Calling All Massage Organizations: 911

I’ve seen some ups and downs since joining the massage profession about 15 years ago, but never, in all that time, have I been as disgusted and dismayed with one of our organizations as I am today. I feel as if I have a vested interest in all of them, so I have the right to complain—and to call on them for help.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork was the only path to licensing in many regulated states for a lot of years. Their exams are written into the statutes of about 40 states, as is the MBLEx, which has soared in popularity as the exam of choice in the past 5 years. The exam revenue at the NCBTMB has been steadily declining ever since the MBLEx debuted. The “National Certification Exams” as they formerly existed are the same exams being used for the NESL.

It used to be that taking one exam gave you the status of being Nationally Certified and being able to use that to get your license, but that’s no longer the case. There’s no attraction there anymore. The Federation has been in a position for several years to help solve this problem by buying out the NCBTMB’s entry-level exams; they certainly have the money and the infrastructure in place, but they have apparently preferred to stand by and watch the NCBTMB die a slow painful death rather than be in collaboration. Although I have favored the idea of such a deal in the past, at this point in time I am not going to blame the FSMTB for their refusal to play ball.

The majority of regulated states also have it written into their statutes that the continuing education required for maintaining licensure must be from a provider of CE that is approved by the NCBTMB.

As a provider of CE, I was not pleased when the Federation brought up their MOCC (Maintenance of Core Competencies) plan, which would have made all CE optional, with the exception of classes related to public protection, put forth online by them. My concern was that it would put a lot of CE providers, including me, out of business. In reality, based on some of the claptrap that is approved by the NCBTMB, there are a lot of CE providers that should be put out of business. The NCB’s response to my own repeated questioning of some of the things they have approved for CE has not been satisfactory to date.

According to FSMTB Executive Director Debra Persinger, they have let go of the MOCC plan, based on feedback from the profession and member boards. Instead, they have put forth a Standardized License Renewal Recommendation. In a nutshell, the language reads: Licensed massage and bodywork therapists will be required to complete six (6) hours of license renewal requirements annually. At least three (3) of the six hours must meet the State-sponsored Ethics and Professional Practice course requirements that specifically address content pertaining to public safety. The remaining three (3) hours could be exchanged for certain Professional Development activities, including but not limited to meeting accredited certification standards, community service, and research.

Bear in mind, that has not been written into the law anywhere yet that I am aware of, and it is what it is—a recommendation.

In my conversation with Persinger this afternoon, she informed me that the online classes pertaining to public protection will roll out in 2014, and that states that require in-person classes will still be able to have that. She also stated that at the annual meeting of the FSMTB held earlier this month, the member states asked that the Federation form a new CE Task Force to look into the possibility of approving continuing education.

I can recall what I thought was the beginning of the downhill slide at the NCBTMB…and it was years ago. I’ve seen an egomaniac that was hell-bent on bankrupting the organization elected to the Chair position. I’ve seen lawsuits filed against them by two of their former executive directors that dragged on for years. I’ve seen the lawsuits they have filed against state boards for getting rid of their exams. Yes, they had the legal right to do that, but in the big picture, it didn’t win any friends for them. I’ve seen the ridiculous, totally un-credible, fantasy-land classes that they have approved for CE credit. I’ve seen the failed plan to turn into a membership organization, which cost them several years of being banished from AMTA conventions.

I’ve also seen the failed attempt at an “Advanced Certification,” and the morphing of that into “Board Certification.” The NCBTMB website states that those who are currently Nationally Certified must transition to Board Certification by their next renewal. Unfortunately, I have heard this past week from two prominent massage therapists, both of whom had let their national certification expire 6-7 years ago, that they received invitations to be grandfathered in on the new Board Certification. They declined for ethical reasons. Personally, that makes me feel as if my own certification is about as valuable as a used dinner napkin.

I’ve seen their attempts to present themselves to massage schools and certificants as if they are some sort of regulatory organization by using language that insinuated that. I’ve seen their attempts to replace lost exam income by gouging the hell out of CE providers. It was only when they were faced with a mass walk-out of prominent providers, who said they would give it up, rather than go along with the plan, that they had to back up and punt.

I’ve seen times when people could not get a phone call or e-mail to the organization answered, and times when it took months for certificates and approvals to arrive, if they arrived at all. I’ve seen an example, just yesterday as a matter of fact, of them blocking people, including me, from posting on their FB page because they had the nerve to complain—and that was after the new Chair encouraged people on my own FB page to make their comments there. I’ve seen well-respected, seasoned colleagues who are experts in massage organizations and government relations offer to help them and give them advice about how to pull themselves out of some of the messes they’ve made, and I’ve seen that help refused or ignored time and time again. I’ve seen their adamant refusals to own up to their mistakes. My distress with them is not new. It’s just been festering for a long time.

I think the NCBTMB has reached the tipping point. Some would even say they are long past it. I have, in the past, given them hell about some things, and I’ve also come to their defense many times, including some when they probably didn’t deserve it. I have stated many times that I wanted to see them survive and thrive, and I sincerely meant that.

I am sad to say I am no longer holding out that hope. I am sad to say that I think they have outlived their usefulness. I am sad to say that I think their credibility has been shot beyond repair. I am sad to say that although there are staff and volunteers there that I personally know and like, and believe have the best of intentions, things have gone too far. They’ve had years to turn this ship around, and it hasn’t happened.

Therefore, I am calling on AMTA, ABMP, AFMTE, and FSMTB to immediately pull out all the stops and use all their available resources to help get the NCBTMB out of all statutes and administrative rules, as it relates to approval of their exams and use of their Approved CE Provider program. There are only a handful of states that approve their own CE, and if the NCBTMB were to suddenly go out of business, confusion is going to reign in those states that still have the NCBTMB exams and CE provider requirements written into the law.

Removing them from all statutory language in the regulated states doesn’t necessarily mean the NCBTMB will go away. They may continue to limp along for a few more years. They may someday come to their senses and create some valid specialty certifications, and reestablish themselves as a viable entity, but at this point in time, I doubt if they have the financial resources to do so. They’ve wasted a whole lot of money on their previous missteps.

Lest anyone get the idea that I am happy about making this request of our other organizations, let me assure you, I am not. I am sad to see that one of our national organizations has fallen this far. It’s time for positive action, and since they’re obviously not going to take it, the other organizations are going to have to seize the moment. I would suggest orchestrating a hostile takeover, but one of my colleagues who knows much more about regulation than I do informs me that’s impossible due to their structure, so this is the next best thing.

The FSMTB is able to offer government relations support to their member states, and AMTA and ABMP can afford the lobbyists. As a young organization, they don’t have enough resources yet, but with financial aid from the other organizations, AFMTE could be a great alternative approval body for CE. COMTA could possibly step into that role as well, but again, they don’t have the financial resources that the other organizations have. I call on all of them to set it in motion immediately to get the NCBTMB out of all statutes. We all know how slow the government moves so it won’t happen overnight, but I believe it has to happen. The FSMTB has been working on a Model Practice Act, so the time is ripe.

I also suggest that anyone who is Certified, as I have been since 2000, examine what that really means to you. Personally, I will not be renewing mine. There was a time when I was proud to say I was Nationally Certified. That time has now come and gone.

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