A History of Massage in New Zealand

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David McQuillan, 2008


Massage practice in New Zealand has a long and varied history. This article traces key developments in the history of massage therapy in the western tradition.

The Birth of Physiotherapy

1894 – The Society of Trained Masseuses was formed in response to the effect of the massage scandals on the public's perception of massage (Nicholls, Cheek, 2006)

1900s – Over 300 massage therapists with varying training

1913 – Massage department established in Dunedin hospital because the NZ branch of the British Medical Association considered it important that massage therapists had adequate training.

1913 – 1946 - Massage was taught through Otago University & Hospital

1920 – Masseurs Registration Act

1947 - the massage school became the School of Physiotherapy

1949 – Physiotherapy Act supercedes the Masseurs Registration act.

Implicatons of the Physiotherapy Act

  • Those wanting to practice massage had to adhere to the Physiotherapy act & were required to undertake 600 hours of training.
  • This act legally held until recently (when the Health Practitioner's Competency Assurance act was passed), however it had been considered outdated for many years before this & was not enforced – Physios in general don’t want to do massage & need massage therapists.

Physiotherapy largely developed out of a perceived need of some massage therapists to reduce their association with touch & therefore prositution after the massage scandals. This led to a reliance on exercise and machines in treatment (Nicholls, Cheek, 2006).

Physiotherapy superceded massage therapy for many years, but in recent years the massage therapy field has undergone a resurgence.

The professionalism of massage in New Zealand

The formation of MINZI


In 1985 Bill Wareham called all massage therapists in Auckland area to a meeting, and the Massage Institute of New Zealand (MINZI) was formed

The focus of MINZI was on

  • Education of massage therapists
  • Standards of massage teachers
  • Annual conferences for skill development

The formation of NZATMP

In 1989 Jim Sanford saw a need for a professional association for therapeutic massage practitioners in New Zealand along the same lines as the physiotherapy board. The New Zealand Association of Therapeutic Massage Practitioners (NZATMP) was formed as a result

The focus of NZATMP was originally on

  • Educational standards
  • Promotion of a professional image within the massage industry
  • Dissemination of information
  • Increasing public recognition of massage

TMA logo

By the late 1990’s, there was a name change to the Therapeutic Massage Association (TMA). By this time, TMA's learning competencies had been absorbed into NZQA's massage unit standards. Accordingly TMA moved away from their focus on educational development.

TMA's new focus was on

  • Supporting and representing the needs of the qualified therapist
  • Being a voice for the massage industry

Massage New Zealand

2007 – TMA & MINZI merged to become Massage New Zealand (MNZ).

This was widely hailed as a historic event. The merger has definite benefits for New Zealand based massage therapists, particularly if we want to move towards greater governmental recognition, a united front is better than one divided.


Tuchtan, C., Tuchtan, V.,& Stelfox, D. (2004). Foundations of massage. Elsevier: UK.


Nicholls, D., & Cheek, J. (2006). Physiotherapy and the shadow of prostitution: The Society of Trained Masseuses and the massage scandals of 1894. Social Science and Medicine. 62,9.