ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate Thursday approved a change to the massage therapy law to exempt energy-based therapists.
Energy practitioners have charged that since the massage bill passed in 1999, several hundred of them without massage therapist certification and training were forced out of business or risked a $5,000 fine if caught practicing.
“My intention was to just stop the prohibition so these people can work,” said bill sponsor Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s. “A lot of people had to get other jobs. It’s unfortunate.”
The Senate approve the change, 46-1. The lone opponent was Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore, who said she received several phone calls and e-mails from people asking her to vote against it.
“Several constituents who are in aesthetic work think it’s going to hurt them,” said Kelley. “They think it’ll hurt their business. If it’s going to hurt small businesses in my district then I have nothing to gain from voting for it.”
The problem with the law, energy practitioners say, is it made touch, regardless of its context or purpose, the exclusive right of massage therapists. It also made having certification as a massage therapist a prerequisite for touching the body for any commercial purpose, unless a person is a licensed cosmetologist. A massage therapy license requires a 500-hour massage therapy training program and an exam.
“We’re very happy about this,” said Laraine Barclay, a licensed massage therapist and shiatsu practitioner in Bethesda. “Hopefully, it will pass in the House as quickly and unanimously.”
Despite 230 hours of shiatsu training at the Ohashi Institute in New York and 17 years experience, Sharon Benoliel of Potomac had to close her shiatsu business last year, a fact she blames on the massage law. Shiatsu is a Japanese healing art based on traditional Chinese medicine principles.
“I am just so delighted to hear the news,” said Benoliel. “I think that it’s going to make it easier for all the body workers. We’re hoping that the House finds it attractive since it was so supported by the Senate.”
There are more than 25 energy practices, including reflexology, polarity, shiatsu and reiki. Energy practitioners, who go through their own training programs, view the body as a combination of matter and energy. They believe that the free, balanced flow of energy is vital to good health. They touch the body to balance energy in the body.
“I think there’s enough business out there for everybody,” said Barclay. “We need to offer all of these services and make them available so everybody can have the benefits.”