Tag Archives: FSMTB

Arkansas Massage Therapists: Be(a)ware

The state of Arkansas has more massage legislation going on than you can shake a stick at.  Here’s a quick recap of this legislative bonanza:

AB 145 would dissolve the Arkansas Board of Massage Therapy and transfer duties to the Department of Health, effective Oct. 1, 2015. This has passed both the House and the Senate and been sent to the Governor, and it’s almost a 100% certainty that licensing massage therapists is going to be turned over to the DOH. It’s beyond incredible to me that the current board members apparently did not protest the dissolution of their Board. However, from the mess that they seem to be in, perhaps the Board members felt it’s best to just go along with the change. Unfortunately, in the past few years, the Arkansas Board has apparently been on a downhill slide with their finances.

According to past Board member Susie Byrd, the current board took power in ’09 when Byrd left. At that time, there were 3550 therapists, two people running the board office, and an annual budget of $74,5000. Marilyn Graham was hired as the Executive Director in ’09. As of 2014, 5 years into Graham’s tenure, there are 1990 therapists, four people in the board office, and an annual budget of $248,000. According to Byrd, when she departed from the the Board, the Board had $250,000 in reserves. That $250,000 has been spent, and according to Byrd, Graham has asked for an additional $60,000 twice in the past year. The Dept of Finance and Administration told the board they had to either fire two people or raise fees, and that the legislators would not grant a fee raise. Considering that Arkansas has lost so many licensees, while doubling their staff and moving to bigger, better offices, their spending definitely seems out of control, and it’s no wonder the state feels compelled to do something.

Derick Corbin, a massage therapist in Russelville, Arkansas, has used his social media pages to try and rally the troops to get in touch with their legislators to prevent the dissolving of the Board, but I am almost certain that due to the mismanagement that has been allowed to go on for the past 5 years, it will in fact be dissolved. Corbin initially brought these legislative issues to my attention. He confirms that the present Board has allowed Graham to run the agency unchecked and unmonitored and believes that has caused the insolvency. When he first contacted me about it, I suggested that the Board needed to reach out to the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, who helps guide member Boards in situations like this. Unfortunately, this administration also saw fit to drop their membership in the Federation. Corbin states that the previous Board was comprised of honest, hardworking people. As he truthfully pointed out to me, the burden is on a Board to oversee an Executive Director, and to question it when finances (or any other executive decisions and actions) seem improper. It looks like this Board should have been asking some hard questions long ago, and didn’t, or they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

I read all the minutes from Board meetings that appear on the website. Donna McGriff, a former Board member who has served three different tenures on the Board, told me that she and Byrd had repeatedly asked the Board to require a review of Board finances in the meeting once per quarter. According to McGriff, that never happened, and there is no mention of it in any meeting minutes.

AR: HB 1729 will require all boards to be subjected to a sunset review every 12 years as of 2017 by a Sunset Review Committee. The Committee will also review board finances.  I’d be very interested to see a detailed accounting of the past five years myself.

AR: HB 1589 would have exempted Bowen Therapy/Technique practitioners from licensure requirements for massage therapists. This bill was defeated yesterday and is just waiting on the Governor’s signature.

AR: SB 546 eliminates  a former requirement of a  general education development and changes  the requirement to a high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma approved by the Department of Career Education and is just waiting on the Governor’s signature.

AR: HB 1562 changes the requirements for CE hours for instructors to 250 CE hours, requiring the 125 hours for a master massage therapist license (only 18 are allowed to be taken online); Master Massage Therapist licensure requires 125 CE hours (with no more than 10% online); adds human trafficking, sexual misconduct, and lewd behavior to reasons for license denial and revocation; provides exemption from licensing for cosmetologists and Bowen Therapy practitioners (the Bowen exemption was defeated yesterday on a separate bill), if they are certified by a professional organization or credentialing agency; adds new sanitation requirements; requires massage schools to maintain board licensing examination pass/fail rates and includes the provision and that if a school has a pass rate of below 75%, the board can place the school on probation; requires massage therapy clinics and spas to register with the board; provides policies for probation and addresses military active duty considerations, and is just waiting on the Governor’s signature .

According to Byrd, 4 schools were previously given probationary status because of low pass rates, and three of the four school owners went screaming to the legislature that the Board members had a vendetta against them. One of them only had a 50% pass rate–actually up 2% from the 48% they had a few years ago. That’s pitiful, in my estimation, and I can’t imagine spending my money to attend a school with that kind of record. Any school can experience a temporary setback for a number of reasons–incompetent instructors, management changes or upheaval of some sort–but a school consistently having that low a pass rate ought to be out of business altogether, if they can’t get up to snuff within a probationary period. If they can make a case for why they’ve had a short-term lapse in pass rates, that’s one thing, but just being allowed to carry on permanently with that kind of rate is beyond the pale.

I’ve seen it happen time after time that when some detrimental legislation gets passed–many times directly due to the failure of people to contact their legislators to express their concerns and ask them to vote the other way–within a few weeks people will start calling me or asking on social media what to do. I applaud Byrd and Corbin for trying to motivate massage therapists to take action,and applaud those therapists that did take action. I’d like to be proven wrong here, but I fear the Arkansas Board is going down the river. Those of us who have been around for awhile will recall when a previous director, now deceased, almost single-handedly bankrupted the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. Board members–on any board–need to keep in mind that they are charged with running a board in a fiscally and ethically responsible manner, and that includes questioning the decisions of an executive director, and intervening before things deteriorate to the point they have deteriorated here. This Board is one of the oldest massage boards, formed in 1952. To see it lost in this way is a travesty, and one that could have been prevented.

Board Certification: Just Do the Right Thing

In my last blog, I was critical of the fact that  the NCBTMB‘s new Board Certification exam has been adopted by VA and CA for licensing purposes. I have heard through the grapevine that Oregon intends to do the same, but nothing is on their website to that effect yet.

After the blog was released, I was contacted by the NCBTMB’s CEO, Steve Kirin, and Board Chair Leena Guptha, who were upset with my criticism and wanted to set the record straight. Kirin sent me a timeline of the events leading up to the acceptance of the exam by the states, stated to me that the NCBTMB had no prior knowledge that it was going to happen, and that they notified the FSMTB as soon as these developments came to their attention. I appreciate that they contacted me. I appreciate that they notified the Federation; it was the right thing to do.

They also stated to me that the NCBTMB has no control over the state boards, and that’s very true; the NCBTMB is not a regulatory agency, and has never been one.

However, the NCBTMB can and should take control of this situation by putting some controls in place with Pearson Vue, the vendor that administers the exam, and I stated this directly to Kirin and Dr. Guptha during our conference call.

Board Certification was introduced as “the highest voluntary credential attainable to massage therapists and bodyworkers in the profession today. Board Certification demonstrates a much higher level of achievement beyond entry level licensure—including completing more education, hands-on experience, and a background check—that will be a differentiator for you as you advance through your career, especially in a time where health care and other pivotal third-party professions require Board Certification in order to fill stable and rewarding positions.” From the NCBTMB’s website, here are the qualifications:

  • Pass the Board Certification exam
  • Complete 750 hours of education*
  • Complete 250 hours of professional hands-on experience**
  • Pass a thorough national background check
  • Maintain a current CPR certification
  • Signed commitment to the NCBTMB’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics
  • Signed commitment to opposing Human Trafficking

It’s my opinion that the NCBTMB should put the policy in place that if a candidate wants to take the Board Certification exam, they should have to demonstrate proof that they have completed the other requirements. VA and CA both require 500 hours of education, and in fact, as is the case with the MBLEx, people can take it while still a student. That does nothing to indicate advanced practice.

I became Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork in 2000, and I have maintained it ever since. I transitioned to Board Certification when the new credential was introduced. I allowed it to expire a couple of weeks ago, after these new developments came to my attention. My own state, NC, is also a 500-hour state. The school I attended was 525 hours, and in the past 15 years, I have taken more than enough continuing education to meet the 750-hour requirement. And that’s my complaint: I’ve met the requirements. It is just my opinion that allowing people who have not met those requirements to take the exam is minimizing this credential.

This is easily fixable. No, the NCBTMB cannot control the states. But they can control what happens to their credential, by the simple act of having applicants submit proof of meeting all the other the requirements to the NCBTMB, and then issuing them permission to test.

The NCBTMB’s agreement with the FSMTB put the NCBTMB out of the licensing exam business. While I appreciate the fact that the NCBTMB had no prior knowledge of what happened with the exam (and will continue to happen, if the controls aren’t put in place), I urge them not to sit on their hands.  I am dismayed that this happened at all, because if the stipulations had been put in place to begin with, this situation could have been avoided. I implore the NCBTMB to just do the right thing. Seize control of your exam, if you really want it to mean anything above being an entry-level licensing exam.



Exam Wars: The Sequel

As I reported in my blogs of October 3 and October 20, 2014, FSMTB and NCBTMB reached an agreement where “…NCBTMB will no longer provide examinations for licensure purposes and will now focus exclusively on delivering quality certification programs.” That’s a direct quote from the joint press release issued by both organizations.

In the wake of this news, cheers were heard ’round the profession, as it signaled an end to the ugly and costly “exam wars” between the two organizations. In case you forgot, NCBTMB darn near bankrupted itself trying to fight the FSMTB and their upstart licensing exam. The fact is that the Federation offered the better testing solution for state massage boards, and the profession has migrated to the MBLEx – leaving NCBTMB with ever-shrinking exam revenues.

With so few people taking their rebranded National Certification exams for state licensure, NCBTMB was compelled to strike a deal with the FSMTB to throw in the towel in exchange for some amount of money. And we don’t know how much cash, because the terms have not been made public. As part of this agreement, NCBTMB said it was going to stop taking new applications for its National Certification Exams on November 1, 2014, and will cease administering these two tests on February 1, 2015.

Sounds like we’re finally moving towards the single licensing exam solution for the massage therapy profession, doesn’t it? Well, don’t head for the lobby to get your tub of buttered popcorn yet, because the next installment of Exam Wars is heating up!

NCBTMB may be bringing down the curtain on the two National Certification exams, but they are now reported to be offering their Board Certification Exam for state licensure purposes. Doesn’t that fly in the face of the agreement with FSMTB?

In October 2014, the Massage Therapy Advisory Committee of the Virginia Board of Nursing voted to accept NCB’s Board Cert exam to meet their statutory certification requirements (in place of the sunsetting National Cert exams). On December 11, 2014, the California Massage Therapy Council voted to accept NCB’s Board Cert exam, along with the MBLEx and the two NCB National Cert exams taken before 2/1/15.
If that weren’t bad enough, NCBTMB is now allowing people to take the Board Cert exam BEFORE they have met all eligibility requirements for Board Certification. Since NCBTMB is touting it as the “highest voluntary credential attainable to massage therapists and bodyworkers in the profession today”, this policy cheapens the credential. It’s already a stretch for NCBTMB to make these claims, but their use of the Board Cert exam to stay in the state licensure game is a real howler. In fact, I think it cheapens it to the point that I will not renew mine in a few days when it expires. I don’t have anything to prove. And after 15 years of practice, I am not going to spend my money to maintain a voluntary credential that is supposed to indicate you are an advanced practitioner that someone fresh out of massage school is being allowed to get. It doesn’t say anything about my knowledge and years of experience at all. It’s apparently turning into just another entry-level credential instead of what it was designed to be, and that truly distresses me.

Are NCB’s actions in violation of their agreement with FSMTB? That may have to get worked out between the attorneys for each side. Whatever the agreement actually says, we’re headed right back to the same old conflicts between FSMTB and NCBTMB. And we didn’t even have to wait long for the Sequel!

Deal, or No Deal?

In my last blog, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I reported that the only good thing that came out of the recent FSMTB Annual Meeting was the announcement that NCBTMB and FSMTB had reached an agreement on licensing exams, which promised to spell the end of the long “exam wars”. FSMTB trumpeted this news in their October 3rd press release, which stated:

“FSMTB and the NCBTMB have worked cooperatively to reach an agreement that the NCBTMB will no longer provide examinations for licensure purposes and will now focus exclusively on delivering quality certification programs. This supports the common goal of the FSMTB, Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), for the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) to be utilized as the sole licensure exam for the profession, thus facilitating licensure portability for therapists.”

Too bad that we really can’t celebrate this news because the so-called “agreement” did not include the Approved Continuing Education Provider Program operated by NCBTMB (which 27 state massage boards use in one way or another). Like rubbing salt in the wound, the FSMTB turned right around and passed a resolution to create their very own CE approval program–as if NCBTMB didn’t exist.

It actually gets worse. I received word that at last week’s Florida Board of Massage Therapy meeting in Orlando, it was stated publicly that there was really only a “letter of intention” between the two organizations that was signed before the FSMTB Annual Meeting, and that the details of this letter would be worked out later in a formal agreement.

Now I’m no attorney, but a letter of intention is NOT the same thing as a legally-binding agreement. It’s more like putting a small deposit down on a house to get the process started, with the purchase contract and the mortgage money to come later. A lot can happen between those two steps.

So I’m confused here… is there a deal, or is it no deal? For the FSMTB to send out a national press release with the subject line “FSMTB AND NCBTMB REACH AGREEMENT” when no final document appears to have been signed, raises all kinds of red flags and ethical questions.

We never needed two competing licensing exams, and we sure as blazes don’t need two competing national CE approval programs. Looks like it’s time for the heads of these two organizations to get back to the negotiating table and work out the rest of this deal, for the benefit of the CE community and the profession as a whole.  And don’t come out until you get it settled!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

With apologies to Clint Eastwood, I’m using the title of his classic Western to talk about three major announcements from the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, and what they mean to the rest of the profession. This all came down at the recent FSMTB Annual Meeting, held in Tucson on October 3-4.

The Good: FSMTB and NCBTMB reach an agreement on licensing exams.
Woo hoo! Praise the Lord and pass me the MBLEx! After six years of costly and damaging “exam wars” between the two organizations, NCB was unable to keep its market share of the entry-level testing business. As FSMTB’s exam revenue grew each year, NCB’s declined. NCB finally saw the handwriting on the wall and agreed to stop offering its national certification exams for state licensure as of November 1, 2014 – in exchange for an unspecified amount of money.

This is a huge benefit for the profession, as we can finally move towards having a single licensing exam that is under the direct oversight of state massage boards. (Only Hawaii and New York are still hanging on to their own state exams.) It means less confusion for students and massage schools, and a boon to portability of licensure in the future. This has been a long and painful struggle between FSMTB and NCB, and I for one am thrilled to see it come to a peaceful end.

The Bad: FSMTB adopts CE standards and license renewal recommendations.
Two years ago, FSMTB proposed a radical shift to the continuing education landscape, as outlined in their Maintenance of Core Competency proposal. The MOCC was slammed by organizations, schools, CE providers and individual therapists alike – and yet, the worst of it has made its way into FSMTB’s new continuing education and license renewal standards.

This is a classic case of “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it.” Overall, our existing CE system works reasonably well, so the last thing we need is yet another organization coming in with an agenda to transform and/or grab control of it. Last year, we suffered through an attempt by NCB to do just that. After a massive grassroots effort, NCB toned down most of the unacceptable changes they were trying to force on providers and sponsors of continuing education. They’ve been behaving themselves since then, and their CE approval processes have been operating more smoothly, although personally some of the classes they have approved are still an issue with me. I’d like to see some sort of designation for those of us who don’t practice or teach pseudoscience and don’t want to be lumped in the same category as those who do.

Now we have the FSMTB trying to flex its muscles. It’s like we just got King Kong calmed down, and now we have to do the same with Godzilla!

At the recent FSMTB Annual Meeting, state board reps passed a resolution from their CE Task Force to “implement a program that provides reliable, unbiased and appropriate vetting of continuing education providers and the classes offered to the consuming public.” That sounds high and mighty, but there is no reference to NCB and their existing national Approved CE Provider program in the resolution, and there was no mention of NCB when this resolution and the license renewal standards were presented to the Delegate Assembly for consideration. Did they think that no one would notice this sin of omission?
The LAST thing we need is another CE approval program! FSMTB could have easily solved their delegation of authority issue by entering into a partnership agreement with NCB to use their existing program. This should have gotten rolled into the exam deal between the two organizations, so that CE approvals could be consolidated.

It’s hard to believe, but the resolution was passed without any details on how FSMTB actually plans to vet CE providers and classes. Why should we trust that FSMTB can do this in an effective manner? They’ve been offering the MBLEx for six years now, and they still don’t have an online practice exam and exam study guide for massage students. The very worst of it is that FSMTB’s plan for CE and license renewal centers on “public safety”, while minimizing the role of CE for “professional development”. The problem is that there is no evidence that we have a widespread “public safety” crisis in our profession, so there’s no factual basis for what FSMTB is trying to do. (There are a lot of specific flaws in the CE standards and license renewal recommendations FSMTB has adopted. I’ll detail those in a future blog.)

What I can see from all this is a major threat to the existing CE provider and sponsor system in our field. FSMTB’s proposal is so completely out-of-synch with how CE is organized and delivered, and FSMTB stands to consolidate even more money and power if this model is adopted by state massage boards. We’re just coming out of a period where NCB tried to dominate the field. Now FSMTB is acting like they’ve picked up the NCB playbook and are trying to run with it.

The Ugly: FSMTB publishes the Model Massage Therapy Practice Act (MPA).
As I wrote about in my previous blog, the MPA was released after three years of behind-the-scenes work and two rounds of public comment. Most of its content is the kind of standard stuff found in all templates for occupational licensure. However, FSMTB really blew it in a number of key areas, and the final version contains both technical errors and some awful policy decisions. As FSMTB’s leaders had final say, the responsibility for correcting these fatal flaws rests on them.

Judging from how few comments were made on the three blogs I posted about the MPA, it looks like it doesn’t register as all that important. Wake up people! A model practice act is one of the bedrock components of a profession. It contains the Scope of Practice definition and other essential elements that influence both education and practice. If you haven’t taken time to read our new MPA, I urge you to get familiar with it and keep up the pressure on FSMTB to fix it. Remember that it doesn’t become law unless it’s adopted by a state legislature.

Let’s celebrate the Good, and get to work on the Bad and the Ugly!

Final Draft of Model Practice Act Released

The Model Practice Act was released in its final draft this week, after more than three years of work on it and two periods of public comment. The introduction does state that it will be an evolving document as changing times and circumstances dictate, but as of now, it still has many of the school owners on my social media pages up in arms.

The language requiring accreditation from previous drafts (Section 103(B) ) was modified to say “Approved Massage Therapy Education Program means a school or educational program that meets the criteria established in rule by the Board, at a minimum includes 625 Clock Hours, and is both authorized in the jurisdiction in which it is located and that reflects a curriculum acceptable to an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education…” While the requirement has been downgraded to a suggestion, the comment section makes it clear that the eventual goal is required accreditation for one and all.

Personally, I have some mixed feelings on this. Accreditation is a process of quality control–to a point. (Disclosure: I am a peer reviewer for COMTA). Obtaining accreditation is not cheap, it’s rigorous and it’s time-consuming. It sends the message that you have voluntarily gone over and above what the state requires. Other health care professions require it. And therein lies the clincher.

There are no other health professions that I am aware of accrediting programs that teach psuedoscience, and many massage school programs, including those accredited by COMTA and other accrediting bodies–and in the case of community colleges, even the regional accrediting bodies–do. So what does that really mean? Is it really a hallmark of excellence when we accredit things that have no basis in fact, just because it’s tradition, and been around for a long time, even though it’s been shot down by science?

I am not a school owner, but if I was, I wouldn’t be hitting the panic button just yet. The FSMTB has no power of legislation and they can’t lobby. In order for accreditation to become the law of the land, that’s what will have to happen: it will have to become the law of the land, literally, through legislative changes. There may be some FSMTB member states who are gung-ho to see it happen, but remember, state boards can’t lobby, either. That is the domain of the professional associations. In my state, our AMTA chapter has paid a lobbyist for many years. Since the chapter fees are now optional, I have heard that he volunteered to continue working at a lesser fee, but I bet some of the state chapters have lost their lobbyist altogether, if they had one to start with. The wheels of government don’t turn that quickly unless they’re greased.

The MPA is a template for the states. It isn’t the law and it may never be. For the few unregulated states, should they finally get out of the Dark Ages and decide to regulate, this will be very time-saving for them. It isn’t perfect; nothing is. Obviously a lot of work went into it. Only time will tell what effect it is really going to have.

Model Practice Act Causing an Uproar

Disclosure: I am a peer reviewer for COMTA.

I have complained a lot about massage therapists sitting on their hands, not having any interest or involvement in governance, and not caring or being informed about what is going on until it’s too late to do anything about it. I can’t make that complaint about massage school owners in the past couple of weeks. I’ve never seen such a hue and cry over any other issue.

The Model Practice Act is on its second period of public comments, and I’m pretty sure the FSMTB is hearing from a lot of upset people. I had a few issues with the first draft, and I hear it got about 1300 comments. I’m willing to bet this one will get twice that, caused by a one-word change in the following definition, found in Section 103(B):

Approved Massage Therapy Education Program means a school or educational program that meets the criteria established in rule by the Board, at a minimum includes 625 clock hours and is both authorized in the jurisdiction in which it is located and is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education. Education received outside of the United States must be substantially equivalent to the criteria of this Act and must be recognized by the jurisdiction in which it is located.

In the first MPA draft, this requirement for schools was stated as state authorization AND/OR accreditation. The removal of just one word here makes a world of difference, which has set the massage education community into a tizzy.

My Facebook is buzzing with comments from school owners, teachers, and other interested parties. Overwhelmingly, the feeling is that this is going to put a lot of schools out of business. There are also people that feel that we have about twice as many massage schools in the US as what are really needed, and that this has led to churning out too many graduates, which has led to a glut in the job market, and contributed to the proliferation of franchised massage (or maybe it’s because of franchised massage).

Rick Rosen is the co-owner of Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC, one of only two schools in our state that are accredited by COMTA, shared some of his comments on it with me:

There are two primary reasons this accreditation requirement is inappropriate and potentially damaging: First is the fact that about half of all massage schools in the U.S. are not accredited. In general, these are smaller proprietary institutions that only offer massage programs. It is doubtful that most of these schools could qualify for accreditation even if they wanted it, because of the lack of financial resources. Smaller schools that are undercapitalized are unlikely to be able to meet the financial ratio requirements of COMTA and the other accreditors, not to mention the initial and ongoing costs of accreditation.

These massage-only institutions embody the lineage of massage therapy and the healing arts, as contrasted with for-profit career colleges and publicly-funded community colleges where massage is one program among dozens (if not hundreds). Mandatory accreditation WILL cause many of these smaller schools to close, which would be a tremendous loss for our field.

Second, COMTA is the only specialized accreditor in the massage therapy field, and the only agency with competency-based curriculum standards. Institutional accreditation by the other six vocational accreditors and the seven regional higher education accreditors fails to provide a meaningful measure of quality assurance for the massage program itself.

Therefore, it makes no sense for FSMTB to include an institutional accreditation requirement in its Model Practice Act when such accreditation (in the case of non-COMTA-accredited schools) ignores the elements that are critical to producing a well-trained massage therapist. It is the integrity of the program’s curriculum, the competency of the instructors and the consistent application of admissions criteria that are the critical elements that make a sound massage therapy program — far more so than the financial and operational standards that comprise the bulk of institutional accreditation.

So, if roughly half the massage schools in the U.S. cannot qualify for accreditation, and the other half (minus the 67 schools and branch campuses that are under COMTA accreditation) are accredited under institutional standards that do not reliably produce skilled and employable massage therapists who last more than two years in practice — where does that leave us?

We need a regulatory structure for schools that can satisfy the minimum requirements of state massage statues for protection of the public, while preserving the ability of our smaller massage schools to exist. In addition, we need a mechanism to bring all massage programs under single set of programmatic standards to establish consistency of entry-level training that is impossible to achieve within the current system.

Rosen’s solution is for COMTA to add a non-accreditation level program approval to its scope, which would require the blessing of the USDE. In addition, all massage schools with institutional accreditation from other agencies would also need to seek programmatic accreditation from COMTA – a structure that is common in other regulated professions. The language in Section 103(B) of the MPA would then need to be changed to include programmatic accreditation OR approval by COMTA – along with approval or licensure by the educational authority in the jurisdiction in which the school operates.

There are a lot of other school owners out there that don’t feel any accreditation should be required at all, particularly owners of small schools who have long-standing, successful programs that have lasted for decades without accreditation. Accreditation is not cheap. It’s time-consuming to initially obtain, and time-consuming and expensive to renew. While I have heard many small school owners talk about the expense as a deterrent to getting accreditation, I’ve heard as many others say “I’m not going to have anyone telling me how I have to run my school.”

Sandy Fritz, who has owned a school (not accredited) for more than 30 years and is a well-known author and advocate for massage education, stated on her blog that accreditation was a good thing–and then it moved away from a process to determine excellence and became a hurdle to jump across to access the cash cow of financial aid.

Actually, institutional accreditation has always been about being a financial gateway rather than a hallmark of excellence. When COMTA came on the scene, it was the first accreditor to offer programmatic standards that were meaningful to massage education. Unfortunately, they’re also the smallest player on the accreditation field and have no real ability to affect the whole.

I can’t speak to the other accrediting agencies, for my experience as a peer reviewer for COMTA is that a school that seeks the accreditation is sending a powerful message: “I do more than the state requires me to do.” Accreditation involves an in-depth self-study, and documentation, documentation, documentation. If it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist. But that’s a good thing. It ensures that policies and procedures are in place that are for the good of the student, the good of the school, and the good of the profession.

COMTA has been criticized for including pseudoscience (energy work) amongst the things that are acceptable for curricula in accredited schools. Without have read the standards of the other accrediting agencies, my guess is that they do, as well. The NCBTMB condones it, the AMTA and ABMP both condone it, the FSMTB condones it, so COMTA is hardly the lone ranger. It just goes to show, once again, that massage therapy accreditation is not being held to the same standards as medical professions do with their accreditation, which is why we’re still a vocation and not a profession.

The period of public comment ends on August 15. If you want your voice to be heard, you should seize the opportunity by clicking here.


Expanding Our Scope, Protecting Our Future

There have been numerous attempts to come up with a good working definition of  massage therapy. While I certainly appreciate the effort that has gone into them, in my opinion, most have fallen short in one way or another. Part of the problem is that massage therapists are independent-minded and are harder to organize than a bunch of cats. If you look at the 44 state massage laws that currently exist, you’ll find 44 different versions of what is called a scope of practice definition. Add to that the newest definitions found in the MTBOK and the ELAP, and we’ve got a murky mess that makes it nearly impossible to achieve portability of licensure. In fairness to the creators of both of those documents, which were collaborative efforts with support from all of the professional massage organizations, they were put out for public comment, which really didn’t amount to a ripple in the general scheme of things. My attitude is, if you didn’t take time to comment, then don’t gripe about the results.

We arrived here because there was no common template that was used during the rush to get state massage license laws passed over the past 15 years. Licensure standards are much more consistent in other healthcare professions because each one has been working from something called a Model Practice Act (MPA). I’m wondering… where can we get one of those?

Well, after nearly a decade after it came onto the landscape, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards has finally come up with their own MPA. They’re wrapping up the open comment period on the first public draft of this document, which has been posted to the their website. Much of it is run-of-the-mill legislative kind of language, but some sections really need further work. I’ve sent them my comments, and I hope you have too.

What I’m most concerned about in the FSMTB Model Practice Act is the scope of practice definition. As presented, it could restrict what massage therapists are allowed to do in their practices in the future. That’s a giant problem. If we define ourselves in a narrow way, other healthcare providers and business interests will ensure that we stay in our own little box.

Fortunately, I just heard from my North Carolina colleague Rick Rosen on this subject. He has developed what I think is a much more appropriate definition that strengthens and clarifies the diverse range of massage therapy practice in a way that expands possibilities, rather than shrinks them. By the way, Rosen was one of the co-founders of FSMTB, and was also the founding chairman of our state licensing board in NC, where he contributed to the writing of its laws and rules. Here’s what he said in his comments to the MPA Task Force:

“I am concerned that the definition set forth in Section 103 of the MPA is potentially limiting, as it characterizes the work performed by licensees as only that which relates to the manual application of techniques to the soft tissues of the body. Massage therapists are much more than pressure-delivery technicians. For example, they interact with clients in varied ways and provide assessment, treatment planning, and make recommendations for changes in a client’s ergonomic usage and movement patterns that can reduce chronic muscle tension. In addition, massage therapists can work with body awareness to assist clients in reducing stress and developing a healthier sense of self.”

“During the start-up phase of FSMTB in 2005, we looked carefully at the structure of board federations in other health care professions. I remembered from that research that most health care professions had robust and extensive scope definitions, as compared with the relatively one-dimensional definitions found in state massage practice acts.
With that in mind, I accessed the current model practice acts from the fields of nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Using these templates as a guide, I developed a new definition that is broadly inclusive of the range of treatment models in our field, and establishes an expanded scope that more accurately represents the major areas of application in clinical practice.”

With that said, I’m sharing the full text of Rosen’s proposal for a new scope of practice definition:

PRACTICE OF MASSAGE THERAPY. A healthcare service of the healing arts provided to clients by a person who is licensed pursuant to this Act.

(1) The practice includes:

(a) Assessment of the functional and structural characteristics of the myofascial network and related systems of the body through tactile, visual and verbal methods;

(b) Treatment of the myofascial network and related systems of the body using manual methods, or by mechanical or electrical devices or tools that emulate or enhance the action of human hands;

(c) Active or passive movement of the body within the normal anatomical range of movement;

(d) Application of lubricants and other topical agents to the skin;

(e) Use of hydrotherapy and other adjunctive methods to produce therapeutic effects;

(f) Client education to facilitate body awareness and self-care;

(g) Treatment planning, communicating or collaborating with massage therapists and other licensed healthcare providers, and engaging in research, teaching and administration.

(2) Primary areas of application for massage therapy include:

(a) Wellness/Stress Reduction: treatment that supports the general health and well-being of the client, facilitates the relaxation response, addresses patterns of chronic tension related to stress, reduces pain and discomfort, promotes a more positive sense of self;

(b) Corrective/Rehabilitative: treatment that addresses specific symptoms or conditions, provides rehabilitation from the effects of injury, trauma or surgery

(c) Performance Optimization: treatment that improves the performance of specific activities or occupations, facilitates postural alignment and more efficient ergonomic patterns of use;

(d) Palliative: treatment for clients in recovery from illness or in the end stage of life that focuses on providing psychosocial support and relief from discomfort;

(e) Integrative: treatment that promotes awareness of the connections within the physical, cognitive and emotional aspects of the client, as well as treatment in conjunction with other licensed medical or mental health providers in a coordinated plan of care.

(3) The practice does not include:

(a) The diagnosis of illness or disease;

(b) Medical procedures, high-velocity low-amplitude chiropractic adjustive procedures, or prescription of medicines.

(d) The use of modalities for which a license to practice medicine, chiropractic, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture or podiatry is required by law; or

(d) Sexual activity of any kind.

I think Rosen has nailed it here. Without going beyond what we should do, this is more inclusive and a much more accurate description of what we do actually do. This more inclusive definition could save us headaches down the road if we are challenged by other professions for infringing on their scope of practice.

Today, June 15, is the last day for public comment on the MPA. Please pass this around… this should be the start of some interesting and important discussion. There’s nothing less than the future of the massage therapy profession at stake, so we have to get this piece right! Don’t sit on your hands. Take the time to comment, and if you don’t, then you are giving up any right to complain about it after the fact.

FSMTB Releases Model Practice Act

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards released the Model Practice Act a few days ago, just after the third anniversary of the announcement they had formed a Task Force of 8 state board members to work on it. I just had the time to read it in its entirety today, and as a former state board member and former delegate to the Federation myself, I appreciate the huge amount of time and effort that went into it.

I didn’t find much that surprised me. Last week when this was first released, I saw some rumblings from educators and school owners about the requirement for massage therapy programs to be 625 hours. As the publication says, it is consistent with the 625-hour recommendation of the recently-released ELAP (Entry-Level Analysis Project) that was a collaborative effort supported by all of the national massage organizations. Since there are currently more than two dozen states that still have 500 hours as their entry-level requirement, that’s going to require some major changes. Many smaller schools would probably go out of business rather than comply with the change.

The document does not state the name of the NCBTMB or any other entity’s exam in the context of eliminating them, but the definition of “examination” is given as a standardized test or examination of entry-level massage and bodywork knowledge, skills, and abilities that is developed and administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. That means the MBLEx, period. About 40 states are currently accepting both the MBLEx and the NCB’s licensing exams. There are also a couple of states that have their own exam–and require much more than 625 hours. I don’t see that those states will want to back up and adopt this.

The MPA does seem to support portability in a good way. There are provisions for therapists participating in planned out-of-state events, temporary assignments such as with traveling sports teams, etc.,and emergency response disaster teams without requiring jumping through hoops. It would also seek to make the title of each state’s act the _____Massage Therapy Practice Act, leaving the term “bodywork” and any other terminology out of it. Licensees would be designated “LMT” (Licensed Massage Therapist) uniformly across the states.

One thing that I was not crazy about was the protocol for choosing board members. The MPA states that 7 members are to be appointed by the governor. I would prefer to see that power spread around a little. I wouldn’t want to see governors of any political party appointing only the people for their own party, for example. In my state, the appointees are made by the governor, the speaker of the house, and the senate pro tem. I think that or something similar is a little better balance of power, personally; even if they do randomly turn out to all have the same party affiliation.

I also wondered about the discrepancy in defining “clock hour” as 50 minutes of instruction and “contact hour” as 60 minutes of instruction. The NCBTMB has traditionally allowed 50 minutes of instruction as a contact hour for the purpose of continuing education.

The states are also still left with more autonomy than I expected. There’s plenty left in their hands, so to speak, with the usual statements about how the board may adopt, amend, and repeal rules. There is also a licensure by endorsement stipulation and a grandfathering accommodation.

There are only five states left without licensing. It would certainly be to their advantage to have this right out of the gate and avoid having to reinvent the wheel. As for the other 45 states that are already regulated, I don’t see that there will be a mad rush to adopt this, unless what they currently have isn’t working for some reason. We have to remember that the FSMTB is not a regulatory body in and of itself, but a coalition of regulated states. They can’t force the MPA on any state, nor are they trying to. It is a blueprint, a collection of suggestions for how to make the states more uniform in the regulation of massage. Too bad it didn’t exist a few decades ago before most of the states got on the bandwagon.

I don’t have any harsh criticisms of the document. Personally, I like the concept of raising the minimum requirement to 625 hours, but then again, I’m not a school owner that would be affected by such a thing. My final analysis: kudos to the people that worked on it. Things like this that are done by volunteers always come under a rash of criticism from people who disagree with the product.



ELAP: Now that I’ve Read the Whole Thing…

I spent most of my spare time during the past week reading the Final Report and the Entry-Level Education Blueprint of the ELAP. Again, I will offer my appreciation for the collaboration of the Coalition and the team that actually performed the work on this. It was a big project and obviously, people took time away from their own pursuits to participate in it.

Now that I have read the whole thing in its entirety, I have a few observations on it. I quote from the Coalition statement:

We aspire to have this report influence several profession audiences:

• the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, which can use The Core as it builds guidelines for a model practice act;

My comment on that: The press release announcing that the FSMTB was going to create a Model Practice Act first appeared on April 1, 2011. In a letter I received dated Jan.31, 2014, FSMTB Executive Director Debra Persinger stated that the Task Force is currently completing the final revisions before releasing it for public comment.

It’s just my opinion that the ELAP will be a last-minute inclusion in that, if it does in fact get included.

• state licensing boards, which can use The Core in setting education requirements for licensees;

My comment on that: What is the Model Practice Act doing, if not that? It seems very possible that this is a duplication of efforts. While there are of course other things included in a practice act, one of them is spelling out the hours of required education. I don’t know any state board that goes much beyond setting the total number of required hours, and how that should be broken down in a general list of required subject matter. Not to mention changing a practice act requires legislative action.

the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, which can refer to The Core in creating teacher training standards and curricula;

My comment on that: Aha! And therein lies the clincher and the biggest issue I have with it. Since I couldn’t say it any better myself, I am going to share the comment that Rick Rosen left on my FB page:

“The critical missing element that will prevent the ELAP Core Curriculum from being implemented on a wide scale is the lack of teacher training in our field.

I simply cannot fathom why the cash-rich organizations in our field (AMTA, ABMP, FSMTB) would spend significant sums of money on a curriculum development project, while they continue to turn their back on providing the financial support needed to carry forward the Alliance’s National Teacher Education Standards Project. Without this long-term investment in teacher development, educational outcomes and the quality of massage therapy services delivered will remain inconsistent at best.

My comment on Rosen’s comment: Nailed it on the head. And it would be another interesting research project to determine what the average training is of teachers in massage schools across the US.

I will repeat Rosen’s sentiments by saying I would like to see all the organizations give this kind of support to the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education and their National Teacher Standards Education Project. 

The Alliance is the youngest organization out there, and does not yet have the kind of cash reserves built up to move this project along at a better pace. The fact is these kinds of projects do require money in order to come to fruition. The Alliance membership is made up of educators and industry partners, and will never have the kind of membership numbers enjoyed by the other organizations by virtue of that fact. I can visualize the ELAP being very useful to the teacher training project–but they need the money to make it happen. I urge our other organizations and industry supporters to put your money into this project.

• the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, which can use The Core as it identifies beginning vs. advanced knowledge and skills for its Board Certification credential;

My comment on that: The Board Certification exam is already out there and is still practically new. I don’t see any major revisions taking place on it any time soon. The NCBTMB is using their “old” certification exam for their entry-level licensing exams, and has been for years. As a certification exam and a licensing exam should require two different job task analysis surveys and one should not be interchangeable with the other, they are already in muddy water, and I don’t really see how this will clear it up. And, as is the case with the MBLEx, the exams that the NCB is using for entry-level licensing are geared to a 500-hour education requirement. Again, this would require major changes to that as well.

• professional membership organizations, which can use The Core in shaping membership criteria;

My comment on that: Pay the money, show proof that you are either a student or a licensee or a practitioner in an unregulated state, and boom! you’re a member. Within the past few months, myself and others made well-documented complaints about an unethical practitioner who was scamming fellow massage therapists and try as we might, we could not get her removed from the membership rolls of AMTA or the massage listing service. She has now finally been removed, after it was reported that she was also scamming her clients. Or she just didn’t pay her membership renewal fee. Either way, she’s no longer listed, but it took months to get any action on that front.

• the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, which can use the Core in evaluating massage and bodywork curricula for programmatic accreditation;

My comment on that: COMTA has had their competencies spelled out for years. The basic difference I see is that ELAP is spelling out the number of hours to be spent in each subject matter area.

• other accrediting organizations, which can use The Core in shaping their accreditation criteria;

My comment on that: COMTA is the only accreditation organization devoted to massage therapy (and they now also include asthetic programs). The other accreditation programs I am aware of approve of all kinds of schools and programs and use the same evaluation criteria for a massage program as they would an engine repair program. I don’t realistically see it having impact on these types of accrediting agencies, although it would be nice if it did.

• school owners, administrators and faculty, who can use The Core to strengthen or validate curricula and to adopt consistent learning outcomes;

My comment on that: I wholeheartedly agree. I encourage all school owners, administrators and faculty to read this document…and I know the majority won’t take the time. I have seen the prevailing attitude of “I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to do at my school,” when I have tried to promote COMTA accreditation (disclosure: I have been a COMTA peer reviewer). It doesn’t matter if it would vastly improve their existing program. Stubbornness is hard to overcome.

• and potential massage therapy students, as they consider where to enroll.

My comment on that: I would be shocked to know that any potential student is ever going to read the 527- page document to help them choose a school. Just my opinion.

More of my unsolicited opinion: I am not critical of this document on the whole. I think it spells out a good foundational education for entry-level massage therapists as it was meant to do, and it requires 625 hours to do it in.

There are still 26 states here with a 500-hour minimum requirement. While it is very true that there are many schools that exceed their state’s hour requirement, there are also a large number of school owners that are determined they are not ever going to do more than the state requires. Neither do I see it having much effect, if at all, in states that already have higher requirements for education.

The ELAP report states that a 2012 survey showed schools are teaching an average of 697 hours. Still, if this were to be legally adopted, which I think is a long shot at best, it would undoubtedly put some schools in the position of “cooperate or close down,” which in the general scheme of things, might not be a bad thing, if their students are not truly well-prepared.

I am just of the opinion that being prepared to pass an entry-level examination, and being prepared for the real world of massage, are two very different things. It also isn’t about hours, per se, but about competencies–a statement, in fairness, made in the ELAP–but it does take a certain number of hours to teach those competencies, and this is what the work group decided on.

Bottom line: I like it, but I do think that in spite of the Coalition statement of support, that there has been some unnecessary duplication of efforts on some of their parts here, and that a good curriculum can only be effective with good, well-trained teachers. I’d like to see an equal amount of time, money, and effort spent on the National Teacher Standards Education Project.