Joy can make my pain go away. The government won’t let her do it.”

 “Joy” has a master’s degree in exercise physiology and two decades of experience but the state frightened her managers and she was shut down. (Joy has chosen to go by a pseudonym to protect her and her club’s privacy.)

Dr. Steven Rhoads of the University of Virginia has had two major back operations and has osteoarthritis elsewhere. He has undergone treatment by a wide range of health professionals who were unable to help. So, he turned to a personal trainer, Joy, who in addition to giving fitness advice, was doing hands-on work with many of her clients. She was able to increase Rhoads’ knee function and helped him with problems in his lower back.  Joy was so successful in alleviating his pain, that he recommended her to his wife, who had Joy treat her hip and shoulder. 

Rhoads says that “we both experienced a dramatic reduction in pain in every case.” 

But Joy is no longer able to work hands-on with her clients. A physical therapist and a massage therapist complained to management at the sports club, saying that Joy didn’t have the license necessary for her work. 

Despite the fact that Joy was easing the pain of her clients, required her clients to sign waivers before she served them, and had never had a client complain, stretching is now the only hands-on work she can perform. 

Occupational Licensing 

States regulate many professions through occupational licenses. In order to work in certain professions in the state, individuals must undergo certain training requirements and obtain a license. But the licensing requirements are often arbitrary and unnecessary. 

Joy practices a specific form of deep tissue massage—myofascial release. Over two decades, Joy has developed her technique and is able to relieve her clients’ pain. But myofascial-release therapy doesn’t have an official licensed category.

Massage therapy is the closest, and in Virginia, Joy must pay $12,000 and take 750 hours of instruction at a massage-therapy school before she can become certified as a massage practitioner.

Joy already has years of experience in myofascial release and, if she were to pursue the 750 hours of schooling, only the last 12 hours of instruction are even  devoted to myofascial release. And Joy already has plenty of formal and related education: in earning her master’s degree, she took courses in anatomy and physiology at the University of Virginia, education that most massage instructors don’t have. 

Customers like Steven Rhoads will tell you that a massage-therapy license doesn’t tell clients about the quality of care they can expect to receive or whether a massage therapist can deliver the desired results. Word of mouth testimonials are more valuable for consumers. 

Referrals and reviews are incredible regulators in today’s market. Anyone can share their experience online. They join the other types of market-oriented signals for potential customers that can provide more information than a simple license. 

Massage therapy license requirements keep individuals like Joy from easing the pain of their clients but they shouldn’t. 

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