A Betrayal of Trust

Any time one of the major organizations in the massage field tries to fire up a project that will “advance the profession”, I get awfully suspicious. When a group of them get together to do something on the big scale, I go on full nuclear alert. That’s the case right now with a dubious education standards project introduced by ABMP in September 2011 at the Leadership Summit in St. Louis, which I detailed in my previous post, Behind Closed Doors.

As the title of that blog suggests, 100% of the activity surrounding this project has taken place in secret, with no information about the project being released to the massage therapy community—and no opportunities for review or comment before time, money and human resources are thrown at solving a perceived problem.

AMTA and FSMTB have signed on to this project, which will involve gathering information from the Federation’s upcoming Job Task Analysis survey, to use in a process that will “identify the rudimentary knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to pass a licensing exam and provide basic, but safe, massage in an early massage career.”

That doesn’t sound like a such bad thing—in and of itself—but the group intends to use this data to create an “evidence-based minimum educational requirement” for state licensing. This would be used as a rationale for changing state laws, and would likely be used to drive the curriculum standards for entry-level massage programs—basically telling schools what to do.

Goodness knows, there is a lot of inconsistency in massage education and regulation, but there is no problem in our profession that justifies one or a group of our so-called “stakeholder organizations” seizing the ball and marching down the field without our input or permission. I don’t give a rat’s you-know-what if they claim to be doing this in our best interests; this power play is a gigantic betrayal of trust. And I might add that I am personally in favor of the evidence-based practice of massage, but I don’t think one tiny group of people should get to decide what that is.

I’ve not yet been able to confirm the status of NCBTMB, Massage Therapy Foundation, AFMTE or COMTA as it relates to this project (mum’s the word all around). These four organizations, along with ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB just gathered on May 1-2 for another Leadership Summit—this time in Chicago. I’m taking bets that they will issue another sanitized press release that gives us regular folks in the bleachers little substance about what really happened in this meeting that has the potential to alter the very nature of our profession.

The only other info I’ve been able to glean is that ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB hand-picked a new workgroup of massage educators and other “experts” in instructional design and curriculum development to start this project on May 3-4, right after the completion of the Summit. Are you kidding me? Where was the public notice of this opportunity to serve on a panel that will influence the future of massage therapy? Who gave these organizations the authority to do this on our behalf?

No one. They took it on themselves, and that’s what stinks to high heaven.

In stark contrast, the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge project had both fans and detractors, but it was carried out with a reasonable amount of transparency. The majority of the dissent on the project concerned the inclusion of energy work in the document and dissatisfaction with the way objections were handled—or not handled—in favor of evidence-based practices. The five organizations that comprised the MTBOK Stewards (ABMP, AMTA, FSMTB, MTF, NCBTMB) did a good job of not interfering with the project once it was launched.

Right now, we have a genuine crisis on our hands. The problem is that hardly anyone knows about it. This blog only goes so far. I never set myself up to be the New York Times of the massage field, but it seems like the major massage publications are afraid to get their teeth into the real breaking news that affects the practitioners, teachers, CE providers and schools that make this profession possible.

Friends, it’s up to YOU to let these organizations know that it’s not OK for them to act in your interest without your permission. As long as these “leaders” think they can get away with it, they will. Trust has been blown out of the water, and it will take a concerted effort to rebuild it.

A really good first step would be for ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB to release a full description of the project, including what they plan to do, how it will be done, who sits on the new workgroup, what the timelines are, and what money will be spent. And most importantly, we want to know what they intend to do with the “evidence”. When organizations that represent us are making major decisions that affect us, we deserve to be involved in the process.

13 Replies to “A Betrayal of Trust”

  1. Again, Wow! Here is where you can contact ABMP by phone or email in a general way, is their a better email out there?

    Contact Us

    Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals 25188 Genesee Trail Road, Suite 200 Golden, CO 80401 (see below for map and driving directions) 800-458-2267 * 303-674-8478 Fax: 800-667-8260 E-mail: expectmore@abmp.com Website: http://www.abmp.com

    I don’t believe being concerned about it at home without saying something to someone is going to be enough, so please, if this irritates you now, pick up the phone and call, send an email and demand to know what the summit project is in detail and all the wonderful where’s and how’s that Laura mentioned. Complacentcy has helped no group from genocide in the whole history of the world and every group that received the ‘axe’ always concluded that “no real harm could come of it” until it was too late. Please act.

  2. THANK YOU MS.LAURA for ALWAYS keeping all of us so informed!! What would OUR profession ever do without you!!!???

  3. I feel like this project will cause more problems than it solves. I like the idea of basic standards throughout the country, but let them be BASIC. I’m seeing a lot of discussion about this requirement and that requirement, but a lot of the learning we do happens after graduation.

    I recently spoke with a massage therapist in Florida with fifteen years experience (fyi: I’m in IL, 5yrs). We spoke about the myriad continuing education options available (topic, price, quality, etc). I told him I considered massage therapy school a the place to learn “what not to do” and continuing education and was a place to learn “what to do.” He smiled and agreed. I’m in favor of creating a basic national standard, but it should be basic – NOTHING that requires secret discussions.

  4. I appreciate your untiring efforts here. Many times I have shared your comments with my education director and executive director. Sometimes they’re well-received and sometimes they are not. From the Academic Administration side I FULLY understand the interests of these groups. I see the need. But from the Individual Practitioner side, I don’t always like them and what they do. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to stay professional on both sides of the coin.

    The school where I teach (assistant instructor, not lead) is a member of the FSMTB. (Michigan) A former graduate of ours is on the board and our education director is on the core competencies committee, writing the document. They’ve been to all of the meetings you’ve mentioned, but alas… some things are shared and some are not. I’ve seen the Core Competencies drafts due to some of my administrative and instructional duties, but I honestly can’t say much due to the fact it was of confidential nature. It’s still “formative”. They ARE taking input from many sources, that much I know. But like I said, I don’t agree with all they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

    As for the NCBTMB… I’m done with them. I have no more respect for them. Do I have the required education with CEUs? Sure. I had 625 hour program as the base and plenty of NCBTMB-approved CEUs. Could I pass? Yeah, probably. BUT… I will be taking the MBLEx because my state will recognize both when licensing is being enforced. I spent my hard-earned money to certify and maintain certification through CEUs with a test that is much harder than the MBLEx, which our school now uses as the primary exit exam (among one other written and one hands-on testing instruments) and now it’s for naught. The NCBTMB is going to put themselves out of business.

    My lead instructor that I work under asked for clarification and received this reply from the NCBTMB:
    From: “recertification”
    To: —
    Sent: Monday, April 30, 2012 3:28:54 PM
    Subject: RE: Requirements


    National Certification will no longer be available after January, 2013. Board Certification is going to replace it.

    You have met the 750 required hours of education. We also require 250 hours of hands-on experience. More information and details of the transition to Board Certification will be emailed to the field in coming weeks.


    What a waste. Set very, very basic levels for practioners and let the individual states decide (after VOTES) whether or not to add certification or licensing levels. At least at the state level there’s SOME semblance of democracy for the individual practioners.

    Alright, I think I gave my $2 worth instead of 2 cents but again, thanks for covering these things.

  5. Follow up: My views on the subject should not be construed to reflect those of my employer. CB

  6. Since the FSMTB and the MBLEx have nearly put the NCBTMB out of business, this move to differentiate certification from basic licensing is a good thing, in my opinion. “Certification” has lost its value because the MBLEx, which is a shorter, cheaper test, is being espoused by the FSMTB as the only option for licensing. They want all states to drop the NCB exams for licensing purposes and have been encouraging them all to drop the NCBTMB since their inception.

    At this point in time, the NCBTMB will continue to offer the NESL to those states who want to use it, but there are probably few states that will use it. A state board does not have any right to legislate “certification,” under the new paradigm, because it will be a voluntary, post-graduate credential, no longer just an entry-level test, and not required by the law.

    This move by the NCBTMB will give the states what the Federation wants, and will restore value to being nationally certified. It will send the message that you have done more than you have to.

  7. Laura,
    You may never have set yourself up to be the New York Times of the massage field, but you have a terrific way of putting your finger on the pulse of our industry. Your ability to take complex political issues and simplify them in an non-biased way, for us ‘non-political’ types is providing a huge value to the rest of us — so thank you for the effort you put in to researching and staying abreast of it all.

    I’ve been a practitioner since 1988 and joined the AMTA since it was considered to be the ‘best’ at that time. I served on the boards at a local level and at the state level, and as a national delegate for one year. I never registered my classes and seminars through NCBTMB as an educator and provider of CEUs solely because it was fraught with so much ‘politics’.

    I believe students just want and need good solid education without all the garbage attached. They want to run their practice and provide stellar service to their clients. They are sick and tired of all the ‘red tape’, fees, and ‘paper work’ that stands in their way.

    There is such a disconnect: Clients want to find a great therapists. Therapists want to find and serve more clients. Self-serving politics are getting in the way… so neither therapist or client is able to get what they want….

  8. Laura,

    These are some great individuals and organizations. It is commendable that they step up and start collaborating. Personally, and as a school owner, massage employer, and licensed therapist I have total faith in them. Let’s go down the list…

    Bob Benson that you mentioned in your last post is a brilliant man who took a relatively young and small organization (ABMP has only been around since 1986) and made it a world class organization around the customer-focused theme of “expect more”. It is not a coincidence that ABMP has become the largest professional massage therapy organization in the country; compared to its competitor, ABMP offers better insurance, customer service, and member services. Mr. Benson and ABMP have been part of several successful initiatives. It was Mr. Benson and ABMP that first supported FSMTB and the California Massage Therapy Council. They also supported the MTBOK. Would I trust him to represent the profession? Yes, 100%.

    Anne Williams is very talented individual, book author, and education director for ABMP. While everyone was sitting on the sidelines complaining about teaching standards, Ms. Williams and ABMP did something about it. They embarked on a project to elevate standards and she and her staff have been traveling around the country teaching instructors – free of charge to instructors. I am not sure why you call it dubious, it deserves praise not criticism. Would I trust her to represent me? Yes, 100%

    Kate Zulaski has helped COMTA navigate a very difficult time of market adjustments for massage schools, and based on my brief conversation with her during my most recent accreditation workshop is a bright and open minded person. Would I trust her to serve this profession right? Yes, 100%

    FSMTB has been a catalyst for many of the positive changes taking place in the profession. This is an organization that was criticized early on, yet now 35 states accept their exams. Debra Persinger, the Executive Director, has worked tirelessly to get the organization off the ground and she and her team were able to come up with a psychometrically valid exam within the time and budget that was originally allotted for the task (something that the NCE was not able to do). Would I trust Ms. Persinger and FSMTB? Yes, 100%. I understand that some people have an issue with FSMTB’s recent MOCC proposal, but FSMTB did not go around and singlehandedly force people to change, they made a proposal and asked for input.

    I do not know Mike Williams, present CEO of the NCB, but I find it admirable that he was able to come forth and scrap the advanced certification exam and announced a repositioning of national certification. It takes guts to come out and say that the old approach was not working. That says a lot about him personally, so I am intrigued to find out more about NCB’s new positions, and he gets my vote to be in that meeting.

    I cannot speak of AMTA and its leadership as I have not observed them closely ever since I decided not to renew my school’s membership with them based on something that transpired in Illinois last year. Yet, I have found them to be conservative over the years so it is a safe bet that they will not allow for the massage world to be turned upside down. Do they have my vote to be in that meeting? Yes, because we need more than one side.

    Does AFMTE have the right to be there? On principle, yes, because educators need to have a voice. AFMTE has not proven that it can produce anything yet, and I am saying this with much hesitation since I was a founding member of that organization, as you were.

    Laura, I know you have spent time online observing blogs, facebook posts and online discussions. While many discussions are well intended, they always derail to “more hours/less hours”, “competencies/no hours”, “science/energy” and the like. They often become an exercise in futility. Do we want a couple individuals on online forums to define core competencies for the entire profession and decide what needs to be in and what should be left out, or do we want the stakeholder organizations to take some initiative? it may turn out that it is done that way, but shouldn’t the leaders of stakeholder organizations tell us what they see in the horizon?

    As a school owner, I would love to see collaboration and some direction in this field. It’s not a matter of being told what to do, but a matter of clarity of expectations, teaching standards, and a credible future in the massage landscape.

    So, what is wrong with the leading organizations stepping up and spending their time to ponder the years ahead? As a collaborative effort it is a welcome step, and if it needs to be protected in this formative phase from the politics of division I don’t mind if it’s behind closed doors for now.

    By the way, I am not an employee of any of those organizations.

  9. Emmanuel, I cannot recall a single time in my history of blogging when you have agreed with me, and that is perfectly fine. If I said the sun rises in the morning and the moon rises at night, you’d disagree with it.

    I personally know Bob and Anne, and they are both fine people. I like them on a personal level. I don’t like their plan. In fact, I personally know almost everyone who was present at the meeting. They’re all fine people, and I will be happy to sit down and discuss my issues with anyone of them, or all of them at the same time. I don’t like the secrecy surrounding this plan, and I am stating that. This blog is my opinion, that’s what a blog is, and you don’t have to share it.

    I don’t like a plan that is going to affect this whole profession being hatched in secret, and the comment from the original proposal that they aren’t asking the other stakeholders because it doesn’t matter what the other stakeholders think, rubs me the wrong way. If you think hatching a plan in secret and then foisting it upon the rest of us is okay, you’re entitled to that opinion. I don’t share it.

  10. Laura, we have agreed on several things before. Just like you don’t get paid to blog, it does not pay for me to take time out of my jobs or my family to be up here solely to contradict you. However, swaying public opinion with emotions can be more problematic at times than meetings behind closed doors, so I think it is imperative for another perspective to be heard.

    For years, we have been asking for the professional organizations to put their money where their mouths are, to take initiative, to offer solutions to the conundrum that massage therapy is facing on all fronts: from teaching standards and portability, to specialization and integration in healthcare. They met last September and we all (you included) welcomed that. This is their second meeting, not the first.

    I share much of the sentiment that you have expressed previously about the powers that be, as well as the sentiment that was recently expressed by Meaghan Holub on a blog about organizations profiting on the backs of MTs, and all that. That is why I have separated myself from organizations before. But it is time that the big organizations take action. The MTs cannot do it alone. As I said above, I have total faith in those individuals – not because I know them personally (I don’t) but because what they have already accomplished in their fields – to come up with an approach that they will share with everyone.

    But all it takes is a blog by an influential person, and whatever good happens at that meeting, may be already discarded by the time the meeting is done, by a public that is negatively predisposed without hearing all the facts. It would be great if you have facts to offer, but speculating out of fear can do more harm than good.

    Regarding what other stakeholders think, I am not sure what Anne Williams meant when she made that statement you quoted. In the last 28 years, I have heard all kinds of things about how the profession can be improved. Fixing problems in the profession is like going to the surgeon with an ache and the surgeon prescribing surgery. The educators think that having Bachelors and PhDs in massage therapy will fix the problems; the researchers think research will fix the problems; authors think that having better textbooks is the answer; school owners who want financial aid funds want longer training programs. The thing is, none of this matters. We all exist because of the clients, and it is the clients’ demand for services and what they are willing to pay, that drives the process. I may want to mandate PhD programs for all MTs, but if the market doesnt support it it will not happen. We find out about what clients want through Job Task Analysis and, taken from that angle, the statement is not all that bad.

  11. I will take a guess at the meaning of not needing stakeholder input. A job task analysis is essentially a job description — the task that a person doing that job is expected to be able to perform. This includes physical skills, knowledge, ability to use that knowledge in cognitive tasks, and interpersonal skills.

    The next step to using that is a process similar to doing a language translation — taking that set of tasks and breaking them down into competencies and levels of proficiency. That step is an expert process; it requires a team including those familiar with the process and those who know something about the tasks and have the ability to break them apart. It is a technical task that does not require further input AT THIS POINT. See, for example, Crandall et al., Working Minds – A Practitioner’s Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis.


    What I’d hope to see is a set of competencies that refer back to the tasks motivating them. I’d also hope to see both the job task analyses used and the competencies put up for review and comment at that point. This is akin to comparing translations of The Odyssey — did we catch all the nuances? Did we add anything that wasn’t there in the tasks?

    It the long run, it is far easier to discuss whether or not a particular task should be part of an entry level requirement and what that task implies in competencies than it is to argue about hours as a pseudo-standard. This isn’t the first time that I’ve commented that it makes little sense to require hundreds of hours of education for the public protection under state law and then say very little about the content of those hours. Nor is the first time I’ve said that credibility comes from third parties being able to have a consistent expectation of a set of core competencies.

    When you have the competencies, you can then discuss what that means for curricula. This is the point at which comparison with COMTA would logically come in. Did the bottom up process achieve much the same result? Are the results much what you would expect any similar team of experts to produce from the task analyses?

    Since AFMTE as taken the time to go through the MTBOK, flag individual items as to level, and relate them to Bloom’s Taxonomy I also have confidence that those items will get consideration.

    Any process like this is long and drawn out. Anything that changes state laws is both lengthy and entails risk. I don’t see this as something that will be slammed together and moved forward. I do see it as something that will require a bit of agreement between organizations before it’s even worth pursuing.

  12. None of this surprises me. I have watched AMTA, with its paid lobbying power and money, influence state laws behind closed doors with no regard to anyone but what they can get out of it, and so they can say “Look what we did!”. The politics of massage therapy has sickened so many good therapists, that they either stop practicing altogether or at least, stop serving on boards. Proof in their eyes that one good person can’t make a difference. I’ve never understood the power thing, and never will. We should just do what is right.

    I have always had problems with FSMTB; I believe this was initially set up to get a test so easy, that most MT graduates could pass: Imagine that…a group of state boards that want more therapists to get licensed..can you say “MONEY”? I remember the NCBTMB…it was hard and not everyone could pass…can you say “weeding out the ones that shouldn’t be practicing”? Since FSMTB has virtually put NCBMT out of business, there is no competition. The schools love it because they have a higher pass rate for their students, and that looks good for them. (probably has something to do with funding also.) Now, FSBMT wants to eliminate CE requirements for continued licensing?

    I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that, like all professions, if there is money and power to be found, those who abuse will find their way in. Most MTs just want to take care of their clients. I know that the cream will always rise to the top, but if these “associations” continue down the road they are going, I’m not sure the “Cream” will hang around long. I think we need to stop and remember why we do what we do: To give care and wellness to those who need it. Apparently, the associations, or “powers that be” are so full of themselves, with power and money they can’t see the true picture. Unless of course, their goals are just about money and power, in which case…what can be done?

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