For over a year now, the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork has been working quietly behind the scenes to eradicate massage schools—or rather, diploma mills—that have been handing out fraudulent transcripts and diplomas, lacking any operating authority, and committing a host of other ethics violations. Since June of 2009, 11 schools have had their school code suspended, three have been revoked, and one school voluntarily withdrew their code after being notified that they were suspended.
To clarify the meaning of these actions, a school must have an assigned code in order for their students to sit for an examination offered by the NCBTMB. 39 states currently accept those exams, and they are often utilized by therapists in unregulated states who want to set themselves apart as professionals. No school code means no students from those schools will be able to take the NCB exams. California, where this investigation was concentrated, currently has voluntary registration for massage therapists, and is in fact in the middle of further turmoil because of AB 1822, a proposed massage bill that treats therapists little better than prostitutes. Even though the investigation and subsequently revoked and suspended schools are located in California, the implications are far-reaching, including my state of North Carolina.
Our Board noticed months ago that a high number of applicants for licensure were coming out of two schools in particular, one in California (the East-West School, which has had their code suspended pending further investigation) and one in New York. The applicants first attracted attention because they have all had the same address. In one instance in North Carolina, an applicant from one of the suspect schools was denied a license based on his criminal record. When he appeared to appeal that decision, we discovered he could speak no English. His daughter translated for him, and stated that they had immigrated to America based on the promise that they could go to massage school, get out quickly, and start making a lot of money. I actually feel sorry for these people, because the unscrupulous schools are just taking advantage of people who don’t know any better. It’s a sad situation for the students who paid money in good faith that they were going to get a real education in massage therapy.
While the NCBTMB has in the past revoked certification of individuals found guilty of ethics violations, this is their first widespread effort to put a stop to schools operating in an unethical manner.
Paul Lindamood, CEO of the NCB, gave me the following statement about the NCBTMB’s school compliance program:
NCBTMB is in a unique position with its vantage point on massage in America. Because we monitor, approve or exchange critical data at many touch points of the profession, we are at the nexus of a great deal of information flowing to and from our certification specialists. This gives us the ability to get an overall snapshot of the profession in specific areas relevant to schools, students, educational methods, curriculum, test dynamics, metrics, practitioner activity, etc.
About a year ago, members of our school outreach, compliance, eligibility and ethics departments identified the emergence of some alarming developments when overlaying and studying school data. Specifically, we began to spot ways in which individual schools were giving the appearance of impropriety through inconsistent and unreliable data, irregularities or shortfalls in curriculum standards, falsification of application information and the appearance of fraudulent activities sufficient to cast doubt on the legitimacy of these schools or institutions.
With this knowledge, NCBTMB board and staff recognized the need to immediately create a standardized, legally sound process that would allow us to identify, investigate, sanction or revoke suspected schools that could not pass muster, and thereby prohibit them from being able to have their graduates test via National Certification Exams. The program was developed and received board approval at the beginning of this year. Since then, school investigations have been ongoing via our compliance and ethics departments, and sanctions and revocations have been issued and communicated to the schools, state boards and pertinent law enforcement.
In addition, in the states and surrounding regions where these schools exist, we have made authorities aware of school code suspensions as well. This includes local law enforcement, regulatory agencies, state massage boards and attorneys general. Currently, we are working closely with law enforcement officials and state board representatives on investigations in several states, sharing both intelligence and resources.
As an important adjunct, NCBTMB is also supporting the Polaris Project, one of the largest organizations combating human trafficking in the United States and Japan. The non-profit group also works with
victims, providing outreach, social services and transitional housing.
How all massage professionals can help
NCBTMB would like everyone in the massage therapy community to join together with the goal of identifying schools, organizations or individuals that endanger the safety of the public and the reputation of our profession. If you observe or are aware of any suspicious activities or unethical behavior connected to the profession of massage therapy, please contact your state board or other applicable agency. Or you may contact Lauren Dziuban, NCBTMB Director of Ethics & Discipline, at (630) 652-0469 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Paul Lindamood, CEO, at (630) 652-0456 or email@example.com. We will provide guidance or convey information to the proper authorities. In cases that affect NCBTMB and its programs, we will authenticate reports of impropriety and investigate as appropriate, whether school, institution, approved provider or certificant related.
This important initiative on the part of the NCBTMB is for the highest good of the profession. Not only has it cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to investigate these schools, it also impacts the National Board in lost revenue from the people who would have taken their exams. It’s obvious that they have decided to put ethics ahead of income, and I applaud that.
No one has been a more vocal critic of the NCBTMB in the past than I have, and I told their leadership long ago that when there was any good news to report, I would report it. I’m very pleased to see this organization getting their act back together, and once again, I am proud to say I’m Nationally Certified, just like I was when I first started out in the massage profession. Kudos to them for recognizing the things that had gone wrong, and making an effort to correct them.