NCBTMB: New Plans for the Future

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork has announced several bold new initiatives for moving the organization ahead. It’s no secret that the NCBTMB has had their ups and downs. The immediate past CEO, Paul Lindamood, had a lot to do with bringing them back from the brink of financial disaster that was caused partially by the MBLEx cutting drastically into their exam income, and partially by a previous administration that seemed hell-bent on bankrupting the organization. In a press release dated March 14, the organization outlined their new directions:

— Beginning in the first quarter of 2013, NCBTMB will end its existing National Certification credential, and will replace it with a new Board Certification credential. This will require passing the new Board Certification exam, which has Eligibility Requirements of 750 hours of education, 250 hours of hands on work experience and passing of a background check. Additional qualifications may be added, based on feedback from the profession. This will elevate the value of “certification” to a true post-graduate credential as opposed to the entry-level status it has held since its inception.

— In the summer of 2012, NCBTMB will launch a new online portal where all interaction with NCBTMB can be accomplished. including applications for all exams, recertification, approved providers, school reviews and payment for all NCBTMB services and products will be accomplished through this new portal. This will streamline their operations and cut down on the amount of time involved for all concerned.

— Beginning in the summer of 2012, NCBTMB’s continuing education approval program will also require courses to be vetted, along with CE providers. Providers will be required to submit their qualifications to teach each course. Previously, once a provider was approved, they could add on courses at will, which has caused some problems with people teaching subjects they are not truly qualified for. There has been some abuse as well concerning inappropriate course content, such as people creating a course just to sell a product they’ve invented. I attended last year’s meeting held by the NCBTMB for the purpose of gathering input and suggestions on how to improve the CE program, and vetting individual courses was at the top of the wish list. It’s good to see them listening and taking suggestions.

— Effective immediately, the current online practice exam is discontinued. In the summer of 2012, NCBTMB will launch a new online education resource offering thousands of questions to help candidates test their knowledge of many specific areas of practice. The old practice exam only had 65 questions, so this is a vast improvement for testing candidates.

— Licensing Exam. The NCETM and NCETMB, currently accepted for licensure in thirty-nine states, will be retained. The exam may now be taken at any time prior to graduation; however, formal notification will be released only upon proof of graduation from a minimum 500-hour massage therapy program. State licensing requirements are dictated by the individual states.  Since most of the existing massage licensing boards in the US have now joined the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, and the official line from that organization is to urge all states to exclusively adopt the MBLEx for licensing, this particular move keeps the waters a little muddy.

Since the creation of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards and the exploding popularity of the MBLEx, the NCBTMB has found themselves in a difficult position, and not just financially. For about 15 years or so, the exams from the NCBTMB were the sole path to licensure almost everywhere, except in a few states that had their own exam. In states that had no licensure, National Certification has been used as a credential to set educated and legitimate massage therapists apart from the “massage parlor” workers.

With only a few states left that aren’t regulated, most of which are working towards adopting regulations, the MBLEx will probably be used as the licensing exam if and when it does happen. The MBLEx is an entry-level licensing exam. By the NCBTMB’s own admission, the NESL exam they have used for licensing is the same exam they have used for certification–the only difference being the name of it– that has up to this point been a somewhat confusing state of affairs. The NCBTMB is currently seeking item writers and planning to beef up the new exam, so we’ll see which way that goes. In light of the new requirements for National Certification, I think it would make sense now for them to get out of the entry-level licensing game altogether and let the new credential truly mean an increase in value to those who seek a higher credential.

In a paper he authored in May 2011, The Optimal Role of National Certification in the Field of Massage Therapy, Rick Rosen, the co-founder and former Executive Director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, stated the following:

….national certification at the entry level has been rendered unnecessary and redundant as a first credentialing step. To advance the field of massage therapy towards full professional status, NCBTMB must relinquish the task of entry-level credentialing to state licensing boards via the MBLEx. In place of its existing program, NCBTMB has an excellent opportunity to upgrade and repurpose what has been called “national certification” to a graduate-level credential. Decoupling certification from licensure would bring NCBTMB back to its original mission as the provider of a truly voluntary program that allows experienced practitioners to distinguish themselves through testing and demonstration of continued competence. That’s what certification was designed for.

Well, it’s great that NCBTMB has finally listened to what Rosen and other leaders in the field have been suggesting for a number of years.

I spoke with CEO Mike Williams and Board Chair Alexa Zaledonis last week to get a few questions answered, namely what has happened to the much-touted plan for an advanced certification. Williams and Zaledonis stated to me that the NCBTMB has cast aside their former plan for the N-CAP (Nationally Certified Advanced Practitioner) exam, based on negative feedback from the profession. I had personally been in favor of the N-CAP; however, I think the new credential is ultimately a much better solution. Another of Rosen’s statements, “Our field would benefit significantly from having a “generalist” credential that is available to massage therapists who have achieved a designated level of professional experience and continuing education beyond their foundational training,” seems to bear that out.

I don’t believe true licensing portability is ever going to happen in my lifetime. I am not sitting around holding my breath waiting for our organizations to all get together and sing Kum Ba Yah, although that would be nice. Turf wars are not a pretty sight, and the one between the NCBTMB and the FSMTB is no exception.  Both organizations have something to contribute, and they just need to get clear on what that is and to conduct themselves in a transparent and professional manner and in the spirit of what is good for the profession on the whole, not just what is financially lucrative for one organization. The recent MOCC proposal from the FSMTB that I have been reporting on recently would be financially lucrative for them, and that’s the only good thing I can say about it. To ignore the organization that has administered most of the continuing education for massage therapists in the country for the past 20 years is a political move that is, in my opinion, aimed at taking more money from the NCBTMB in the hopes of eventually crippling them altogether.

I remember the dark days when I had to report on the shenanigans of some of the previous leaders of the NCBTMB, and the Federation seems to be forcing me to do the same to them with some of their recent actions. I was gratified last week to see AMTA shoot down the MOCC proposal on more than 20 points, while ABMP President Les Sweeney spoke out in favor of it. It will be interesting to see if they have a response to this new plan from the NCBTMB.

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