ELAP Final Report & Entry-Level Education Blueprint Released

The Entry-Level Analysis Project Final Report and the Entry-Level Education Blueprint were released today, and it’s a whopper…266 pages in the Report, and 527 pages in the blueprint. Obviously, I haven’t read that all this morning. I do want to take the time to express my appreciation for the collaboration among the Coalition (ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, COMTA, FSMTB, MTF, and NCBTMB) and to Anne Williams of ABMP in particular, for spearheading the project. Both documents were co-authored by the ELAP workgroup, which included Pat Archer, Clint Chandler, Rick Garbowski, Tom Lochhaas, Jim O’Hara, Cynthia Ribeiro, and Anne Williams.

According to the Report, at the initial meeting of the Coalition in 2011, two pressing issues were identified: the inconsistent quality, depth, and focus of entry-level massage programs, and the lack of licensure portability from state to state.

The big recommendation is that 625 hours of education are needed just to give students the core basics that they need for entry-level competency. According to the report, currently 28 states only require 500 hours; 7 require between 570 and 600, and 10 states require more than 625 hours. In my opinion only, no matter how wonderful the Blueprint, those states that already have higher standards won’t be inclined to dumb it down for the rest. New York and Nebraska, for example, both have 1000-hour requirements. I don’t see portability happening there–ever–unless every other state decides to come up to that level. However, the Report does reference a 2012 study that states the average massage program in the US is 697 hours–so maybe even in the states with the 500-hour requirement, there is a tendency to do more than required–and that’s nice.

For those schools that are less than 625 hours, this recommendation would undoubtedly increase financial costs to the owner that would have to be passed along to the student.

The shocking news, to me, is the statement that 40-50% of graduates are leaving the field within two years of graduation! I would be interested to know exactly how those figures were arrived at.The Report cites unrealistic expectations about the physical demands of massage and compensation, and the evolving life circumstances of 20-somethings. I’m personally not sure how relevant the 20-somethings are; it’s been my own experience in the past 15 years that there are as many middle-aged people (whatever that is, nowadays) that take up massage as a second career as there are young people who jump in right out of high school.

The workgroup would like to encourage everyone to pay more attention to the core curriculum than the hours. According to the document, this can serve everyone:

  • The Federation can use it as a guideline for the Model Practice Act
  • The state boards can use it in setting hours for education
  • The AFMTE can use it in setting teacher standards
  • COMTA can use it in evaluating massage and bodywork criteria for accreditation
  • the NCBTMB can use it for identifying entry-level vs. advanced knowledge for Board Certification
  • Professional membership associations can use it in shaping membership criteria
  • School owners, administrators and faculty can use it in validating curricula and adopting consistent learning outcomes
  • Potential massage therapy students, as they are deciding where to enroll.

There is, within the document, the subtopics of Eastern bodywork, TCM, concepts of qi and all the accompaniments to that, with the caveat that schools may choose to integrate that according to their own philosophy. The focus is on the application of Shiatsu, tui na and Thai massage, which I will not argue the efficacy of, without personally buying into the theory behind them. I’m not going to have this argument here because it wears me out, and frankly, I’m outnumbered.

There is no doubt that a huge amount of work went into this project. Personally, I gave a lot of feedback on it during the calls for comments that happened some months ago, as did several other educators I know. I wasn’t crazy about this idea when it was initially introduced, and I was further distressed by the way the review and comment process was set up…I didn’t think it was good to have such a piecemeal approach to it, but in reality, I feel that the chance that many more people would have responded to the whole thing is probably relatively slim…it would have been just as long in any case. Anne Williams stated during one of the presentations on it that I attended last year that it isn’t perfect, but what is? I sincerely do commend everyone who gave of their time and effort on this huge undertaking. I plan to say more about it after I’ve read every page.

 

Report from Seattle and Some Further Explanation

I was invited to Seattle by Dr. Ravensara Travillian to speak at a fund-raising dinner this past Monday night, to kick off her efforts to get a university-level certificate massage program started. Dr. Christopher Moyer was the other invited speaker, so I felt like I was, as we say in the South, “in high cotton.” I had a great time visiting with Ravensara and her husband Iain, and Christopher.

Most of our visit was spent discussing the project. Raven invited me on the basis of my knowledge of regulation and legislation, of what our massage organizations are up to, and the state of massage therapy education in the US. Prior to my going out there, I contacted some of our leaders to make sure I had up-to-date information on what’s going on with them. In fact, this week the Coalition (previously referred to as the Leadership Summit) is taking place in Florida…the CEOs/EDs and Chairs of the Boards of ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, COMTA, FSMTB, NCBTMB, and the MTF are coming together to discuss the state of the union, so to speak.

I truly enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting some new ones that I had previously only met on FB, and some I didn’t know at all. I appreciate the fact that they came to hear more about this initiative. Good conversation was stimulated, good questions were asked. The speakers were videoed and that will be released in a day or two, so I’m not going to rehash everything that happened there; I’ll share the video when it comes out.

I particularly appreciated the presence of Bodhi Haraldsson, who is the Research Director at the Massage Therapists Association of British Columbia. Bodhi was appalled at my report on the financial status of MTs in the US, provided to me in the form of the Annual Report from the FSMTB. Their information was obtained by a survey of MTs in the member states, and compiled from surveys that were sent out by the AMTA and ABMP to their members, and the NCBTMB to their certificants. All in all, about 200,000 MTs were surveyed. The piece of news that shocked Bodhi was that 61% of MTs in the US say that they cannot support themselves/their families with their income from massage.  Only 2% of therapists surveyed stated that they make over $70,000. According to Bodhi, the five busiest therapists in his own clinic make more than that. Personally, I think that’s a direct reflection of the high standards of education and the devotion to research practiced by our neighbors in BC.

Ravensara’s plan to take massage education up another notch has been criticized by people who don’t understand what it’s about. No one is going to be forced into getting higher education. Since I said this was the report on Seattle and a little bit more, I’m going to seize the moment to repeat a little of what I said there and go a little in depth about the environment of massage. There seems to be a lot of confusion about many different things that are currently on the horizon. One of them is the Affordable Care Act, which contains the stipulation allowing massage therapists to direct bill insurance as long as they are licensed as health care providers in their state. I see the comments all the time that “I don’t want the government telling me what to do.” “I don’t want to get bogged down by the insurance companies.” The ACA does not mandate that anyone has to file insurance. If you want to run a cash practice, you can carry on as usual. Those who don’t want to participate in insurance billing should not interfere with those of us who do.

Another thing that seems to be confusing people is the ELAP (Entry Leval Analysis Project). As I have stated on my blog on several occasions, I had issues with the way that project was rolled out and the way it was presented. However, I do think it will turn out to provide valuable information, and we’ll all know on December 16, which Anne Williams of ABMP informed me will be the unveiling of the 776-page document.

I have seen school owners stating that they didn’t want more regulations telling them what to do and how to run their school. Again, this seems to be a point of confusion. The ELAP is a research project. Period. It is not regulatory in any way. No one will be forced to adopt whatever policy recommendations might come out of it, because they will be just that–recommendations.

AMTA, ABMP, and the AFMTE all have benefits and annual conferences for educators. They have projects going on to educate teachers in research literacy, as does the MTF. AMTA has teacher-track classes and research-track classes at the annual convention. ABMP has an upcoming class in teaching the teachers to write core curriculum. None of these organizations are regulatory. They can show you how to write your core curriculum, suggest what should be included in it, and show you how to teach research literacy. They can’t make you do it, or make you do it their way.

COMTA, which is a strictly voluntary accreditation body and the only one that was founded for the specific purpose of accrediting massage therapy, although they have now also taken in aesthetic accreditation, spells out standards for excellence in education. I hear from school owners that they don’t seek the accreditation because they don’t want anyone telling them how to run their school. The Standards are on COMTA’s website for anyone to see, and I think it would behoove any school owner to do their self-study report to see how you stack up. COMTA does not limit what you can teach to evidence-based modalities, which personally I find unfortunate, but if you’re using that for the argument against it, you’re wrong. If you are teaching belief-based energy work at your school, you’re free to carry on. They want to insure that you are teaching what you say you are teaching and that you are including the subject matter that matters to massage. They spell out standards for good record-keeping, good financial practices, insuring that teachers are competent to teach their subject matter, having and abiding by policies and procedures, and other such things, and they ask you to document it in writing. COMTA is not a regulatory organization. There are other accreditation bodies out there that take in massage therapy, among other things, and they are not regulatory, either. It’s a voluntary process that allows you to say “Here are the standards we have chosen to meet.”

Even the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards is not regulatory, in and of itself. They are an association of the boards in regulated states. They are soon to unveil a Model Practice Act that they have worked on for the past few years, and they would like for the states to adopt. Notice I said “they would like for the states to adopt.” The purpose of that is to make practice acts uniform and facilitate reciprocity. It could require legislative changes in every state that already has a practice act, should the member states chose to adopt it. I don’t look for that to completely happen in my lifetime. I do imagine it will be discussed this week by the Coalition, along with the ELAP and other issues they are considering.

A couple of months ago, I sent the leaders of all the organizations my blog urging them to pool resources to get the NCBTMB written out of the statutes in every state. I am hopeful that topic will be discussed as well. The NCBTMB is not a regulatory organization–but their exams are written into the statutes in many states. That represents an improper delegation of authority; there is no government oversight and no public accountability there. This is not a vendetta against the NCBTMB; it is an attempt to rectify something that has been wrong all along.

Now I’m down to the function of state boards. I constantly get complaints from people about how long it is taking them to get their exam scores or get their license. There is no true reciprocity in the United States. The fact that you have a license in one state does not include any kind of guarantee that you’ll get one in a different state, regardless of how long you may have been practicing. Most state boards have it stated on their websites that processing out of state requests takes longer. My own experience in serving our state board for five years was that many times, a license is held up because the applicant failed to provide a piece of documentation. Sometimes, the holdup is that they have to check out your transcript to make sure your education in the state your are coming from stacks up to the education required in the state you are moving to. If it doesn’t, you can be denied a license. If you are lacking the documentation, you can be denied a license. They cannot take anyone’s word for it that “I have this, I have that.” If you don’t have the required paper trail of evidence, you’re not going to get it, period.

State boards are the ONLY regulating bodies in massage. They are the ONLY ones who can tell us what to do. The other organizations can suggest. The other organizations can lobby legislators to get laws passed or changed–and state boards can’t. State boards exist for one purpose: public protection. They are not here to serve the interests of massage therapists. They are not here to cater to us or to cater to schools. They exist to license therapists, to spell out the requirements for getting a license, to spell out what they expect from schools, and to deal with complaints from consumers.

I hope that clears up a few things for people. I see misinformation spread around on social media all the time, and all that does is perpetuate misinformation. If you are a massage therapist, you are obligated to know the law in your state. If you are planning to move somewhere, you need to learn the law in that state, prior to packing up and going there. I’ll go further and say that a board member recently said to me “I don’t know the bylaws and rules the way you do.” If you’re going to serve a board, then it’s your business to know them up one side and down the other. Ignorance is not bliss and it’s not an excuse, either. You can’t uphold the rules if you don’t know what they are. The burden is on you.

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.

ELAP: Stop Insulting Our Intelligence!

I spent a big part of last week responding to the first draft of the Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP). I shared it on my social media several times and encouraged everyone in the massage profession to respond. While I do still encourage everyone to respond, I must say that I have some distress at the way this is being presented.

The powers that be seem to be worried that the massage community is lacking enough intelligence and ability to comprehend information. 

The framework being used to disseminate the first draft of the ELAP prevents anyone outside of the closed-door system that launched and produced this document from being able to read, comprehend and comment on it as a whole. Being restricted to viewing one learning objective at a time does not allow the reader to place individual elements in a larger context, which is vital for being able to properly evaluate this kind of work. We are finally being shown the Curriculum Map that the ELAP Workgroup developed, but only in small bits through a keyhole. This strategy is sure to reduce the number of people who would otherwise want to take the time to read and comment on something that is of potential importance to the field.

Over the past three years, people in our field have successfully reviewed and commented on two drafts each of the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge and the Alliance’s Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teachers — both lengthy and complex standards documents.

In addition, there are some other flaws in the document and the entire process. Instead of my repeating every word Sandy Fritz has said, I suggest you click on this link and read her blog. Fritz makes it very clear she wants this project to succeed, but brings to light a lot of issues that need to be corrected.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I haven’t been thrilled about this from the beginning–and I do mean the very beginning — starting with the way it was initially presented at a Leadership Summit when it was not on the approved agenda for discussion. If anyone other than Bob Benson, Chairman of ABMP, had done that, they would probably have been told to sit down and request that it be a possible agenda item for the next meeting.

In the meantime, I have warmed up to the idea — in theory — but I have some issues with the way it is presented. Like Sandy, I object to the document telling us how to teach. This is supposed to be about entry-level information and what that is–not how to get it across. There are also some faulty assumptions–like the one that all massage teachers are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Sorry to disappoint you, but some teachers couldn’t tell you what a taxonomy is if their life depended on it — particularly at those schools where last year’s students are this year’s teachers.

This is a research project. It’s not going to be the law — at least not in my lifetime. It’s intended to be the road map for what should be presented in entry-level massage programs. A lot of work has gone into it, and I do have appreciation that it has been a collaboration among our professional organizations. However, these organizations need to realize that there are intelligent people out here who want to look at the big picture instead of having it spoon-fed to us in kibbles and bits. I believe the Workgroup will get more and better feedback if the Curriculum Map as a whole was available for comment.

If you think this is a good idea, then contact the leaders of ABMP and AMTA. In the meantime, this is what we have, and I urge you to take the time to read it, take the surveys, and comment.

ELAP First Draft and Call for Comments Released

The first draft of the ELAP (Entry-Level Analysis Project) has finally been released. It’s been more than a year since I first blogged about it.

This research project proposal was introduced by ABMP and has come full circle from the first statements put out about it, which put me out quite a bit. The initial proposal stated: There is no step in this proposal to obtain input from the broader massage profession or from other health-care or bodywork organizations during this project. The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs.

They had to back up and punt on that. The ELAP website now contains the following statements clarifying the purpose and scope of the project:

The Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP) is a research project that defines the minimum number of training hours necessary to acquire knowledge and skills essential for safe and competent practice as an entry-level massage therapist. The project was initiated through conversations between the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, the Massage Therapy Foundation, and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

ELAP aims to obtain and use research data and analysis of findings from other massage profession projects to inform the creation of an entry-level curriculum map. The map will define the essential elements of an entry-level curriculum necessary for safe and competent practice in a massage career, as well as the number of hours deemed necessary to teach these learning objectives and outcomes. The project outputs will be used to inform the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) Model Practice Act designed to promote interstate portability of credentials in the massage profession. The recommendations of the ELAP project will be available to the massage profession as a resource to enhance consistency of entry-level curricula in massage and bodywork training programs.

The ELAP website now contains five webinars explaining the various facets of the project, and numerous surveys to complete. You do not have to complete all of them; the option is to pick and choose those areas that interest you the most.

I urge everyone to give feedback. It happens too often in our field that there is either no opportunity to give feedback, or the opportunity is presented and ignored….the MTBOK (Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge) was a prime example of that. Only a smattering of people responded to that, and then it came under all kinds of criticism when it was released. If you don’t take the opportunity to express your opinion, then don’t gripe when it comes out and you don’t like it. Visit the website and take advantage of your opportunity to participate.

A Change for the Better at the Massage Therapy Foundation and AMTA

This past week the Massage Therapy Foundation announced that Gini S. Ohlson will become the new Executive Director of the organization, effective July 1. Ohlson has been the AMTA’s staff director for the MTF since 1998.

This is part of the paradigm shift between the two organizations, and I think it’s a good one. AMTA was the founder of the Massage Therapy Foundation back in 1990, and the Executive Director of AMTA has also always acted as the Executive Director of the Foundation. I’ve always wondered how well that worked out, since both organizations carry a lot of responsibility and it would seem to me to be a full-time job to fill either position. Both organizations have come to the same conclusion and have mutually agreed that it is time for the MTF to function more independently.

The Foundation will continue to be housed in AMTA’s offices in Evanston, IL, and the AMTA will continue to support the MTF, albeit in a different way from in the past. AMTA has traditionally paid the staff salaries for the Foundation staff. Under the new agreement, AMTA will continue to contribute to the finances of the MTF, but they will be paying their own staff salaries. AMTA has also committed to donating $50K per year earmarked specifically for massage therapy research.

AMTA’s new Executive Director, former Deputy Director Bill Brown, will be taking over when current ED Shelly Johnson steps down on May 17. I spoke with both of the at the International Massage Therapy Research Conference last weekend. I had previously asked Brown to consent to an interview for my blog when he takes over, and couldn’t resist jerking his chain a little bit by telling him I was going to have Johnson do a guest blog first entitled “Final Instructions for Bill.” Both have years of service to AMTA. I wish Johnson the best in her retirement and look forward to seeing what Brown will do as leader of the organization. AMTA and the MTF will continue to work together for the good of the profession, I have no doubts.

My attendance at the International Massage Therapy Research Conference last week just reaffirmed for me how important it is to support the Massage Therapy Foundation. I urge every massage therapist to support the Foundation in whatever way you can. If each therapist donated the cost of one massage per year to the MTF, that would be a huge amount of money. Just do it! You can donate here.

Report from the International Massage Therapy Research Conference

This past week I was blessed to attend the International Massage Therapy Research Conference. This event is only held every three years and it was my first time attending. It was held at the Seaport in Boston, a beautiful hotel right on the harbor and right across the street from the World Trade Center, in a great part of town. We enjoyed excellent service from the staff there, so kudos to them.

I arrived on Wednesday in time to view the DVD showing of the International Fascia Research Conference from Vancouver. The presentations from that conference were fascinating, and that event will be the next thing on my wish list. Nothing is better at a movie than popcorn and Milk Duds, which were provided…some of the science presented was above my head, but hey–I went there to learn!

The Conference officially kicked off on Thursday morning with Massage Therapy Foundation President Ruth Werner making some opening remarks, followed by a beautiful blessing from three Native American ladies who were present. Dr. Jeanette Ezzo was the opening keynote speaker. Her topic was “Mechanisms and Beyond: What is Needed to Prove the Effectiveness of Massage?” I must confess I was taken aback at one of her early comments regarding acupuncture. She stated that although there was no scientific proof the meridians exist, that “the efficacy of it gets us off the hook.” I was rather surprised to hear that at a research conference where the focus was on scientific evidence. There was also a poster display, including one entitled “Is There a Place for Energy Work for Children Living With Autism?” It’s just my personal opinion that it was out of place there. That was my only complaint about the entire experience.

On Thursday I also attended a presentation on “Massage Therapy for Specific Conditions,” where four different researchers presented their studies on tension headaches, osteoarthritis in the knee, vascular function, and chronic pain in opiate-addicted patients.

Thursday afternoon I attended the newcomer’s luncheon, where Jerrilyn Cambron, Ruth Werner, and Allissa Haines all gave short talks to those in attendance. Thursday night I attended the welcome reception and met up with a lot of friends.

Friday morning I met with my representatives from Lippincott Williams and Wilkins and then listened to the keynote speech from Leslie Corn, “Somatic Emphathy: Restoring Community Health With Massage,” followed by a panel presentation on “Massage in the Community; Informing Public Health.” That afternoon. I attended a workshop in “Best Practices Guidelines: Building the Framework,” presented by Michael Hamm, Keith Eric Grant, and John Balletto–all previously known to me as Facebook friends–so I was glad to meet them all in person and participate in their class.

Saturday I attended Dr. Janet Kahn’s keynote speech, “Massage in 21st Century Healthcare: Let’s Seize the Moment.” Dr. Kahn’s presentation was probably the most informative and eye-opening moment for me, personally, about the state of health care in general in the US. Let’s just say it is not a pretty picture! As Dr. Kahn pointed out, there is a trend among our politicians to act as if the US has the best health care in the world, but the statistics really show the contrary.

That was followed with a panel presentation on “Next Steps in Massage Therapy Research” moderated by Bodhi Haraldsson, Research Department Director at the Massage Therapist’s Association of British Columbia. I’m telling you now, I could nearly cry when I see how much is done in Canada to advance massage therapy research compared to what is done here. We look disgraceful in comparison. Research literacy is required of every student in every school. $100 of each therapist’s registration fee is used to fund massage therapy research.

Saturday afternoon’s final event was a workshop, “Massage Therapy Research Agenda Planning,” where the approximately 250 attendees split into small groups to brainstorm recommendations for future massage therapy research.

During the whole event I got to visit with so many people, both longtime friends and people I  had only previously met through social media. I shared breakfast one morning with Keith Eric Grant, who was blogging about massage long before I started. I had lunch one day with Lisa Mertz from New York, whom I had previously met in person at the World Massage Festival. Saturday night I had dinner with Ben McDonald and Cliff Martin, owners of Massamio, that I had previously met at another conference.

All in all, it was just a wonderful event. My only regret is that I couldn’t attend every single presentation; some of them overlapped and there was just no way to be in two places at once. Thanks must be given to AMTA as the major sponsor of this event. Other sponsors included Books of Discovery, ABMP, the MA Chapter of AMTA, Anatomy Trains, and Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. The staff of the Massage Therapy Foundation and numerous volunteers kept things running smoothly. A round of applause to them all.

That being said, I feel compelled to go on a rant before I close out this blog. If you are an educator and/or a school owner, you owe it to your students to see to it that they are research literate. I believe there is a serious lack of any knowledge of research literacy in this profession. I am not asking schools to turn out researchers…I AM asking that the basics of research literacy are included in your curriculum, so that your students at least know the difference in what is valid research and what is website hype, one of the numerous myths of massage, or claptrap from a magazine. There is just no excuse for not doing it.

This event only takes place every three years, and the location of the next one has not yet been decided. I don’t care if it’s held on the moon; I will plan to be there.

CE Providers React to NCBTMB’s New Approval Plan

In the past couple of weeks since the NCBTMB unveiled their new plan for CE providers, which includes doing away with organizational approval, the reaction of providers has for the most part been very negative–and frankly I’m not surprised. The long-standing organizations who are providing quality continuing education approved feel, for the most part, that the organization they have supported for many years is throwing them under the bus.

Some of the main concerns that I  have heard are from providers who have created proprietary classes and who have trained and approved their own instructors to go out and teach their work. They are now faced with the instructors that they have invested time and money in training and marketing classes for going out on their own, taking copyrighted teaching manuals and proprietary handouts with them, and acting as if they are under no obligation pay the percentage or per-student charge that they have agreed to pay as teaching members of the organizations. Those same instructors who have been mentored and marketed under our organizations are now saying “we’ll just be out on our own after 2014.” They are making it clear that they feel free to take our proprietary materials away with them—because the new rules are basically blessing that—and never give the organization that put them where they are another dime.

Those who have organizational approval do not want unqualified people teaching for their organizations and misrepresenting their good names, and have gone to considerable effort and expense to make sure that is not the case. While there is certainly nothing wrong with requiring us to provide proof of that, taking all instructors from under our organizational umbrella and putting them out there on their own is also going to create logistical nightmares. The organization has been responsible for collecting and maintaining registration forms, evaluation forms, etc. and issuing CE. In the case of Upledger, for example, now instead of one organization handling those administrative tasks, there will be more than 100 separate instructors keeping up with that. The organization will have no control and no more quality assurance that they will be able to exercise.

The organizations and schools that sponsor CE workshops at the national, state, and local levels will suffer from these changes as well. This is also financially crippling and over-burdensome to smaller organizations who may not teach that many classes each year. When it comes to education, quality and quantity are not the same thing.

The notion that having people turn in all their lesson plans as proof that they are a competent teacher is also flawed. My publisher hires me to write lesson plans all the time to go with their textbooks and for career schools who want customized plans. I’ve written at least 20 this year alone. If you have the money to hire me, I will write one for you. It still will not make you a competent teacher. A well-written lesson plan doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re a great teacher; it indicates that you are either a competent writer, or that you hired someone like me to write it for you. Requiring people to send in a video of themselves teaching would be more indicative of whether or not they are competent, since the organization obviously cannot afford to vet every class in person.

In response to the outcry since the NCBTMB announced the plan, they have stated that they will consider some of these issues on a case-by-case basis. I would like to know how they plan to carry that out with volunteers—volunteers whose qualifications to judge us we have no knowledge of, as they are not releasing the names of the people on that committee. Are they experienced educators? Are they trained in teaching methodology? Are the research literate? We don’t know; we can only hope so.

I find it necessary to bring up that the reason the NCBTMB changed from vetting individual classes years ago was because the task became too overwhelming for the paid staff to handle and getting volunteers together to do it caused the process to move at the pace of molasses. It is unacceptable for someone to wait six months—as has been common at several points in time—to get their approval or denial. It is very apparent from the latest 990 filing that the NCBTMB cannot afford to hire new staff and that they will indeed be depending on volunteers until such time as this might generate enough money to enable that. This is one of the service problems that has come very close to knocking this organization to its knees in the past, and they do not need to go backwards instead of forward.

Considering things on a “case-by-case” basis also leaves this organization open to accusations of favoritism, if not worse. The massage community is a tight-knit and close community, in spite of the fact that there are thousands of us. Those of us who are organizational providers tend to attend the same events, and travel in the same circles. What you allow for one, you must allow for all. To do otherwise is simply unethical and unprofessional, and the first time it comes to light, and it certainly will, that any consideration given to one has not been given to all, it is going to be another public relations nightmare for the NCBTMB. I don’t think they can stand to have many more of those.

Let’s look at a few facts.

There are currently a half dozen states with their own CE approval process. The NCBTMB is not the only game in town…and it is that same complacency of thinking that has resulted in the FSMTB kicking their butt with the MBLEx. I would not fall into the mistake of thinking that the Federation isn’t willing to step up and do something about CE approval as well. They may seize upon the dissatisfaction of the current environment; they already have the infrastructure, and big cash reserves at their disposal. The Federation doesn’t “need” the money, and the perception here from providers is that the NCBTMB is trying to bail themselves out of the red with this plan.

There is no evidence to support that regulation, including requiring CE, has contributed to the safety of the public. There have always been unethical and incompetent practitioners, and for that matter unethical and/or incompetent CE providers, and they will continue to exist, regardless of the amount of rules and regulations. Look at how things stand in other professions. There are 17 states that don’t require nurses to obtain CE. There are 10 states that don’t require PTs to obtain CE. Even MDs have 7 states that don’t require them to obtain CE—but all three of these professions are licensed in all 50 states.

Other than the 30 or so of us (including myself) who were present at the meeting the NCBTMB convened in Chicago to discuss this issue a couple of years ago, there has been no attempt to gather the input of the (hundreds of) providers that are currently under the auspices of the NCBTMB.  I believe this organization is in need of our support, not our animosity and distress.

I urge them to abandon this plan, and gather input from a much broader slice of the profession before considering such drastic measures again.

Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice

I have never before devoted my blog to a book review, but I’m doing that this time, because (other than my own books, of course) I think this is one of the most important books that has been published for our profession. I’m speaking of Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, edited by Trish Dryden, MEd, RMT of Centennial College, Toronto, and Dr. Christopher Moyer, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie. This book was published by Human Kinetics and has only been out for a few months. I got my copy about a month ago, and I’d like to see one in the hands of every massage therapist, every student of massage, and in particular, every massage therapy educator.

The contributors to this book are an impressive group of people. Besides Dryden and Moyer, there are contributions from Janet R. Kahn, PhD, LMT, who has one of the most impressive resumes in the galaxy, culminating in a recent appointment by President Obama as a Member, Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health; Diana Thompson, LMP, former President of the Massage Therapy Foundation; Bodhi Haraldsson, RMT, Research Director at the Massage Therapists Association of British Columbia; Albert Moraska, Assistant Professor of Research at the University of Colorado at Denver, and a couple of dozen other highly-educated people with an interest in the evidence-supported practice of massage therapy.

The layperson sometimes panics at the word “research.” People get the erroneous idea that they can’t read, much less conduct, a research project unless they have a doctorate in elementary statistics. Although this book introduces some complicated (at least to me) concepts, they’re broken down into plain enough language that anyone can understand.

The explanations of qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as mixed methods of research, has enlightened me. I don’t mind saying that while I have supported the Massage Therapy Foundation to the best of my ability, and been a vocal proponent of the evidence-informed practice of massage for the past few years, I realize after reading this book just how in the dark I’ve been about the particulars of what actually constitutes valid research.

The main purpose of the book is to introduce massage therapists to the various concepts of research, and how to apply that information to your every-day practice of massage.  There is a whole section, Populations and Conditions, that contains chapters on working with pediatric clients, pregnant clients, athletes, geriatric clients, and adults with a history of sexual trauma. The conditions that are covered include back pain, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, and anxiety and depression–the things that we are all confronted with on a regular basis.

Ruth Werner, current President of the Massage Therapy Foundation, contributed the Foreword to the book. She states the five crucial things that this book addresses:

1. It makes the compelling case that research literacy is a necessary skill even among entry-level massage therapists.

2. It introduces key concepts in a way that is both simple and accurate. Werner states that “As a teacher of a complex topic, I know how often the tipping point between simplicity and accuracy is narrow indeed.”

3. It emphasizes the application of research by giving clear examples of tying published findings to everyday practice scenarios.

4. By emphasizing the practical application of research findings, it acknowledge the importance of the feedback loop that must exist between clinicians and researchers.

5. It lays the groundwork for its own future development as the mass of evidence about massage therapy continues to grow.

Every time a client comes out of the treatment room and says “I feel better,” yes; that’s evidence. However, resting on those kinds of laurels is a big mistake, in my opinion. There are many massage therapists (other than myself and the contributors to this book) who want to see massage therapy gain the respect we think it deserves. The way to do that is research, research, research, and more research.

We don’t all have to BE researchers. We DO all need to know where to find it and how to make heads or tails out of it. Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, is the only book that I am familiar with that explains it so that those of us who are not scientists can understand it. I urge you to get this book. And as I mentioned earlier how important I think this is for massage therapy educators, let me go a step further and say that if you are teaching in a school that does not address the need for research literacy, then you be the change in that. It is doing students–not to mention the massage-seeking public–a huge disservice to ignore the subject.

While I’m on the topic, The Massage Therapy Foundation has a free toolbar you can download from their website to keep in touch with the latest research developments. Research costs money. I encourage you to donate to the Foundation in whatever amount you can afford to give. Every dollar helps.

It’s All About Me

It’s all about me, so here’s my wishlist for the profession. It’s difficult to place these in order of importance, because some of them depend on each other, and in my little corner of massage, they’re all important. It’s election time–aren’t we all just about sick of hearing about it–candidates mudslinging and making campaign promises? If I was the President of Massage Land, here’s what I’d do:

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards would sit down at the table with the National Certification Boardand hammer out an agreement to a) help ease the NCBTMB out of the entry-level test market, b) contract with them to collaboratively administer continuing education instead of trying to take it over and c) forget their MOCC-ERY plan.

The NCBTMB would a) graciously accept that it’s time for them to get out of the entry-level test market, b) focus on cleaning up the CE approval program, and c) get it together with their new plan of raising standards of certification.

Both of these entities would cease and desist in sending out Job Task Analysis Surveys that are flawed from the get-go….they both supposedly pay psychometricians to help them out with these things, and still they are falling way short of the mark in ascertaining what they really need to ascertain. Stop worrying about how many times a week we give a massage, and stop ignoring the relaxation benefits of massage as if they don’t exist.

There will continue to be Leadership Summits. They will stick to the agreed-upon agenda at their meetings and not allow major surprises  to slide in from any of the organizations, and they will practice complete transparency and stop sending out press releases that contain no more information than an invitation to a baby shower.

Every one who is involved in massage therapy education will join the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education.

The profession will come to a consensus on what constitutes required core competencies for entry-level education, while still giving school owners the autonomy and individuality to rise over and above that.

All unregulated states will get state-wide regulation and all localities will honor those and not place ridiculous additional burdens on licensed therapists.

All massage schools will be required to teach research literacy to their students, and will only hire instructors who are capable of doing so.

The NCBTMB will stop approving woo-woo courses for CE credit, and all entry-level massage schools will stop teaching it. I don’t care if you study Interplanetary Voodoo with the Archangels, but you don’t deserve any credit for doing that.

Our professional associations will conduct annual surveys that have NOTHING to do with a Job Task Analysis–the sole purpose of it will be “Tell us what you think we are doing wrong and give us your suggestions for how we could do it better.”

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education will develop a program to offer instructor training to the masses that will be accessible and affordable–perhaps online.

Board members of all representing organizations will recognize their responsibility to not blindly follow the leader; to avoid not only conflicts of interest, but the appearance of conflicts of interest; will not put up with any cover-your-ass type behavior within their organizations; will hold their hired leadership accountable, and will have enough gumption to get rid of them if and when such behavior occurs.

All massage schools would seek COMTAapproval. If your school can’t afford that or doesn’t qualify because of not meeting the hour requirement, may I say that their standards are on their website for all the world to see for free, and you could still go about the self-study process and getting things up to snuff, even if you don’t formally seek the accreditation.

All school owners would be bound to have their school bonded, so that no school goes bankrupt and leaves students in the lurch in the middle of their program.

All schools would be required to post their pass rates on the licensing and certification exams on their websites and in their catalogs.

No school owner will be allowed to say to a potential student “Don’t worry, your criminal record won’t keep you from getting a license.” It should be mandatory for it to be disclosed that they may not receive a license. The state of Texas has a non-binding review, where for $50 a person seeking a career in any licensed profession can submit their criminal record for review prior to spending their time and money on pursuing education. Every state should do the same.

There should be a national exam for instructors to prove they are competent in teaching methodology and a subject matter expert in whatever area they intend to teach.

Each state should require a jurisprudence exam. Your licensees can’t adhere to the law unless they know what it is, and the percentage of applicants who actually read your practice act in its entirety is probably less than 5%–I’m basing that on asking that question in all the classes I teach. Hardly anyone reads them, but if they had to pass a test on it, they would.

The Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge would be about massage.If you want to have an energy work body of knowledge, create that.

Everyone involved in the profession would give financial support to the Massage Therapy Foundation. Give $100. Give $5. Give $1. Give whatever you can afford to give, just do it.

 

I could probably go on for days, but I have other chores to get to today. I invite my readers to add what they will. What’s on YOUR wishlist? What’s on mine that you object to, and why?