Can you tell us about Massage Therapy in France?

(asked by Jess from Indiana)

I was just wondering, could you tell me about the cultural differences between Massage Therapy in France and the U.S. And also, what exactly is a kinesiotheque (excuse the spelling)? In our country as a whole, there is so little regulation that it is often viewed as sexual or at very least, non medical. As someone nearly finished with massage school here in the U.S. I have wondered if it is viewed in more of a Medical, Spa/beauty, or Sexual sense in France.

Hi Jess,
First of all, I have to tell you that the only thing I know about massage therapy in the US, is that my hairdresser (with whom I was in very friendly terms) always thought that my neck and shoulders were too stiff and that she advised me to go to the massage school in town were they do massages for free (or really cheap) and I always planned on going and I never went.
So I won’t be able to compare both countries on that matter.

Now, what I know about massages in France.
I guess in France, one can divide massages in four types.

First of all, we have the “masseurs-kinésithérapeutes” who are officially licensed masseurs who work in close relationship with doctors and hospitals (some have private practices, some are in hospitals) and their job deals with physical rehab, medical therapy, and these sorts of things. To become one, you need to go to school several years after passing a very selective entry exam, from what I know, it’s almost like med school, except that it only deals with skeletons and muscles or something like that.

Then we have “normal” masseurs, the ones that provide what I think you call Swedish massage in English and these sorts of massages one can get in spas and such, and I gotta admit that I don’t know much about these masseurs, they may just be “masseurs-kinésithérapeutes” too.

Third we have what I call the “exotic massages” that is a big group gathering all the massages coming from “exotic” countries, usually Asian. Some are real massages from these countries (Asia is the number one hip “exotic” place for the young bourgeoisie and the infamous “bobos” these days) some are just new age BS, hard to tell because there’s no regulation or anything else, I assume that anybody can open such a massage parlor if they want.

Finally, we have the sexual massage parlors that are just prostitution that doesn’t dare to say its name.

But your question was more about all of these are perceived in France.
Well, most French people know what masseurs-kinésithérapeutes are, they’re well known, and there’s little to no confusion about their job (they’re part of the medical “industry”).

Then, things can be more blurred with the three other ones.
As I told you, I am myself not that sure whether spa masseurs are masseurs-kinésithérapeutes or not, whereas some other people won’t really make the difference between spa masseurs and “exotic masseurs” (especially because I assume one can find more and more “exotic masseurs” in spa nowadays).

And as far as sexual massages are concerned, in France, they’re very often called “Thai massages” I’m not sure why (but I assume that it comes from the sexual tourism industry in Thailand that gladly mixes both for the tourists), which add to the confusion with “exotic massages”, especially real Thai massages.

I hope I answered your question (I’m not too sure I did).

Frenchman Written by:


  1. Jess
    February 16, 2009

    Thanks David. What I take from this is that the line is equally blurry in France as it is in the US.

  2. Jess
    February 16, 2009

    You know, the funny thing is that in the States, reputable therapists don’t call themselves masseurs or masseuses because that automatically means you either a) don’t have any formal education to be giving massages or b) you are a prostitute.
    Its completely ridiculous that French nomenclature negates validity. Especially when the words mean “one who massages”. Equally confusing is the fact that many of our strokes have French names as well. e.g. Effleurage, petrissage, tapotment, but they are not viewed as “sketchy”….It’s baffling, and that is why I wondered how massage therapy is viewed in France. Nevertheless, I call myself a massage therapist, so as not to confuse those in search of “happy endings” *insert eyeroll here*.

    Going along that same route, if someone who gives massages says they work in a “parlor”, they are most likely a “masseuse” and not a REAL therapist.

    Here is the breakdown of credentials:

    Masseur/Masseuse - prostitute - Works in parlor or possibly out of home.

    Massage esthetician - One who gives massages after have a chapter on a few strokes during their time in beauty college. Usually refer to massage tables as “beds”. Anyone off the street could walk into a salon and get this job, depending on what state you live in.

    Certified Massage Therapist - One who completes an intensive study of the muscular and skeletal systems, kinesiology of the body, and other anatomy and physiology. You must take a licensing exam and have X amount of hours completed of an internship/externship before you can take the test. These people can work in Chiropractors offices, salons, massage studios, or homes.

    Of course, these are generalizations, but I guarantee that you will not find a person in this country who completed any kind of formal massage training that will call themselves a masseuse.

  3. Jess
    February 16, 2009

    Oh, no, I understand what you mean. Of course in France masseur/masseuse is acceptable…it’s your language. I’m just saying that in this country, the minute you put “masseur/masseuese” onto your title you lose validity. For example, say a person specializes in pregnancy massage or childbirth related massage. They would NEVER call themselves a “prenatal Masseuse”. It would “prenatal massage therapist”. Using the french word is taboo in this society for some reason, adopted only by those without credentials.

  4. Jess
    February 16, 2009

    Perhaps. Then again, I am not willing to test out the title “masseuse thérapeutique - CMT” either, so it is difficult to decipher what exactly the problem is.

    While I believe you are right about the “therapy” craze, I do believe it was a necessity to clean up the image of the profession. Before there were titles of Certified Massage Therapists, there was no way to decipher estheticians, hookers, and those that genuinely know how to give effective massages.

  5. yogibare
    March 6, 2009

    Hi guys,

    Just came across this thread and thank you for your detailed explanation of Massage Therapy titles and breakdowns for France. Sadly for me though I’m a genuine Thai massage therapist who’s looking to move to France!!!! How on earth am I going to get round that in the fliers!!

  6. Molly
    November 28, 2009

    I'm looking for any information anyone could give me on moving to France as a massage therapist. Is that even possible? I'm licensed in the US. I'm really grasping at straws here. Do spas in France ever look for Americans to massage there? Thank you, I know I'm off topic and delayed..haha

  7. Henry
    July 31, 2012

    Massage therapy not regulated in the United States? That is a good one. The United States is probably the most regulated country in the world when it comes to massage therapy. Have no idea what would make you think otherwise. Did you ever read the rules set up by the American Massage Association. They are so strict that if a therapist followed them to the letter they wouldn’t be able to perform their job as a medical massage therapist. Thank god I have been able to find some real medical massage therapists to help me with my intense pain over the years. True massage therapist who do medical work can’t really work under the AMA rules and be effective. These therapist are true health care professionals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.