family in Nebraska, and relocated to Omaha, where she planned to set up her own practice.

That’s where the real challenge began.

Occupational Licensing

States grant permission for individuals to operate in professions through occupational licenses. Each state determines the criteria for obtaining a license but they often involve hours of training, education, examination and fees.  

Ilona did not apply for a Nebraska license after finding out that she needed another 400 hours of training to qualify. She had already taken 600 hours of classes to obtain her Maryland license in addition to all the European certifications which were not accepted in the U.S. 

“I looked at the courses and just didn’t think I needed it based on the course material,” she explained. Most of the classes were electives rather than specific to the techniques she planned to employ in her practice. Furthermore, the state provided no guidelines of what type or how much massage therapy training she needed to augment the training she already possessed. 

The thousands of dollars needed for additional education were also too costly for her and her family. Because of these hurdles, she decided against pursuing a license.

Instead of practicing massage therapy, Ilona decided to practice reiki for her clients. While reiki involves touching a person’s body it is different from massage therapy. Clients remain fully clothed and there is no intense manipulation or massage.

Fearful of the risk that the government might shut her practice down at anytime, Ilona closed up her shop. 

Instead of giving up on her dreams to help heal people, Ilona explored her options and found that moving her business across the state line to Iowa was the best course of action.

Iowa requires massage education of at least six hundred hours of supervised academic instruction along with a fee, but recognizes a reciprocal license in other states with license requirements equal to or exceeding theirs. 

Recognizing the licenses of other states is one way that states can help individuals work, but so is reviewing the actual requirements and offerings to reduce or remove them entirely.   

“Transferring to Iowa has been a blessing,” Ilona told us. She is the owner and founder of a holistic wellness business called Life Dimensions by Ilona located in Council Bluffs.

“I honor both sides of the argument about occupational licenses,” she explained. “We want regulations to protect against trafficking or those who deliver non-therapeutic services.”  But the requirements should be sensible, rather than simply restrictive. Her experience in Nebraska shows a licensing regime that wasn’t promoting public health, but simply making it difficult for people who just want to work.

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