Tag Archives: Massage Therapy

Priorities

I’ve been writing about the goings-on in the world of massage since 2007, reporting on what’s going on with regulations, the associations, scams and so forth, along with a healthy dose of my opinion about it. I’ve written somewhere in the vicinity of 300 blogs (my whole blogroll is on Massage Magazine’s website). I’ve slowed down lately. There are always things going on in the massage profession that are news-worthy, and I’m not hanging it up on the blog, but I am taking a little break.

Around the first of December, my husband, Champ, was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in his tonsils and three lymph nodes on his neck. Our life was changed in the blink of an eye. I now think of it as BC (Before Cancer) and AC (After Cancer). Our life revolves around his treatment. He’s getting radiation 5 days a week (today ends week #3 out of 7 weeks the doctor has planned). Today he’s getting chemo #2 and the doctor has not yet made the final call on how many he’ll be receiving. Maybe as few as 4, or as many as 7. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Champ has a life-long platelet condition that complicates things. Most people have a platelet count of between 150,000-400,000. His are normally less that 20,000. They have been as low as 3,000. Right now, thanks to a platelet-building drug called Promacta, they’re up to about 40,000. Chemo knocks platelets down, so they’re monitoring his blood a couple of times a week to make sure he can withstand the chemo.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with the insurance company. They want you to have pre-approval to sneeze. They want all referrals to come from the person they think it should come from. They want to get out of paying whenever possible. I’m not taking that lying down, and it’s time-consuming and stressful. Nothing, however, prepares you for the stress of seeing the love of your life sick with a life-threatening disease. I lie awake at night and worry. Then I’m tired during the daytime. I cry. I stress over things that are beyond my control, and I have frequent meltdowns. Our friends and family have rallied around  and the emotional support is invaluable. It has spurred me to start hosting a Cancer Caregiver Support Group at my office, and to start a campaign to provide cancer caregivers with free massage.

Champ is getting the best of care. Janet Powell, Nurse Practitioner; Dr. Patric Ferguson, ENT; Dr. Zvonimir Milas, Surgeon; Dr. Mary Ann Knovich, Director of Blood Disorders at Levine Cancer Institute; Dr. Diego Pavone, Surgeon; Dr. Jeffrey Roberts, Oncology Radiologist, and Dr. Matt Rees, Oncologist/Hematologist, are all involved in his care. The nurses are wonderful. Everyone has moved as quickly as possible to take care of his needs.

So at the moment, my priority is seeing my husband get well. If something earth-shaking happens in massage-land, I usually mention that on my Facebook page, which you’re welcome to follow. We really appreciate all who have sent us messages, cards, called us on the phone, offered us food, financial help, prayers and well-wishes. Thank you all.

A lot of people have asked me if I have set up a gofundme page or something for Champ. I have not, and it isn’t that we don’t need help, but people were kind to us to donate to the silent auction that was held for me and send contributions to us last fall when I was the one who was sick, and I haven’t wanted to take advantage of people’s generosity.

Another thing has hit home to me since Champ has been sick, and that is the amount of stress that caregivers are under. Every morning when I go with Champ to his radiation treatments, I talk with the other caregivers who are in the waiting room. They are all in the same boat I am, trying to navigate the cancer maze, while dealing with fear, uncertainty, and the misery of seeing their loved ones sick. I want to offer them all a free massage, and I can’t. I am usually the receptionist/maid/laundry person at our office, and I have missed a lot of work and had to pay someone to do that while I go with Champ to all his appointments, and needless to say he cannot work right now, either. It has been a strain. So I have had the idea that instead of a gofundme, I would ask people to buy a gift certificate from our business for a cancer caregiver. The profit will help me pay for the people who are covering the office, and we’ll be able to provide some massage for people who need it. If you feel led to contribute to that, you can go to our online gift certificate. In the area that says recipient, put CANCER CAREGIVER and for the email address, put therassage@bellsouth.net. If you’re a local person, please consider giving a gift certificate to any cancer caregiver (or other caregiver) you might personally know. We appreciate the support, and we appreciate the emotional support. Thank you so much. https://thera.boomtime.com/lgift.

To those who are going through the same thing, don’t go through it alone. Join a support group–or start one. I’ve had to let go of some things. The world isn’t going to come to an end if my house isn’t clean, or if I don’t make it to the Chamber of Commerce meeting, or if the paperwork is piled higher than usual at the office. At the end of life, no one is going to wish they had spent more time cleaning or working. We will all wish that we had spent more time with our loved ones. That’s my priority.

 

 

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!

Free Massage!

Do you ever feel like you have a sign on your forehead that says “Free Massage?” Every day on my social networks, I see massage therapists talking about being asked to do free massage. “Come and do free chair massage at our event and it will get your name out there….” never mind that you’ve been practicing for 15 years and your name is already out there. I recently saw on FB post where a chiropractor wanted someone to come to his office and do a week’s worth of free massage so he could get the client feedback and decide whether or not he would hire the person…I guess he thought she just wouldn’t need any rent money or groceries that week. If he’s located near a massage school that’s turning out graduates or an area that’s saturated with massage therapists, he could feasibly keep the “audition week” going for a long time–and quite probably billing insurance for the massage that he’s not even paying the therapist to perform.

At the massage school I attended, back in the day, we were required to perform 25 hours of community service…free massage on a deserving population. 15 years later, I still don’t mind performing free massage on a deserving population. I occasionally volunteer time to what I think is a worthy cause. I once gave weekly massage to someone for almost a year because he had spent nearly a year in the hospital, his medical bills were in the millions of dollars, and he just plain needed the work and couldn’t pay. One of my staff members has given a lot of massage at an abused women’s shelter. Another did deeply discounted work on someone who was seriously injured and didn’t have any insurance, and many of us have done that kind of thing at one time or another, for nothing other than the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped someone.

If there is an event going on that I think we need to have a presence at, I will pay staff members to do chair massage; I don’t expect people to work for free. We just can’t and/or won’t go everywhere we are asked to go. If the event is more than ten miles away from my office, I’m not really inclined to go there. There are plenty of massage therapists in our county, and if there’s a health fair that’s all the way at the other end of the county and plenty of practicing therapists between here and there, I’d rather let one of them have it.

I have recently been receiving invites to an event in Shelby, NC. That’s 25 miles away from here and I know at least half a dozen therapists that practice there, so I’m not going to go encroach on their territory. The last time the organizer called, I told him he was wasting time by continuing to call me about it and suggested he contact therapists from that area. I also turned one down that was relatively close, but on a holiday. When the woman called me, I said, “thank you, but our staff members want to spend the holiday with their own families that day.” Not only do they want us to do free massage, they also want us to pay them for a booth to do it in.

Sometimes MTs are distressed or hesitant about saying “no,” because “it’s at my mother-in-law’s church,” or “one of my clients asked me to do it, but it’s 30 miles away,” and that kind of thing. If you’re a new therapist, or an old one who’s feeling torn on this issue, then here’s the answer: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I already have clients booked for that day.” Or you can say “Thanks, but I don’t give my services away,” with no excuse. You don’t need an excuse.

If you have the time, and so much money you don’t have to worry about paying your bills, then feel free to give away all the massage you want to. Say yes to everyone who asks. You’ll probably get some business out of it, but keep these thoughts in mind: Some people will do anything just because it’s free, that they would never think of actually spending money on. Some people who are already consumers of massage and already have their own therapist of choice will sit down and get the massage, again, just because it’s free. And many times, people don’t place much value on something they get for free.

If you need an actual return on investment for your time, then you need to pick and choose what you’re going to participate in. Realistically, you stand a much better chance of getting business from an event that’s 5 miles away from your office than one that’s 25 miles away from your office. Some events, like an annual festival, attract a lot of people from out of town that are never going to become clients, but you’ll have to massage them along with any locals who might potentially become clients.

Your dentist isn’t going to do your root canal for free. Your doctor isn’t going to do your appendectomy or deliver your baby for free. The plumber, the electrician, the washing machine repairman isn’t coming to your home for free. You can’t walk into Walmart and load up on free goods, but for some reason, many people seem to expect that massage therapists are always available to give it away.

Here’s the reality check: most of us have overhead directly related to our work. It also costs money to get educated, to get licensed, and to keep up with continuing education requirements. It costs money to run our homes and our lives–just the same as it does for the people who are soliciting us to come and do free massage. We have mortgages, car payments, student loans, and debts to pay. We need food and utilities and medicine and school tuition and child care just like everyone else.

Doing free massage is sometimes a good marketing opportunity. It’s always providing a public service, and you should do it only when you genuinely want to. Don’t allow yourself to be talked into doing it when you don’t want to, and don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for turning anyone down.

An Alternative to CE Regulation (just in the nick of time)

As I’ve written about on this blog, the NCBTMB has been trying to roll out an “upgraded” scheme to regulate the entire world of continuing education. After all, their stated mission is “To define and advance the highest standards in the massage and bodywork profession.” (Doesn’t that give them free rein to tell the rest of us what to do?) Apparently, NCB wasn’t satisfied with just approving CE providers – now they want to require the thousands of CE courses to pass through their hands as well. Go back to my posts from November 18, December 28 and January 8 to read about the many problems that are likely to come up if NCB’s new Board Approved Continuing Education Provider Program comes to pass.

If this wasn’t bad enough, along comes the FSMTB who have announced they are jumping into the CE approval game with their own new approval process. They’re calling for volunteers to serve on three different committees that will build and operate a whole deal that will be separate from what NCB is planning.

We already have too many different CE approval hoops for providers to jump through. It’s just plain crazy for FSMTB to be looking at putting another national approval scheme on the map. The feedback I get is that many CE providers are already struggling with the challenges of the economy and the burdens of CE regulation. If nothing changes, things are about to go from bad to worse in the CE community.

Fortunately, some people outside of these two silos have had their thinking caps on. My NC colleague Rick Rosen has just put out a major white paper on this subject, which will give you everything you need to know to understand this issue (and then some). Most importantly, he has come up with a very interesting and practical alternative to the formal regulation of CE, to be called the National Continuing Education Registry.

In this paper, Rosen poses four big questions that challenge the basic assumptions that have driven our regulation of CE. He says these must be addressed before NCB and FSMTB do anything else with their approval schemes.

He provides a lot of useful background information along with detailed answers to these questions. All of that serves as a lead-in to an overview of the National Continuing Education Registry. It is designed to be an online listing service that will replace all existing national and state CE approval processes:

  • CE providers will be screened by a designated entity to determine that: 1) the provider is a legitimate business entity, and 2) where required, the provider has a valid state-issued massage therapy license, registration or certification. Providers will sign a participation agreement that includes adherence to a code of ethics.
  • Each CE course will be screened to determine that it is within established subject matter standards that are broadly relevant to the professional practice of massage therapy.
  • The Registry may be utilized by state massage regulatory agencies as the means to determine whether a CE course is acceptable for renewal of a licensee’s credentials to practice. In a similar way, NCBTMB (or other certification agencies in the future) could utilize this service to determine whether a course taken by a certificant meets the criteria for recertification.
  • This service will give massage therapists a basic level of assurance that listed courses will be accepted for license renewal and/or recertification, and that the course is offered by a credible individual or institutional provider.

The overall structure of the Registry is similar in ways to the Multiple Listing Service concept in real estate. It will be based on a voluntary participation of CE providers, who agree to conduct their business according to a code of ethics. Like shopping for a house, therapists will have to perform their due diligence to find the courses and providers that meet their learning needs. There are no guarantees, but a provider’s reputation for integrity will be a great asset.

So instead of making CE regulation more burdensome, complex and costly, he is offering a way to simplify, streamline and consolidate the whole process. That sounds damn good to me!

If you care about this issue, I highly recommend that you read Rosen’s paper to get the complete picture, and then contact the leaders of NCB and FSMTB and urge them to set aside their own approval programs in favor of this National Continuing Education Registry. The power of grassroots lobbying is the only tool we have to get the small group of people who lead these two organizations to wake up and smell the coffee on this vital issue.

You can download the white paper from this link:
http://tinyurl.com/NCER-Proposal-FEB2013

There are few people who understand how all the pieces fit together in the massage therapy profession. As someone who was a co-founder of both FSMTB and AFMTE, served as a state massage board chair, and is a school director, CE provider and CE sponsor, Rosen takes the long view in looking at the problems in our profession. Frankly, I don’t know where he finds the time to research and write these papers, but I’m sure grateful that someone cares enough to do it! I urge everyone to share this with their networks.

 

NCBTMB: Quit the Small Stuff and Take the Bold Step

Nearly two years ago, the Tennessee Board of Massage Licensure voted to change its rule pertaining to the examinations approved for licensure of massage therapists. They chose to adopt the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination offered by FSMTB as the only approved exam – and sunset the use of the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork offered by NCBTMB.

That decision was entirely within the Board’s authority, and was based on the fact that the MBLEx is owned and administered by FSMTB, which consists of its Member Boards. This structure gives state regulatory boards direct ownership and supervision over this exam, which has never been the case with the use of NCBTMB’s private certification exams for state licensure purposes.

Rule changes can sometimes take a long time to make their way through the administrative process, and Tennessee’s exam rule just came up yesterday for final approval before a committee of the State Senate. This could and should have been a simple legislative rubber stamp of an agency decision, but NCBTMB threw a monkey wrench into the works by sending in a representative to oppose the rule change.

I was told last year by former NCBTMB CEO Paul Lindamood that they were swearing off the battle against the MBLEx, and would no longer challenge state massage board actions around exam approvals. He stated to me at the time that he knew they weren’t making any friends by doing so. The new CEO, Mike Williams, who came on board last September, apparently does not share that point of view.

At the committee hearing, the Senators stayed the decision on the rule change for another 30 days and sent the matter back to the Board for further consideration. According to my sources, the hearing went poorly, with legislators failing to understand the difference in the exams, state board members unable to answer the question about what the pass rate is on the exam, and general confusion leading to the stay instead of a decision.

I spoke to NCBTMB President Alexa Zaledonis today, who stated that “We didn’t go to Tennessee to fight, but to state our position. There are still people who want to take our exams and we support them having a choice. We never desire to create controversy in the states. We have quality licensing exams, a lot of people do like them and ask us to help keep them available in their states. No malicious intent, just a desire to let those people have a choice and so we try to stand up for them in an appropriate fashion.”

Earlier this year, there was an ugly ruckus in Ohio over a similar kind of rule change. It ended in a Massage Therapy Advisory Committee member being removed after he asked the NCBTMB during the hearing: “How much money will it take to make you go away?” It was deemed unprofessional conduct at best, and an offer of a bribe at worst.

While I hate the way the question was put forth, it has more than a little basis in reality. I personally would paraphrase that to: “How much money will it take for you to get out of the entry-level licensing exam business?” 38 states are still accepting the NCBTMB exams, but all you have to do is look at NCB’s financials (available on Guidestar.org) to see that they’ve had their butt kicked by the MBLEx. The MBLEx is a licensing exam used for licensing purposes. It’s the right tool for the job, and the marketplace has affirmed it by an overwhelming margin. The state boards themselves don’t derive income from the MBLEx; FSMTB is a non-profit organization (as is NCBTMB) and the Member Boards pay annual dues to the Federation.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know that this is a relatively new opinion of mine –that the NCBTMB should get out of the entry-level exam market. I argued against that for a number of years. Rick Rosen, (a fellow North Carolinian and industry thought leader), has argued that point with me here on this blog and in other forums a number of times, as have others, and I resisted that change for a long time. However, I finally came around to Rosen’s point of view. A few months ago when NCBTMB announced the creation of a new post-graduate Board Certification credential and the ending of the current entry-level National Certification credential, I truly felt like it was the best move to be made.

The issue is that ever since the appearance of the MBLEx, the value of being Nationally Certified has largely gone by the wayside. I’ve heard many accusations that the MBLEx is an easier test than the National Certification Exam. This is not a valid argument, because these are two different tests created for entirely different purposes. The real point here is that National Certification no longer distinguishes therapists from the pack like it did back in the days when it was the only credentialing exam in the massage therapy field. I have personally been NCTMB for 12 years. I have always maintained my certification, even after the MBLEx appeared, but I know many therapists who have let it go because they’ve reached the belief that it doesn’t mean anything in the marketplace.

Under the new plan, Board Certification includes the requirements of 750 hours of education, passing a new higher-level exam, 250 hours of hands-on experience, keeping CPR certification current, and a criminal background check. Those who are already Nationally Certified will not have to take the new exam. In our conversation today, Zaledonis stated “Our Board Certification exam is created to test individuals who have achieved 750 hours of education and are at a level of expertise that exceeds an entry level graduate. Over 8000 individuals responded to our JTA, these answers (after psychometric interpretation) along with a panel of subject matter experts were used to differentiate between a entry level licensed practitioner and a certified practitioner. Our Certification test is different from a licensing exam in that it uses more cognitive thinking over just recall using innovative items over traditional. This test, coupled with the other requirements, are the start of a program that truly differentiates licensing from certification.”

I personally know many of the people on the staff and on the Board of the NCBTMB. I have no doubts about their dedication to the profession, and when it comes down to it, the organization isn’t an island. A CEO serves at the pleasure of the Board, and Board members have to reach a consensus. Apparently the members who are currently serving the NCBTMB have agreed to follow this path of continuing to challenge state boards, and that distresses me. I think it is a misguided effort, no matter how good their intentions. Even the name of the organization speaks to that: National Certification Board. It isn’t the National Licensing Board. There isn’t a National License. There is no portability, and the swirling sewer of argument and confusion around the exams is not helping the situation. I think the time is ripe for the NCBTMB to get out of the entry-level market altogether and focus 100% of their resources on the development and rollout of their new post-graduate credential. This IS something that our profession needs, and I urge the NCB leadership to let go of the past and turn towards the future.

I imagine that money is a primary factor in the organization hanging on to entry-level testing, and in the decision to continue challenging state boards that are ready to drop them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that states don’t want a private certification organization coming in and telling them how to run their business. State board members are normally unpaid volunteers who give up home, family and work time to serve a board….and to have an outside party come in and tell them they did the wrong thing doesn’t sit very well, (as I personally know). I don’t want to see the NCBTMB crippled to the vanishing point. Going around challenging state agencies is expensive, and it doesn’t win them any friends.

So here we are with a Catch-22. It’s time for NCBTMB to exit the entry-level testing business, but they don’t have the money to sustain them while the new Board Certification program is getting built. They need a bridge to help them get where we would like them to go.

There is a straightforward solution to this situation. Since the lion’s share of revenue from entry-level testing has shifted over to FSMTB, they now have a significant cash reserve. It is in the best interests of their Member Boards to bring a quick and painless end to the “exam wars” and to establish the MBLEx as the single standardized exam for state licensure. The profession as a whole will benefit, and portability for therapists will be improved.

What needs to happen is that NCBTMB declares that it will no longer offer any of its exams for state licensure purposes as of a certain date. In exchange, FSMTB will give NCBTMB a certain amount of money over a period of time to compensate it for this move. The mechanism for this process is called a Transfer Agreement, and there is a clear precedent we can look at.

For many years, the American Physical Therapy Association owned and operated the national exam used by state PT boards for licensure. APTA (like our own AMTA) is a private non-profit membership association, with no accountability to state PT boards. Because of the same inherent problems we’ve finally come to recognize, the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy entered into negotiations with APTA, and engineered a Transfer Agreement to take over that exam in the late ’80s. It’s worked like a charm ever since. Physical Therapy has 50-state licensure, and a lot more consistency in their state-to-state regulations than we have in the massage field.

Having one standardized national licensing exam is one of the hallmarks of a profession. We are at a critical juncture, where the opportunity to take a major step towards professional status is within our grasp. This will take the willingness and cooperation of the leaders of both NCBTMB and FSMTB to come together to work out the details of this agreement.

Let’s stop wasting time on the small stuff. Take the bold step, for the betterment of all.

 

 

 

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.

A Sermon on the Science of Massage

This isn’t one of my rants about massage research–although that’s definitely a sermon I plan to keep on preaching. It’s about the basic things that we all ought to know, if we’re calling ourselves massage therapists.

I love anatomy and physiology, and the study of pathology is fascinating to me. The human body is an amazing thing, and the more I know about the way it works, the more competent and empowered I feel to do a good job as a massage therapist. Sadly, that sentiment isn’t shared by everybody.

I’ve been tutoring students and teaching my class in how to pass the exams for over ten years. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has said to me “I just want to do massage. Why do I need to know this stuff?” A few weeks ago, I actually had someone who has graduated from massage school (but not yet passed their exam) ask me where the trapezius is located. I didn’t know whether I should feel sorry for them at their lack of education, or whether to give them a swift kick in the butt and point out how lazy they must be not to know this by this time.

Due to the lack of regulation in some places (there are still 8 states where anyone who wants to may call themselves a massage therapist with no education at all), and the time-honored tradition of grandfathering people when legislation does come in, there are thousands of people practicing massage who know nothing of the sciences associated with it.

Massage is an art form, to me anyway, as well as a science. And I’ll concede that there are people who can give an amazing massage that don’t know what the trapezius is. But the fact is, I don’t want a massage from any of those people.

If I go to get a massage and say “It hurts when I do this,” I feel much better about getting it from someone who knows what muscle does that. If I make an appointment for a hot stone massage, and then put on the intake form that I am suffering from a severe case of peripheral neuropathy, I’d like for that therapist to know that I shouldn’t be receiving that type of massage. If I’m taking muscle relaxers, I’d like for the therapist to know that my muscle reflexes are inhibited and my sense of pain tolerance is dulled, and that therefore a lot of deep thumb work could leave me bruised and feeling battered. If I have a raging case of shingles, I’d feel better knowing that the therapist would send me back home without a massage. I might have walked in the door as an uneducated member of the public thinking that a little cream spread around on me would make me feel better. I’ve had that happen during my career.

I don’t know everything there is to know–yet.  But I’m happy to say my education didn’t stop at the massage school door. It’s never over, and it will never be over. That doesn’t mean I’m sitting around reading an A&P book cover to cover for entertainment, but I figure the more I know about it, the better I become. When a client comes in and mentions a condition I’ve never heard of, or that they’re taking a drug I’ve never heard of, I’m going to take five minutes to look that up before I put my hands on them. When I can help someone by showing them a stretch, or giving them a few hints about how their body mechanics or the ergonomics in their work space can be involved in their pain, I’m empowering them to feel better and improve the quality of their daily living.

There are some brilliant minds in this profession, and the way I see it, they’ve gotten where they are not because they give a fabulous massage, but because they have knowledge. I made a FB comment one time about the way something works, and no less than Erik Dalton corrected me. I’ll defer to him in a heartbeat. It will take me years to know everything he knows, and he’s been at it a lot longer than I have. And even though he’s making a few noises about retiring to Costa Rica, I don’t think the day will come when he decides he knows enough. He’ll be basking in the tropical sun reading a fascia journal.

I’m never going to be the next Erik Dalton, and chances are you aren’t aspiring to that, either. But I think the burden is on us, as professionals, to soak up the science of massage like a sponge. At a minimum, knowing not just the names of a few major muscles but of all of them, along with their origins, their insertions, and the actions they perform. At a minimum, having an adequate pathology and drug reference handy or Internet access for looking those things up–and actually doing so–in our work spaces.That act alone will cause you to learn something new every day and it will only take a few minutes. That’s my sermon for today.

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life. ~Henry L. Doherty

Local Legislation Often A Disgrace to Massage Therapy

I usually report on state legislation, but the fact of the matter is, educating legislators about massage therapy has to begin in your own backyard. In many places, whether there is state regulation of massage or not, local laws are so archaic and penalizing to massage therapists, it is just disgusting.

The latest thing to hit my radar is from the city of Indianapolis. The application required to practice massage in the city is entitled “Application for Massage Therapist/Escort/Body Painting/Nude Model License.”

I am shocked and appalled that this still exists. Where are the massage therapists who should be up in arms about this? Is everyone so complacent they just fill it out and don’t complain? Has anyone ever brought it up to the city government? Have any of our professional associations seized this opportunity to protect the rights of massage therapists?

A few years ago in the small town of Canton, NC, one of my former students excitedly opened her massage therapy practice, and within two days was cited for “massaging a member of the opposite sex.” She had no idea her hometown was a throwback to the Dark Ages, and she wasn’t going to take it lying down. She printed off copies of our Practice Act for every member of the town council, and got herself put on the agenda for the meeting, where she proceeded to enlighten them about the realities of being a professional therapist. The end result was the repeal of an ordinance that was enacted back in the 50’s in an effort to thwart illegal “massage parlors.”

I hope that the massage therapists in Indianapolis will take a lesson and rise up to do something about this. Unfortunately, it isn’t the only place where idiocy like this is perpetuated. After I posted this on my FB page, therapists started coming out of the woodwork with their own stories of unfair local laws. …locales requiring massage therapists to take tests for sexually transmitted diseases, applications that still say “Massage Parlor” and all manner of derogatory and unfair laws aimed at us.  All I can say is what I’ve been saying for the past few years: Don’t wait for someone else to do something about it. Take the initiative and get the ball rolling. Call your colleagues and ask them to appear with you at a town council meeting. Write letters and call your local legislators. Don’t sit on your hands. If we don’t educate legislators, nobody will.


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.