If at first you don’t succeed….

Try, try again. That’s what the regulatory board in my home state of North Carolina is recommending when it comes to getting the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards to do something about the confusing status of continuing education approvals.

Two years ago, the NC Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy introduced a resolution at the Annual Meeting of the FSMTB (which was held in Puerto Rico). This document instructed the Federation’s Board of Directors to “begin the process of developing a new national approval program for continuing education providers and courses.” The organization’s leadership responded positively to the resolution, and announced to the profession in the Spring of 2011 the launch of a comprehensive project to do just that. They also invited AFMTE, AMTA and ABMP to work with them to provide input that would help shape the project.

In spite of this clearly stated intention to develop a “centralized quality assurance process for all courses taken by massage and bodywork therapists for the renewal of State licensure or State certification” (quoted verbatim from the FSMTB press release dated 3/29/11), the outcome of this process missed the mark by a country mile. The MOCC Proposal, which stands for Maintenance of Core Competencies, failed to deliver what the state boards asked for, and what FSMTB promised.

To remind you, the MOCC Proposal was based on a new (and unproven) concept of separating continuing education that relates to “public protection” from all other CE that is taken for “professional development”. MOCC recommended that only CE related to “public protection” be required by state boards for renewal of licensure, and everything else be put into the voluntary category, to be regulated by… well, the proposal didn’t even mention NCBTMB. If this all weren’t bad enough, FSMTB would become the exclusive provider of coursework needed to maintain “core competency” in the subjects related to “public protection”.

For more background on the MOCC issue, refer to my blog posts of 3/14/12 and 4/15/12. It’s also illuminating to read the press release AMTA issued on 4/23/12 which contained a complete repudiation of the Federation’s proposal.

In a friendly game of golf, you can take a “mulligan” every now and again–a “do-over”. My colleagues at the NC Board are giving the FSMTB leadership an opportunity to take a mulligan on this vitally important CE approval issue. They have recently submitted another resolution to be discussed by Member Boards at the upcoming FSMTB Annual Meeting in New Orleans on September 27-29. This resolution is much like the original from two years ago, and its appearance at this point in time indicates that the need for a single-source national CE approval program has not gone away.

The primary rationale is contained in this statement from the new resolution:
“Reliance upon the NCB Approved Provider program has been problematic for state boards because (a) NCB is a private, non-profit corporation that lacks oversight from and accountability to state regulatory boards; (b) its program has not adequately evaluated the quality or relevance of CE courses; (c) administration of this program has had notable service delivery problems over an extended period of time.”

That’s all true, but the opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. The NCBTMB has the infrastructure already in place–and this will be nothing more than another case of duplicated efforts if the Federation steps in and tries to take it away without consideration of the NCB’s position in that marketplace. I think a collaboration would be more appropriate; by contracting with the NCB to administer CE approvals, FSMTB could establish the accountability structure that state boards must have with NCB, and FSMTB wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They could just improve upon it.

Yesterday, I conducted one of my Scientific Facebook Polls, and asked the questions: How many MTs REALLY care what is happening with our professional organizations and what they are doing? How many people care about the MTBOK, the ELAP, the MOCC (don’t y’all love all these acronyms) or even know what they really are? How many people care about the legislation and regulation of massage? How many people care that there are initiatives to raise standards for teachers of massage therapy and for massage education in general? Do you care about all those things, or would you rather just be left alone to do massage?

I got 75 replies in a 24-hour period, and one thing is apparent: to the average massage therapist trying to make a living, many perceive our organizations to be all about politics and all about money. To some extent, that’s true…the one with the most money wins. The perception is also that they all have their own agendas. Actually, recently some of them seem to have the same agenda, but they’ve wasted time and money in duplicating efforts, or opposing each other’s efforts, and scrapping over turf wars. In a recent blog I urged the NCBTMB to take themselves out of the entry-level exam market and suggested that the FSMTB assists them financially in return for their doing so. Earlier this week, in a piece published in Massage Today, Ralph Stephens called on AMTA and ABMP to offer “substantial and ongoing financial support” to COMTA and AFMTE, to further their important efforts to improve the quality of massage therapy education.

FSMTB and the NCB have recently conducted new Job Task Analysis surveys, both of them seriously flawed, in my humble opinion. These surveys show a strong bias towards the clinical/medical side of massage therapy, and contain virtually nothing about the KSA’s related to delivering massage therapy as a primary means of facilitating well-being and integration. From my perspective, the latter is of equal or greater importance.

In addition, the FSMTB survey has a special add-on section to gather data for the Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP). This dual-purpose survey does ask lots of questions about specific medical conditions, but it contains nothing about the client/therapist relationship. The word “relax” does not appear anywhere, and the word “relaxation” shows up just once.

There’s also an over-focus on the huge number of modalities that are marketed in this field. Many of these listed are obscure and little-understood. It’s wrong to ask a therapist to define themselves by a single named modality. Practitioners typically use a broad range of methods with clients. The modality is not the treatment — it’s the totality of what a practitioner brings to the session.

Finally, this Federation JTA is similar to the recent JTA from NCBTMB: another duplicated effort that still falls short of giving an accurate picture of what happens in the real world of massage therapy. You can count how many times a week we give a massage or take SOAP notes, but that’s not what it’s really about. It’s about our rapport with the client, and what kind of results we are able to produce, and what kind of trust we can inspire in our therapeutic relationships. The MTBOK generally missed the boat on this as well, although I have high hopes that the line-by-line analysis and re-mapping of the MTBOK that was conducted by AFMTE will give us a usable body of knowledge.

As a result of these large-scale projects, it’s likely that the kind of incomplete and disjointed training that is typical in our field will get further enshrined as the baseline for education. Skewed survey questions produce skewed data. Using that data to build a new standard for the entire field is not just wrong, it’s a crime against the lineage of massage therapy. Just look at what has happened to the other health care professions who have organized themselves around the mechanistic/reductionistic model. People are treated as parts, and no discipline ever looks at the whole person. Massage therapists still have the ability to treat holistically. Relaxation is being relegated to a lower-class status of therapeutic effect, when it’s one of the most valuable aspects we offer with this work.

This whole scenario illustrates one thing: the time has never been more ripe for getting our act together, and that isn’t going to happen while there’s all this push and pull and one-upmanship going on with the organizations. When the leaders of the seven primary stakeholder groups sat down at the table for the first time last September, the ELAP proposal appeared out of nowhere–it wasn’t even on the agenda and it got slid in anyway. I would like to see them sit down again, and take a serious look at these issues. Put ego and profit aside. Take a real look at the flaws in your information-gathering processes. If you want to see what massage therapists really think, sign on to my Facebook page and you might get a rude awakening at their opinions of you. You wouldn’t exist without us, and what we think does matter. A Job Task Analysis survey asks what we do--and frankly, it isn’t near as important as what we think. Consider that.

 

MOCC Proposal: Dis-Organized Chaos

I’ve been criticizing the Maintenance of Core Competency (MOCC) proposal from the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards since the moment it landed on my radar, and I haven’t changed my mind. I think it’s a terrible plan that doesn’t serve any good purpose other than increasing the coffers of the FSMTB. In its present form, it appears to be a blatant move to put the NCBTMB out of business.

What has been interesting to me is to see the way this thing has unfolded. Right off the bat, I had some criticism of the Task Force assembled by FSMTB that supposedly got this thing together. I say supposedly, because when I saw who was on it, my first thought was “No, they couldn’t possibly have supported that.”

So here we have Immediate Past President of AMTA, Glenath Moyle, whom I know personally and like a great deal. In spite of Moyle’s presence on the Task Force, the national office of AMTA only took a few days to come out with a statement shooting more than 20 holes in the MOCC proposal. In spite of the fact that the FSMTB chose Task Force members who were supposedly representatives of their respective organizations, that apparently didn’t work too well in this case.

AMTA has never allowed an individual officer to speak for the entire organization without their board’s approval; their blanket slam of the proposal seems to indicate that they never saw the proposal prior to publication, much less given the opportunity to sign off on it. I wholeheartedly support AMTA’s condemnation of this far-fetched plan, but I didn’t like to see Ms. Moyle in a position of looking like she had egg on her face. That could have been prevented if this process had been carried out in a more transparent manner.

Then we have Pete Whitridge and Cherie Sohnen-Moe, President and Board Member, respectively, of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. Since both of these leaders are well-known continuing education providers, and represent an organization that is largely composed of CE providers and massage schools that sponsor CE, I was shocked at their support of this plan. I felt at the time, and still feel, that if the membership of the AFMTE had been polled about this plan, the consensus would be a big fat NO.

The theory that this plan will not take away business from CE providers is BS of the highest order. Since the proposal calls for newly-created education modules that the FSMTB will put on their website to be the ONLY course work required for state license renewal – with all other CE related to “professional development” becoming optional – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

The AFMTE issued a statement last week,that frankly, I feel should have been included in the proposal itself. I might have felt better about the whole thing if this was part of the original proposal. The AFMTE has suggested that they support the FSMTB contracting with the NCBTMB to administer the process of approving CE courses and providers, as that is beyond the resources and scope of most state massage therapy boards. The NCBTMB was excluded from the MOCC Task Force, which is petty politics to me. This plan affects them in a major way and they should have been included. They have expressed their willingness to work with the FSMTB, and frankly it’s the Federation that has prevented it from happening.

That doesn’t look good to me. When the NCBTMB convened a meeting of diverse stakeholders last year for the purpose of getting input into revamping their programs, they invited the FSMTB to participate. Their exclusion from the MOCC process is, I’m sure, based on the Federation’s party line, “the NCBTMB isn’t regulatory.” Big freaking deal. That is true, but they exist and for 20 years have administered the only national approval process for CE providers. AMTA, ABMP and AFMTE are not regulatory organizations and they were invited to serve on this Task Force. There were people on the Task Force from states that don’t even have any CE requirements to begin with. That dog don’t hunt, as we say in the South.

As the NCBTMB has announced their intent to sunset the existing National Certification program in favor of a post-graduate Board Certification credential, it is obvious that they are phasing themselves out of the entry-level market. At this point, they are not letting go of offering their National Certification Exams for state licensure purposes. However, that use of the cert exams is on a steady path of decline, as the MBLEx is now being used by the overwhelming majority of massage school grads. I think with some negotiation with the FSMTB, they would let it go altogether. The thing is, cooperation is only possible when both parties come to the table. The FSMTB isn’t playing nice.

There will need to be some skilled facilitation to get these organizations to look beyond their own interests, and to work together to achieve broad-based solutions. We need a single national approval program for continuing education, and our field will truly advance when there is just one entry-level exam for state licensure (instead of the current crop of five).

Every professional organization should take a lesson from some of the past troubles at the NCBTMB: all it takes is to get one or two people with a personal agenda in a position of power, and the fallout is detrimental to the organization and the profession on the whole. Board members have the responsibility of checks and balances. To those who sit on their hands and blindly follow the leader, I say get up or get off.

MOCC-ERY

Last week, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards presented their long-awaited proposal for a new national continuing education approval program. They are calling it Maintenance of Core Competencies – or MOCC for short. As I indicated in my previous post, this proposal not only failed to deliver on the original promises made by FSMTB, it has turned the entire professional landscape on its ear by recommending that most continuing education should be voluntary, not mandatory for license renewal.

Under this “MOCC-ERY” of a plan, the only mandatory components of continuing education would be those FSMTB deems to be relevant to “public safety”. If that’s not bad enough, FSMTB is proposing to take control over the design and delivery of these courses. Except it isn’t continuing education … it’s proving that you still know the things you should have learned in entry-level massage training as it pertains to protection of the public.

As a licensed therapist, do you want to be taken back to subjects like Ethics 101, principles of hygiene and sanitation, and the naming of unsafe massage practices – EVERY TIME YOU HAVE TO RENEW YOUR LICENSE? I’ve been teaching professional ethics for 14 years, and frankly, I find this proposal to be an insult to my intelligence.

I was very gratified today to receive the press release from AMTA denouncing the plan. In part, important communication states:

“AMTA reviewed the proposal and has many concerns with the approach of the FSMTB, the proposal itself, its inconsistencies and the lack of support provided for their view. Some of our specific areas of concern are:

  • –Overall, the impact of this proposal is to lower standards for massage therapy practice. It would shift the focus of professional development from building on the entry level education massage therapists receive to that of maintaining very minimal requirements of public protection.
  • –The proposal contradicts its stated intent, previous FSMTB statements on the need for continuing professional education and the mission of FSMTB.
  • –The proposal would take away the freedom of choice of massage therapists to determine their own practice focus and to choose the continuing education providers they prefer to meet their own professional needs by creating a “one-size-fits-all” approach for license renewal.
  • –The proposal provides no empirical data to support the efficacy, efficiency or necessity for a transition to this model.”

AMTA goes on to list 20 objections in their press release.

Although ABMP as an organization has not yet made an official statement, ABMP President Les Sweeney came out in support of the MOCC Proposal in his recent blog. In addition to being a member of AMTA, I am also a member of ABMP. I think highly of Les and the rest of the management there, but this is one of those times when we’ll have to agree to disagree. Les does state that he supports the role of the NCBTMB in the arena of continuing education; but he personally thinks CE should be voluntary. That is a major policy statement coming from the top guy at the largest professional membership association in our field.

The thing that is most outrageous and unacceptable about the MOCC Proposal is not the “public protection” course material that could be mandatory for therapists. It is the fact that leaders of four of our major stakeholder organizations in the field came together behind closed doors and decided that the majority of continuing education should no longer be mandatory.

It looks like there may have been major flaws in the process that led to this consensus document. Was the work of the eight-member Task Force shared with the full leadership of AMTA, ABMP, AFMTE and FSMTB with sufficient time to review and comment on this plan before it was published? Something doesn’t line up when AMTA comes out with a total smackdown of the plan, while their Immediate Past President was part of the team that was responsible for its development. Does that seem odd to you?

What we do know is that the decision making process took place in a vacuum, and there was no opportunity for public comment. Yes, the disclaimer says that “The MOCC is just a proposal and we’re seeking your feedback”, but input should have been sought from a broad range of constituents in the field before such a proposal was even made.

Continuing education classes that actually teach you anything new, under their plan, will become optional. Only the classes from the Federation, which they plan to make available on their website, will be required for license renewal. My opinion is that instead of being satisfied that the MBLEx has taken most of the exam revenue away from the NCBTMB, they would now like to take the continuing education dollars away, too. This plan will not only take dollars away from the NCBTMB, but also away from continuing education providers. (Disclosure: I am an NCBTMB Approved Provider of Continuing Education.)

The Task Force intentionally excluded representatives from the NCBTMB, and that’s another point that disturbs me. The Federation should be working in collaboration with NCBTMB. I was present at the AFMTE 2011 Annual Conference during FSMTB Executive Director Debra Persinger’s initial presentation about the Federation’s intent to create a CE approval program. NCBTMB Chair Alexa Zaledonis was in the audience at this session, and she publicly stated that her organization was willing to cooperate with FSMTB. It’s a shame to me that in light of their 20 years of experience in administering CE provider approvals, they are being left out of this loop. I’m gratified to see they’re not waiting around for an invitation, but instead, have gotten on with the business of making their own improvements.

In May 2011, NCBTMB convened a meeting of the Massage Approved Provider Panel, which was intended to improve and enhance their current CE approval program. Most of the stakeholder organizations in the field were represented there, including FSMTB. Based on feedback from the participants, NCBTMB will begin reviewing and approving CE courses as well as CE providers this summer.

Personally, I did learn what I needed to know about protection of the public while I was in massage school. I am one of those people who enjoy attending continuing education courses. I don’t want it to be mandated to me that I have to take a no-fail test—which isn’t really a test if you can’t fail it, is it, of things that I already know—to meet my license renewal requirements. I don’t think that serves me, as a massage therapist, and I can’t see how it’s going to serve the public. The Federation seems to think this will wipe out complaints of unethical or unsafe behavior. I don’t believe that for one minute. Anyone who is going to act unethically is going to do it, no matter how many classes they take or whom they take them from. Unsafe behavior needs to be addressed in entry-level massage school. I would much prefer to see the FSMTB come up with a model program of public safety education for schools, instead of requiring therapists who have been practicing for years to take a ridiculous no-fail test.

Times are changing, as Les said in his blog, and our organizations are changing with them. It remains to be seen whether it’s for the better or the worse. I have supported the FSMTB in the past, because I believe the state boards coming together in an effort to solve common problems is a good thing. I still believe that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is an example of the kind work they should be doing, or the way they should be doing it. You can let them know how you feel about it here.