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.

11 Replies to “NCBTMB: New Plans for the Future”

  1. I can see Mblex being the entry level with National being for advance more or less. As for the Item writers I would like to suggest they remember when writing questions they have the referance to back it up at (least two.) They would need to remember to Whom they are writing the questions for…not Doctors , not nurses, not Chiropactors… but to Massage therapist

  2. Its no real change at all… Any change within the current system is really no change at all…Therapists are still graduating from schools, taking all these exams…Still working for $15 an hour… Change the text books that say run to the doctor if you think you are getting carpal tunnel.. How about some real change?

  3. I am curious, Laura, what your take on how the disparity between the old credential and the new credential will affect long-term practitioners? Perhaps that is another article entirely 🙂


  4. Well, Karen, I’m not the longest-term MT in the bunch, but I’ve been NCTMB since 2000:) I have 525 hours from the school I attended, more than 250 hours of continuing education, and I have always maintained my certification, so personally I don’t expect it to affect me, but I know it will some people. I don’t think there is any intent to make it hard on long-term practitioners…that is why they have announced it early and are making accommodations for those who are already certified and wish to remain so under the new rules by giving them time to come into compliance. All of the details are on their website at, for others who are wondering how this will affect you. I think it’s a good move forward.

  5. I am upset that they aren’t “grandfathering” in those of us that have qualified under the old credential. I have already expressed this to them, but so that the rest of people get to see it. There are those MT’s that have not graduated from a 750 hour program that this would be very expensive to maintain the certification. There are still some states that ONLY accept the NCBTMB exam. What are the MT’s that are graduating in this interim period to do? Wait till the board gets their act together and put out the new exam? This is ridiculous. I currently have the credential, it isn’t required, and I will likely just drop it. The clients DON’T CARE! THey aren’t looking for the credential. This is an added expense, every two years instead of every four, that most MT’s myself included can ill afford at this hard economic time. They can keep their credential. I’m outta here.

  6. The real question is ‘Do massage professionals need “Board Certification” status?’. In a profession, where many therapists work part-time or for supplemental income, maintaining state licensing requirements provides enough credentialing to practice as a massage therapist and legal information for their clients and/or employers.

    Most therapists graduate knowing that they need to complete approximately 12 continuing education hours per year. When graduating from a 600 hour program, it would take an additional 12+ years to meet the extra 150 training hour requirement to qualify for the NCBTMB’s Board Certification. This leaves a huge time gap between graduation and board certification. At that point, what is the initiative to become board certified? If I have been successfully practicing massage for five, ten or twelve years without ‘board certification’, I would probably see it as an unnecessary expense. My preference would be to have a specialized certification in something I enjoy doing and my clients need, i.e., pre-natal massage, shiatsu, craniosacral therapy, etc.

    To assess the quality of the therapist, most clients ask “How long have you been practicing massage?”, not “Are you nationally or board certified?”. Many part-time therapists do not have the time or money to accelerate the continuing education program. Will franchise employers look for board certified applicants? Probably not, since franchises are a great place for new therapists to begin their careers.

    By eliminating the ‘National Certification’, I see the NCBTMB losing many potential members who do not immediately qualify for ‘Board Certification’, but will quickly realize that they can be successful without NCBTMB certification.

    I am glad that NCBTMB is trying to raise the professional level of massage therapy, but I don’t think they truly understand who their customers are.

  7. Many LMT’s on the entry level now will never see the kinds of income that practitioners had even 5 years ago with tuition up as much as triple what was paid 15 years ago to get into the field. I am not sure any of these stakeholders has any idea what it means to live on the average annual salary of the newly minted therapist who must work 2-3 part time jobs to earn 1 living. Our organizations are run by people who make 10 times what the average LMT earns. These advisers to our industry want us to be run by the allopathic model, without the pay or the respect. They had best beware that they are moving massage therapy into irrelevancy. It’s at best a part time income with an image problem. That is why while over 40,000 enter the field each year, another 30,000 leave. I wonder if they are going into other healthcare areas that offer portability and decent pay with less infighting over new education and training dollars. If a new certification meant I could earn more, I’d be all for it. As it stands now, there is no ROI in that investment.

  8. Laura,

    I’m delighted by your insight, passion, and boldness! It’s difficult for a new massage therapist to grasp a thorough understanding of the professional processes. I’ve read multiple articles and responses regarding regulation and no one puts it together quite the way you do. It’s refreshing to read your reactions in which address the heart of the matter. I have acquired a much better understanding having read them.

    I agree with many of the responses, but I’m perplexed by those that take the passive approach and others that demand immediate gratification. Our profession is a viable health option and unfortunately it’s not recognized to its full potential. We, as practitioners, have the opportunity to change that – but it’s a PROCESS. Complaining about the time and money we don’t have to invest in our professional development obstructs that process. Let’s put some effort into building our standard and gaining recognition and respect in the health field. This may mean enduring sacrifices now, but ultimately will provide the opportunity for us to meet our professional goals.

    Thank you for providing the opportunity to discuss these topics openly.


    Robin Streit

  9. I just did the MBLEx , some questions were very odd and long, one queston… asking the Triceps and the Trapezius which is easy to rolling etc…few questions and few pictures were very confuse, looking like just for the $$$ to get you.

  10. Hi Laura,
    I suspect that now that the new rules have been announced for CE approved providers you’ll be hearing from a few of us again. Thanks for the very informative blog. I wonder though if NCBTMB thought of the problems faced by groups whose teachers teach the same class. For example, CST1 with John Upledger is a class that would be vetted over and over and over again every time a new teacher joins the fray. I can see how vetting new courses (especially since on-line submission will make it less formidable for all involved) is a very wise improvement but I find it excessive to accept $25 for every teacher that teaches the same course. The new rules pose another issue: there was a process whereby NCBTMB was supposed to be the watch dog. That was called auditing. I’d be curious how many they did. Apparently not enough because the field supposedly was full of teachers breaking the rules. If they had an auditing process that functioned, all this other excessive intrusion would be unnecessary. Now I wonder if they’ll take more $ and still not be a watch dog. Finally, I wonder how this will affect groups that support up and coming therapists. Who needs a group umbrella when it’s everyone for him and herself. This will be sad for the industry because it will reduce the opportunity for therapists like myself to help a new teacher join the industry. I’ll be watching to see what really happens. Just my thoughts.

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