Disclosure: I am a peer reviewer for COMTA.
I have complained a lot about massage therapists sitting on their hands, not having any interest or involvement in governance, and not caring or being informed about what is going on until it’s too late to do anything about it. I can’t make that complaint about massage school owners in the past couple of weeks. I’ve never seen such a hue and cry over any other issue.
The Model Practice Act is on its second period of public comments, and I’m pretty sure the FSMTB is hearing from a lot of upset people. I had a few issues with the first draft, and I hear it got about 1300 comments. I’m willing to bet this one will get twice that, caused by a one-word change in the following definition, found in Section 103(B):
Approved Massage Therapy Education Program means a school or educational program that meets the criteria established in rule by the Board, at a minimum includes 625 clock hours and is both authorized in the jurisdiction in which it is located and is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education. Education received outside of the United States must be substantially equivalent to the criteria of this Act and must be recognized by the jurisdiction in which it is located.
In the first MPA draft, this requirement for schools was stated as state authorization AND/OR accreditation. The removal of just one word here makes a world of difference, which has set the massage education community into a tizzy.
My Facebook is buzzing with comments from school owners, teachers, and other interested parties. Overwhelmingly, the feeling is that this is going to put a lot of schools out of business. There are also people that feel that we have about twice as many massage schools in the US as what are really needed, and that this has led to churning out too many graduates, which has led to a glut in the job market, and contributed to the proliferation of franchised massage (or maybe it’s because of franchised massage).
Rick Rosen is the co-owner of Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC, one of only two schools in our state that are accredited by COMTA, shared some of his comments on it with me:
There are two primary reasons this accreditation requirement is inappropriate and potentially damaging: First is the fact that about half of all massage schools in the U.S. are not accredited. In general, these are smaller proprietary institutions that only offer massage programs. It is doubtful that most of these schools could qualify for accreditation even if they wanted it, because of the lack of financial resources. Smaller schools that are undercapitalized are unlikely to be able to meet the financial ratio requirements of COMTA and the other accreditors, not to mention the initial and ongoing costs of accreditation.
These massage-only institutions embody the lineage of massage therapy and the healing arts, as contrasted with for-profit career colleges and publicly-funded community colleges where massage is one program among dozens (if not hundreds). Mandatory accreditation WILL cause many of these smaller schools to close, which would be a tremendous loss for our field.
Second, COMTA is the only specialized accreditor in the massage therapy field, and the only agency with competency-based curriculum standards. Institutional accreditation by the other six vocational accreditors and the seven regional higher education accreditors fails to provide a meaningful measure of quality assurance for the massage program itself.
Therefore, it makes no sense for FSMTB to include an institutional accreditation requirement in its Model Practice Act when such accreditation (in the case of non-COMTA-accredited schools) ignores the elements that are critical to producing a well-trained massage therapist. It is the integrity of the program’s curriculum, the competency of the instructors and the consistent application of admissions criteria that are the critical elements that make a sound massage therapy program — far more so than the financial and operational standards that comprise the bulk of institutional accreditation.
So, if roughly half the massage schools in the U.S. cannot qualify for accreditation, and the other half (minus the 67 schools and branch campuses that are under COMTA accreditation) are accredited under institutional standards that do not reliably produce skilled and employable massage therapists who last more than two years in practice — where does that leave us?
We need a regulatory structure for schools that can satisfy the minimum requirements of state massage statues for protection of the public, while preserving the ability of our smaller massage schools to exist. In addition, we need a mechanism to bring all massage programs under single set of programmatic standards to establish consistency of entry-level training that is impossible to achieve within the current system.
Rosen’s solution is for COMTA to add a non-accreditation level program approval to its scope, which would require the blessing of the USDE. In addition, all massage schools with institutional accreditation from other agencies would also need to seek programmatic accreditation from COMTA – a structure that is common in other regulated professions. The language in Section 103(B) of the MPA would then need to be changed to include programmatic accreditation OR approval by COMTA – along with approval or licensure by the educational authority in the jurisdiction in which the school operates.
There are a lot of other school owners out there that don’t feel any accreditation should be required at all, particularly owners of small schools who have long-standing, successful programs that have lasted for decades without accreditation. Accreditation is not cheap. It’s time-consuming to initially obtain, and time-consuming and expensive to renew. While I have heard many small school owners talk about the expense as a deterrent to getting accreditation, I’ve heard as many others say “I’m not going to have anyone telling me how I have to run my school.”
Sandy Fritz, who has owned a school (not accredited) for more than 30 years and is a well-known author and advocate for massage education, stated on her blog that accreditation was a good thing–and then it moved away from a process to determine excellence and became a hurdle to jump across to access the cash cow of financial aid.
Actually, institutional accreditation has always been about being a financial gateway rather than a hallmark of excellence. When COMTA came on the scene, it was the first accreditor to offer programmatic standards that were meaningful to massage education. Unfortunately, they’re also the smallest player on the accreditation field and have no real ability to affect the whole.
I can’t speak to the other accrediting agencies, for my experience as a peer reviewer for COMTA is that a school that seeks the accreditation is sending a powerful message: “I do more than the state requires me to do.” Accreditation involves an in-depth self-study, and documentation, documentation, documentation. If it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist. But that’s a good thing. It ensures that policies and procedures are in place that are for the good of the student, the good of the school, and the good of the profession.
COMTA has been criticized for including pseudoscience (energy work) amongst the things that are acceptable for curricula in accredited schools. Without have read the standards of the other accrediting agencies, my guess is that they do, as well. The NCBTMB condones it, the AMTA and ABMP both condone it, the FSMTB condones it, so COMTA is hardly the lone ranger. It just goes to show, once again, that massage therapy accreditation is not being held to the same standards as medical professions do with their accreditation, which is why we’re still a vocation and not a profession.
The period of public comment ends on August 15. If you want your voice to be heard, you should seize the opportunity by clicking here.