It Was a Very Good Year

As I look back over 2011, it was a very good year. For the 8th year in a row, since I first opened my business, I am going to finish the year with a growth in sales and in my bottom line. That’s rather miraculous, considering the unemployment rate in my county has been between 14-16% for most of the year. Many businesses have closed. The foreclosure notices in the paper have far outweighed the job listings for the past couple of years. And still, we have thrived, and we had zero staff turnover. I’m very grateful to be blessed with such wonderful staff members and clients.

This year started out with a bang when we made a trip to Miami to participate in the Massage School Makeover organized by Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse. What started as a little project of Angie’s snowballed into one of the most magnanimous displays of generosity throughout the massage world. The Educating Hands school ended up with over $80,000 worth of equipment and supplies donated by industry partners. As they were moving into a brand-new building at the time, it was just a fresh start for their well-respected school. It was a joy to participate in it and to see so many of my friends from the profession at the festivities. I also got to visit my youngest brother on that trip, and got to see a dear friend who used to live here in NC that I  hadn’t seen for several years. That one was bittersweet since her husband, who was also a friend and former business partner with Champ, had passed away suddenly a few months before, but it was a wonderful visit.

I was honored at the American Massage Conference this year as the Massage Therapist of the Year…and that wasn’t even the highlight of the conference. Getting up to play a few tunes with Errol N Schroeder at the dinner dance was the high point for me. I had a blast! Scott Dartnall and the rest of those Canadians came out of the gate running and made their first American event a resounding success.

Then the World Massage Festival came along and I was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, which I appreciated, but I was also awarded there for Government Relations, which I’d have to say meant even more to me. I’m no Sally Hacking–whom I greatly admire and who has been working in GR for several decades–I’m not able to go all over the country attending legislative sessions and even if I could, I certainly lack her expertise and experience; the award was for my efforts to keep the masses informed of what’s going on through my blog and social media. My politics aren’t popular with everyone, and that’s okay. I feel good about it if I am able to jolt even one person out of complacency to take up the fight against detrimental legislation. I got to play some music at that one, too. The Hinkles are just some of the nicest people in massage and I always enjoy the World Massage Festival, which I refer to as the Woodstock of massage. Leave your coat and tie at home, and just come and have a great time! The 2012 event will be in Las Vegas.

My annual trip to Ireland was one of the high points of the year. It always is. I enjoy teaching the students at the Obus School of Healing Therapies, hanging out with my Irish friends, visiting a few pubs :) and in general, just breathing the Irish air.

I traveled a lot this year. I was invited by the NCBTMB to come to Chicago for a meeting with a lot of industry leaders to offer input on how they can improve the Approved Provider program. I in particular appreciated that meeting, because that’s where the seed was planted for the Massage Therapy Profession Leadership Summit that took place a few months ago, where for the first time, all of our national leaders came together for the common good. It was attended by the executive management and board chairs from the AFMTE, FSMTB, AMTA, ABMP, COMTA, NCBTMB, and the MTF. Speaking of the Massage Therapy Foundation, it was another red-letter day for me to be included on Rise and Shine, a CD of wonderful music donated by massage therapists to raise money for the Foundation. If you don’t have your copy yet, get on the ball! I am very honored to be in the company of such great musicians. It is truly a great compilation.

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education meeting in Charleston was one of the best events I’ve ever attended. The annual national convention of AMTA in Portland was probably the best one I’ve ever attended, and I’ve been going to those for quite a few years. Kudos to the Oregon Chapter and to President Glenath Moyle for putting on a heck of a good time in such a lovely city. I also got to make my first trip to New Orleans on behalf of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and it was a blast. I completed five years of service to that board this year, and while I miss the wonderful staff and friends I made at the board, I don’t miss that five-hour haul to Raleigh or having to participate in disciplinary hearings. I got to make my first trip to Los Angeles to attend the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting, which was as usual, informative and a good time visiting with so many other board members from across the country.

Without dragging out my calendar, I can’t recall every place I got to teach in this year, but they were all fun and filled with beautiful people. One of the high points–literally–was the Take it to the Top Summit put on by Vivian Madison-Mahoney over in Gatlinburg, TN. The hotel was at the top of a mountain, we were on the 14th floor, and the view was just beautiful. That was one of the best education conferences ever, and Vivian and her husband John certainly know how to throw a great event. A lot of my buds were there–Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Michael McGillicuddy, Irene Diamond,  Mike Hinkle and his wife Cindy and a lot more, and a good time was just had by all. I got to play some music at that one, too. Vivian loaned me her limited edition Martin for the occasion since I came without a guitar. It was great.

I made my first site visit as a peer reviewer for COMTA a couple of months ago. I went to New Bedford, MA to review a community college massage program. It was a good learning experience for me, and the other reviewers were great companions. We had a good time. Our hotel was across from the harbor and a good seafood restaurant, so it was a good time.

I had some great classes at the office this year. Marjorie Brook came down from NY to teach a Scar Tissue Release seminar, and she was accompanied by my friend Allissa Haines. We had a good time visiting with them. Christine Courtney and her husband Colum came over from Ireland for Christine’s classes in Indian Head Massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and we always look forward to their visit as well.

On a personal level, lest I just sound like an effervescent fool who never has a bad moment, we’ve had some. My husband’s best friend Brent Stephens passed away this year…he was suffering, so it was a blessing for him to go, but it was still a great loss to both of us. Another dear friend died suddenly this year. Donna Metcalf was the picture of health when I saw her last, and three weeks later, she was gone…an unfortunate case of going to the hospital for a simple procedure that went very wrong. Donna was a force of nature, one of those women who dressed in sparkly clothes and a feather boa, and just lit up every room she ever entered. Her death was a shock. It was also a reinforcement that you ought to live every day like it’s your last. It just might be.

I’ve had some family trauma and drama this year…hasn’t everybody? But I’m pleased to say it seems to be on the upswing. My constant prayer is that those family members who need to forgive each other will just get on with it. One year at Christmas when there were some family divisions, my husband said “Well, we could have two dinners.” He was referring to the people who weren’t speaking to each other and the “I won’t be there if they’ll be there” situation, and my reply was “Hell no, we will not have two dinners. They can sit down and break bread with each other or they can go to McDonald’s.” My fond hope is that they’ll all come to the table. The people we resent feel good. Carrying around resentment is, as someone said, like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It isn’t hurting anyone except the person carrying it around.

One of the last great things to happen this year was my husband Champ passing the MBLEx. He is currently waiting for his North Carolina massage license to arrive. Champ is a builder by trade, and the economy here has been a sudden death to his business. There are so many foreclosed properties here, no one needs to build anything. You can buy a house that was on the market three years ago for a million bucks for less than $200,000. You can buy a perfectly livable house for less than $30,000. In fact, if you only need a small one with one or two bedrooms,  you can find some for less than $20,000. Still, I feel optimistic that things are looking up. Facebook has recently built a new data center in our town, and a couple of other manufacturing businesses have come in on their coattails. Hopefully, the economy is going to turn around and the residents in my county will see their circumstances improve. I certainly hope so.

Another great thing this year was what I have been referring to as The Grand Purge. I have been on a mission the past couple of months to clean out my house and my office. I keep watching the old video clip on youtube of George Carlin and his rant about “Stuff.” I have too much Stuff. Or rather, I had too much Stuff. A lot of it is gone…I’ve donated things, sold things, thrown out some things, burned some things…I’m getting rid of my Stuff. Stuff is like an albatross around your neck. My attitude is if I haven’t used it in a year, I’m not going to use it in another year.  I figured if I was going to move, and wouldn’t want to take it with me, then I don’t really need it. So goodbye, Stuff. It’s been very liberating.

I’ll remember this year. A lot of good things happened. A few bad things happened. That’s the way life goes. But all in all, it was a very good year.

Massage Regulation: A Comedy of Errors

I’ve spent the last hour reading legislative updates pertaining to the regulation of massage…in the past, I’ve sometimes referred to this as the good, the bad, and the ugly. This time, I’m just going to call it a comedy of errors. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I’m not even going to address all the discrepancies in the number of hours of required education and/or exams required for licensure, or the discrepancies in the hours of required continuing education, or even the wide variances in licensing fees. I’ve commented on that a number of times, and that situation isn’t likely to change at any time in the near future.

Everybody has seen those “outdated laws” posts before, silly laws that are still on the books, like “It’s illegal to ride a horse without a saddle on Main Street after 5 pm every other Sunday.” You get the picture. Some of our massage laws seem about as archaic. You just have to wonder at the logic that goes into some of these things…and you also have to believe that these most assuredly were not proposed by, nor are they likely supported by, massage therapists. It’s the bureaucracy at work.

Many of the statutes that have been proposed or enacted in the past few years are a direct result of the economy and state governments being so deep in dept. Several states are now taxing, or considering taxing services (like massage, hair and nail services, even grass-mowing). Even self-supporting boards have in some cases had their monies raided in the interest of feeding the state’s general operating fund. NH is seeking to abolish their massage board altogether, in the interest of saving money. And in the state of West Virginia, HB 2502 seeks to combine the administrative functions of the massage board with the acupuncture board (not so weird) and with the forestry board (weird), the board of licensed dietitians, and the hearing aid dealers board (at least the last two are still health-related). It makes you wonder what we have in common with foresters. Are foresters out there planting trees while naked or committing some other unethical act? Maybe so.

A lot of states don’t require any fingerprinting and/or criminal record submissions of applicants for a massage license. A convicted rapist or violent criminal can get one. Some states require licensees to provide proof of liability insurance, but most don’t. I personally think that one’s a good idea.

There is so much discrepancy between the states on modalities that have to be licensed. In NC, where I live, Bowen therapy, craniosacral, Rossiter, Zero Balancing, and 24 other modalities are specifically spelled out as requiring a massage and bodywork license.  We don’t regulate reflexology, which I really don’t get. I’ve had plenty of reflexology and I would have to say that there is at least as much tissue manipulation going on as there is during a session of acupressure, which we do require licensing for.  NY licenses both acupressure and reflexology, and Polarity therapy. I know practitioners who will argue that every modality mentioned in this paragraph is energy work and not massage. You might as well agree to disagree and get a license if it’s required of you.

Speaking of NY, earlier this year SB 1030 was proposed, got stuck in the Higher Education committee, and may have expired due to lack of action. It provides that the commission of prostitution offense by any person upon premises at which a massage therapist regularly engages in his or her profession, or the commission of any such offense by a massage therapist constitutes professional misconduct; provides that upon 3 or more convictions of such offenses upon such premises, or any conviction of a massage therapist of any such offense, the massage therapist’s license shall be revoked. So basically, you can prostitute once or twice, but don’t do it three times or you’ll lose your license. You might even lose it if you weren’t personally prostituting but someone else on the premises was. It’s worded a little vaguely, in my opinion.

In the summertime, not much is happening, because legislatures tend to pack it up and go home. Some things are always left on the table for the next session, and some (hopefully) will never see the light of day again. And some things are urgently needed, like regulation in the 8 states that don’t have any. In each of those states, there are therapists working for licensing, and just as many fighting against it.

You can find regular updates about what is going on in the regulatory world of massage on the legislative briefing pages on the websites of both ABMP and  AMTA.

A Matter of Opinion

Last week, the AFMTE released a position paper authored by Executive Director Rick Rosen, “Alliance Offers New Vision for National Certification.”

The AFMTE also recently announced that it is partnering with the FSMTB in their initiative to begin approving continuing education.

Both of these have attracted quite a bit of discussion on the various social media sites. And like any discussion, people agree, disagree, and agree to disagree.  I’m glad to say there hasn’t been any mudslinging of the nature that goes on at times in some of these venues. I think these discussions are useful and informative.  They sometimes bring to light a lot of misconceptions that people have about which entity does what, and how they do it.

I encourage everyone to read Rosen’s paper in its entirety, but to make a long story short, it is a plea to the NCBTMB to reorganize, and get out of the continuing education business and the entry-level exam business. The FSMTB has been stating the opinion since their founding 5 years ago that NCBTMB exams are inappropriate for licensing purposes, and encouraging the states to drop those exams and use the MBLEx exclusively. That hasn’t happened.  If the map on the FSMTB is current, 33 member boards are using the MBLEx. If the map on the NCBTMB website is current, 38 states are still accepting their exams, meaning the majority of states are accepting both, and offering their licensees a choice. The AFMTE is also supportive of the Federation’s stance, as is AMTA and ABMP. Still, the facts show that either the 38 states are doing the wrong thing, or else they are exercising their undeniable right to conduct their business the way they want to.

I haven’t been in this profession nearly as long as Rosen or some of the other players here. I became a massage therapist in 1999, and it seems like I joined at a time when everything was just really starting to swirl. I was in the first wave of licensees in North Carolina.  Mr. Rosen actually has license #00001…first person licensed in our state. He has seen and been instrumental in a lot of things happening. I would never try to minimize the contributions he has made to this field. I won’t criticize his career, his integrity, or his belief that he is suggesting something for the good of the profession on the whole.

My criticism is this, and it isn’t directed entirely at him; it’s directed at the concept of any organization trying to mandate to another organization how to run their affairs. We get enough of that from the feds, don’t we?

I believe that the FSMTB and their mission of public protection is a great thing. The member boards come together for the purpose of discussing common problems and looking for workable solutions. Anytime people sit at the table together to try to solve a problem, that’s wonderful to me. I also believe that the AFMTE was started with the noble intent of acting as the voice, advocate, and resource for massage schools and educators. What I don’t believe is that either one of them can unilaterally force the NCBTMB to change their way of conducting business, nor do I think they should have that right.

The FSMTB is developing a model practice act, in addition to developing a CE approval program. They can and do suggest to the member boards that their exam is the appropriate exam, their CE approval (will be) is the appropriate approval, their model practice act (will be) the premier example of an appropriate act, and so forth.  It’s part of the quest to streamline things  in a uniform fashion and promote portability.

However, suggestion is the key word. The member states aren’t bound by any legalities to do what the FSMTB offers in the way of suggestions. If they want to keep the NCBTMB exams, they can. If they want to keep their own practice act, they can. If they want to keep NCBTMB approved providers or continue to approve their own, they can. They all have the right to conduct their business as they see fit within the law.

There is certainly room for improvement, on the practice act front, in particular, when you see all the variance that’s out there between the states. Keith Eric Grant has summarized that. You can access it here.

The bottom line, to me, is that all of these entities, including the NCBTMB, also have the right to conduct their business as they see fit. Unless and until there is a federal law governing massage, the individual entities can continue to do whatever they do however they want to do it. The FSMTB and the AFMTE could spend days pointing out past shortcomings of the NCBTMB, but it wasn’t “the NCBTMB” as an entity that had the shortcomings. It was the human beings running the organization.

As the FSMTB is only 5 years old, and the AFMTE less than half that, neither of these organizations have been in business long enough to have been plagued with the personnel problems, inefficiency problems, financial problems and so forth that happened in the past at the NCBTMB. Board members come and go. Executive directors come and go. Priorities of boards and organization come and go. Even organizations come and go. Last week I learned from Dr. Kory Ward-Cook, CEO of the NCCAOM, that there was previously a Federation of State Acupuncture Boards that fell apart.

AMTA and ABMP have their own missions and their leadership has their own opinions. As do we all. And any organization, just like any individual, has the right to run their business as they please, as long as they are not breaking the law. The NCBTMB is not breaking any laws by continuing to conduct their business as they see fit. The other organizations are not breaking any laws by conducting their business as they see fit. They all have that right. You don’t have to like it. I don’t have to like it. One organization doesn’t have to like what the other organization is doing. But until the federal government steps in and says, “you must do this,” they can all do as they dang well please. If any of them don’t do well enough at whatever it is they choose to do, they won’t survive.

Everybody has their own opinion on what’s good (or not good) for this profession, what’s good for licensing, what’s good for certification, what’s good for teacher standards, what’s good for education, what’s good for continuing education. There are just as many opinions on all of that as there are opinions on what kind of massage oil you ought to use.  Everyone is entitled to that. And everyone is entitled to conduct their business the way they choose to, as long as it’s within the law.

The AFMTE posted on LinkedIn that they had posted Rosen’s position paper directly to the NCBTMB. I suggest that if the folks at the NCBTMB are interested in hearing more about it or discussing it that they will get in touch. And if they don’t, then I suggest that the AFMTE, and in fact all organizations, concentrate on being good at what they set out to do for their organization, and leave the NCBTMB to do as their board and their leadership sees fit. Their Board is elected by their certificants, and their ED serves at the pleasure of their board.  They may well thrive and survive by doing things their own way, or they may fail altogether.

Either way, I think the burden to make it or break it is on them, just like the burden that is on all the organizations, and on any of us as practitioners and business people. And any insinuation of the NCBTMB being “uncooperative” is an opinion, not a fact. I can tell you how to run your business, you can decline to take my advice, and I will not refer to you as uncooperative. I will assume that you are exercising your right to conduct your business in the manner that you see fit, whether it suits me or not.

That’s just my opinion.

You Say To-may-to, I Say To-mah-to

Actually, I’m from the south, where we often say “mater.” A ‘mater sandwich should be on white bread, slathered with an artery-clogging amount of mayonnaise, and eaten standing over the kitchen sink so it can run down your chin and drip appropriately.

Everybody has their opinions…I’m out here regularly expressing mine, and not everybody agrees with them. That’s fine by me. The world would be a boring place if we all thought the same thing, and the world of massage is no different. This morning, as is my habit when I’m drinking my coffee, I looked at the comments on my blog, hung out on FB, checked out the massageprofessionals.com website to see what kind of arguments were brewing, all a part of my usual routine.

There are so many wonderful and dedicated people in our profession.

Some of them think the standards for entry-level education should be raised, and some of them don’t.

Some of them think massage therapy should be regulated to the nth degree, and some think it shouldn’t be regulated at all.

Some think continuing education requirements are nothing but a burden on their time and finances, and some look forward to taking it.

Some think teacher standards need to be raised, and some don’t.

Some think they have good representation from their professional association, and some don’t . Some don’t belong to one at all, nor do they care to.

Some massage therapists think of themselves as health care providers, and some don’t.

Some think evidence-based practice is the only way to fly, while others immerse themselves in energy work and all manner of woo-woo that can’t be proven.

Some get involved in politics, pay attention to what’s going on in regulation and legislation, and some don’t.

Some step up to the plate and volunteer, and some just want to be left alone to practice massage.

People have their own opinions on what constitutes dressing appropriately for massage, whether or not they should discount services, whether or not it’s okay to give away free massage, whether or not it’s okay to massage friends and family, whether or not it’s ethical to retail products, whether or not it’s okay to give undraped massage.

Every morning, during my routine, I am always noticing the differences of opinion. As I just posted on FB this Easter morning, my friends include Christians, Pagans, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, atheists, agnostics, and pretty much every other religion or lack thereof on the planet. It’s the same with my massage colleagues. The fact that you don’t share my opinions doesn’t make me like you any less, anymore that the fact that you have different religious beliefs would make me like you any less.

We’re all here for the same reason: we know the awesome power of touch. We know massage restores and heals. As for the rest of it, take what you like, and leave the rest. I’m going to go have a ‘mater sandwich.

Texas Hold ‘Em

Texas has a few pieces of massage legislation in the offing. And while I don’t think most of it is as detrimental to the profession on the whole as the recent amendments to Utah’s regulations, I can’t say I’m crazy about it. I have a fundamental problem with regulations that are not clearly defined, and this seems to be one of those cases. Their language just plain ticks me off, as well.

HB 722 starts out with “relating to the regulation of massage therapists, massage schools, massage establishments, and sexually oriented businesses, providing penalties.” Do we see any legislation that starts out “relating to the regulation of bowling alleys, physician’s offices, funeral homes” etc that has to include “sexually oriented businesses?” No, we do not. Texas is far from the only state who refers to us in this manner.

As we read further, we come to an amended section (there are several amended parts) stating that it shall be against the law to provide or offer to provide massage “while nude or in clothing designed to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of an individual.”

Now here is where the language is offensive, to me. Of course, I am glad to know it’s against the law to massage in the nude. However, I think the second half of that sentence is extremely ambiguous, and is going to be open to the interpretation of whichever board members or judge in a civil or criminal court hears the first test case. While it’s obvious that lingerie from Victoria’s Secret might fit the bill, what about a v-neck top or a tank top? What about a pair of tight jeans, leggings, or yoga pants? A form-hugging sweater if you have large breasts? What about a pair of shorts, who is going to say how many inches from the knee they can be before they look “sexually arousing?”  There are some people who could manage to look sexy in a flour sack, and others who couldn’t look sexy no matter what they are wearing. In my opinion, that is a bad piece of legislation because it isn’t clearly defined. Furthermore, a couple of lines later it goes on to say that while you are in a massage establishment you may not “possess” clothing designed to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of an individual.  If you have a date after work, you’d better not hang your little black dress in the office so you can change, lest you be accused of something.

This bill also includes reflexology as a method of massage subject to their practice act. HB 722 is sponsored by Rep. Garza, (512) 463-0269,  or e-mail him here.

HB 556 seeks to exclude Muscle Activation Techniques from being covered under massage licensing. Muscle activation techniques include the detection and correction of muscle imbalances through the use of palpation and isometric exercises. HB 556 is sponsored by Rep. Howard, (512) 463-0631 or e-mail her here.

HB 1716 will exclude from licensure a lot of techniques that are commonly used by massage therapists–mostly energy work techniques including Healing Touch, polarity, craniosacral, body/mind techniques, Ayurveda, and a host of others. Strangely, the bill also includes the admonition to the public that people performing these techniques are not licensed and that they are free to seek a diagnosis from a licensed physician, chiropractor, dentist, nurse, etc and actually includes massage therapists and personal trainers in that group. Really? Diagnosing is out of our scope of practice as massage therapists and while I am usually concerned about our rights being taken away, I really don’t think it’s a good thing to say we can give a diagnosis just because we have a massage license. What’s to prevent some newbie fresh out of school from diagnosing someone?  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been practicing 25 years, you still shouldn’t be diagnosing people. We aren’t trained for that.

HB 1716 is sponsored by Rep. Harless, (512) 463-0496or e-mail her here.

I urge you to contact theses legislators to say Texas, hold ‘em. None of these bills look like a good thing for massage therapists.