I’m in Pain

Yes, I’m in pain. Believe it or not, it pains me to write negatively about the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. I am personally acquainted with many of the people who work there, from the CEO, Mike Williams, on down, to Board members, staff members and volunteers. I count some of them among my friends. I know for a fact that they are dedicated and hard-working people.

I’ve been NCTMB since 2000 and an approved provider of CE since 2002. I’ve seen the ups and the downs of the organization: the days of great service, and the days of bad service. I’ve seen the leaders who had the best interests of the profession at  heart–and one or two who were on a personal mission to bring down the organization with their wild spending and lack of professional ethics. And I’ve seen–and even been a party to–some of their missteps. A couple of years ago when they announced an advanced certification exam, I signed right on. I even appeared in an advertising campaign for it, along with quite a few other well-known massage therapists, educators, and even some illustrious physicians. The failure of that project, I believe, was because it was a general thing, and not a specialty certification–which the profession has been requesting for quite some time.

CEO Mike Williams responded to my Wish List blog last week. I met Williams at the AFMTE meeting a couple of months ago and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours talking with him one-on-one. I hear (from other folks, he wasn’t bragging) that he has a proven track record of helping floundering organizations get back on track. He even joked to me that he had learned everything he needed to know about the NCB from reading my blog.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and I know that just from the comments I receive on this blog. However, distress at their latest action seems to be shared by more than a few people. The NCBTMB sent out an application for a new assigned school code to massage schools this week. Now, the organization has required a school code since the beginning; it’s just a number that students must include on their application to sit for one of the NCB exams, and it is supposed to demonstrate that the school is legitimate. That’s good in theory; and I think the original intent was to keep schools and/or individuals from falsifying diplomas and transcripts.

A number of school owners went up in arms this week when they received the application. True, it is just seven pages long, and that’s way less than what is required for a state board school approval or COMTA accreditation…but therein lines the issue: except for the schools in the few unregulated states, these schools have already been approved by their state boards, and in some cases, one or more accrediting bodies as well.

One school owner on my FB page said “We are opting out. The list of required paperwork is oppressive. Our school is now sending them all off to the Mblex. It’s moves like this that, in my opinion, will seal the deal of completely making the NCBTMB irrelevant. We had a school code with them, we maintain state approval which can be verified easily on the state website. The additional hassle which this organization seems to thrive on is over my tolerance level.”

Another sore point is the human trafficking angle. Now, I don’t think anyone is in favor of human trafficking except the people who are making a living off of it. As background, there has been legislation introduced in a few states requiring massage establishments to post notices about human trafficking–something that isn’t required in a convenience store (in other words, they’re picking on us again, supposedly because massage is a business in which it’s a big problem). On their 2010 990 filing, the NCB reported giving a $5000 donation to the Polaris Project, which fights human trafficking. They also started publishing brochures about human trafficking and selling them (at 2.50 for 25 of them, I don’t think they’re getting a big revenue stream off of that).

On the application that came out this week, school owners are being asked to sign a pledge about not participating in human trafficking, and doing whatever they can to stop human trafficking. I got calls from a few people that were upset about that; they stated to me that the NCBTMB was overstepping its boundaries and giving a false impression of having regulatory or law enforcement authority. Personally, I think any entity donating money to the Polaris Project and doing their part to fight human trafficking is admirable, but as someone on my FB page pointed out, is there really any school actually participating in such a thing that wouldn’t just sign the pledge anyway? It’s like asking people if they use illegal drugs on a job application. No one is going to write down that they have a cocaine habit, are they?

On the NCBTMB website, there are a couple of dozen schools listed as having their school code suspended, revoked, or denied. The reasons are not given, so one doesn’t know whether they were found to be participating in human trafficking, running a diploma mill, or what.

In his response on my blog, CEO Mike Williams talked about the forthcoming improvements from the NCB. Let me say, as much as it pains me: different singer, same song. I must make it clear that I have wanted this organization to survive, and thrive, but I am very concerned. And as Angela Palmier pointed out in her comments, people laughed when there was talk of another entity creating a licensing exam. In the meantime, the MBLEx has proceeded to saturate the market and it will just continue to get bigger and bigger–even if the NCBTMB steps in to challenge the states’ right to choose, like they did last week in Tennessee. They did actually prevail there, but at what cost? The Board members were upset, the GR rep from AMTA was upset, and in the end, the decision for the Board to acquiesce was based on their desire not to see their other impending legislation get scrapped in the crossfire.

In addition to the FSMTB sticking their toe in the water to test the profession’s reaction to their CE plan, I’ve recently been contacted by several people about starting (yet another) CE approval body. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but there’s no reason to think it can’t be done. For that matter, there is nothing to prohibit another entity from starting another certification agency….just like there are numerous accrediting agencies besides COMTA. It could happen.

I don’t doubt that the NCB has good intentions–but as we all know, good intentions are sometimes misguided. Placing an additional and very unnecessary burden on school  owners is misguided and the perception is that it’s one more example of duplicated efforts in this profession. Challenging state boards is misguided. The NCB needs all the public support they can get, and that isn’t winning them any friends. It is creating ill will, period. Hanging on to entry-level licensing instead of focusing on  becoming the one true certification agency is misguided. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


28 Replies to “I’m in Pain”

  1. Laura,
    Thank you. I have been reading and re-reading the letter to our school from the Texas Department of State Health Services re NCB changes over and over. And reading the material from the NCBTMB re testing and board certification, etc. I actually from the start was skeptical about the need for advanced certification, as well as how they were going to come up with a standard for an even more unstandardized curriculum that constitutes the realms of more advanced massage and bodywork. It looks to me like this is an organization which is suiciding itself. And that is certainly sad. I remember early on Elliott Green and others doing a wonderful high-minded job formulating the whole National Certification idea and exam – it was done beautifully I thought.
    I’ve heard there is a Mexican curse – May your life have many lawyers. I have been seeing through so many organizations, the equivalent curse – May your profession have many regulators.
    It’s hard for me to have a clear sense of how to amplify both freedom and integrity within our profession. I do hope to help. And I always appreciate your voice and thoughtfulness. I look forward to becoming a bit better informed and more active. All the best – David Lauterstein

  2. Thank you Laura for spelling this out to the NCB. It has been hard enough to survive as a single owner school this past 32 years without adding unnecessary regulation surrounding the school code. Why do they need a syllabus for every single program amongst the other tedious requirements to renew? There is a job title among schools I call compliance officer which answers to all the regulations we have to deal with over time. I happen to be the compliance officer as well as the director and one of the faculty. How many hats does a school owner have to wear? It depends on how many regulatory bodies you play with. After a while, it gets old, proving yourself over and over again. It also takes away from the real reason we are running massage schools. I think David Lauterstein is right, regulators can be a curse!

  3. Thanks again (I feel like I’m saying that at least once a week!) Laura for blogging about this issue. Earlier this week I reviewed the application and I’ve tried to understand the motivation/rationale for the revised requirements, particularly that of human trafficking. Since Mr. Williams graciously responded to your blog post the last time, perhaps he will respond again to help clarify the intent behind this latest action.

    Since inception, NCB has relied on the authority and the process of the state licensing boards and/or accrediting agencies to issue school codes, however this latest action leads me to believe that they do not feel that is adequate. Are the states/accrediting agencies failing to do their jobs? If so, is it every state? One or two states?

    With regard to page 6 of the revised school code request form….
    “The pledge to comply with NCTMB’s efforts to combat human trafficking by upholding the integrity…” What specifically are the NCBTMB efforts are schools being asked to comply with?

    “I acknowledge that it is my shared responsibility to not only educate myself, but also inform fellow massage therapists about the issue of human trafficking.” This confuses me. It says “I acknowledge” but who exactly is I?? Does NCB now consider schools as people? By “fellow massage therapists” are we talking about instructors? Surely this doesn’t imply that human trafficking curriculum is now going to be given to our incoming students, right? It seems that the issue of human trafficking is a function of law enforcement, and certainly not appropriate for a certification agency to expect, let alone threaten that “failure to abide by NCBTMB’s policies and procedures, Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice, and Anti-Trafficking Pledge……..and in some instances, referral to law enforcement for criminal investigation.” Are you kidding me??

    As a law abiding citizen, and as a compassionate human being, I appreciate being given the phone number to the NHTRC. As a massage therapist, I’m greatly disappointed that our National Certification Board as intentionally associated my profession with such a degrading and illegal issue. I see no difference in being associated with prostitution, and frankly, I believe that this profession deserves an apology. After spending 13 seconds doing a Google search, I found a fantastic approach, taken by a state government, to bring attention to the human trafficking issue. I’d suggest that the NCB staff and Board view http://www.senatorleach.com.

    This brings me back to the question about intent. I would hope that prior to making this decision, NCB would have considered the impact and potential reactions that would ensue by adding an additional requirement of schools. Surely they must realize that schools have an incredible amount of influence over the licensure exam that their graduates take, and as a former school owner of 15+ years, I can say without further understanding I would not sign the current version of the application as presented.

    And on that note, I checked the NCB’s website and reviewed “Why National Certification is Important?” In their words….
    “National certification sets high standards for massage and bodywork practitioners. It protects consumers and employers by ensuring that certified practitioners have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their job – and that they are committed to upholding NCBTMB’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.” Did the most recent JTA reveal that MT’s felt that educating myself and fellow MT’s about the issue of human trafficking as necessary skills and knowledge for entry level therapists? Will those who choose to take the NCB exams for licensure also be receiving a badge for their new policing duties?

  4. As a school owner, long time NCB volunteer and COMTA commissioner I feel the need to comment here.

    I don’t think the information requested by the board for a school code is unreasonable. They have requested far less information from accredited schools then non accredited. I am sure this is because accredited schools have much more oversight and they feel confident that this is being done by their individual accreditation body. For non accredited schools and how much things vary state to state this is the information they feel is needed to approve these schools. For something so important I find it hard to believe anyone is so upset over seven pages.

    On the other side there is the MBLEx which does not even require an applicant to present transcripts to take the exam. I understand that an applicant signs that they went to school but many people lie. As school owners, educators or other massage therapists, would you rather see this? When I asked the MBLEx people about this I was told it is up to the individual states to require education. What this means is that in an unlicensed state, anyone can take the test. As an educator I find this way more disturbing than a seven page application. At least the people at the NCB are trying to ensure that educated therapists take the test, not anyone who would like to.

    As far as the area about human trafficking, I understand the intent but I am not sure about the method. I am personally not seeing the connection between massage schools and human trafficking. Massage therapy is a very legitimate profession and I feel like this just reinforces the negative connotation that massage=prostitution. We, as a profession have dealt with these negative ideas for so long and have come a long way with the help of group like AMTA and ABMP. I can’t help but feel like when a group that represents massage therapy has a school pledge to educate people on human trafficking the intent is good but the connotation is negative. I would urge the NCB to change this policy and instead hand out a brochure or letter to each new person certified by the board instead. This really seems like it is not a school issue but an individual issue.

    I want to state that these are only my opinions and do not represent any group I am affiliated with as either a volunteer or board member.

  5. It is indeed painful to watch a key player in the overall matrix of the massage therapy profession continue to go even further off course. There was a glimmer of hope this Spring when NCBTMB announced they would abandon the new Advanced Certification program, and would instead pursue the development of a post-graduate Board Certification credential. That, in combination with sunsetting the existing National Certification program, would have put the organization into far better alignment with the needs of the profession.

    Because the National Certification credential got fused (and confused) with entry-level licensure, it never gained relevance or value. NCBTMB did have a lucrative run with being the only national test provider on the landscape, until FSMTB showed up with the MBLEx — the right tool for the job. It has become a huge success in our field, despite the aggressive and costly war NCB waged against it.

    Last year, NCB’s leadership indicated they were finished with this campaign, and would no longer fight the MBLEx. But just like a dog that won’t turn loose of its favorite bone, NCB has been at it again recently, challenging lawful and appropriate actions by state massage boards in Ohio and Tennessee to strengthen their use of the MBLEx.

    NCB’s persistence in offering their entry-level certification exams for state licensure — even when the exams will no longer be connected to the actual pursuit of CERTIFICATION — is an unwise business strategy. At a time when they need all the help (and friends) they can get, they are continuing to operate from the old failed playbook. I believe it was Albert Einstein who defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    As Laura suggested in a previous blog, NCBTMB has a stellar opportunity to forge a working agreement with FSMTB that could get them out of the entry-level exam business, strengthen their role as the national provider of continuing education approvals, and provide the needed revenue to build a new certification program.

    This would be a big “win” for each organization, and would finally delineate licensure from certification. Instead, NCBTMB staunchly defends its right to provide entry-level exams, and rolls out a completely inappropriate new set of hoops that massage schools must jump through to maintain a simple identifier number with NCB.

    As a school owner, I was shocked to receive the new application for school code renewal from NCB this past week. It’s obvious from the kind of information and documentation they are now requiring from schools that they’re trying to position themselves as a kind of “national approving agency” for massage schools. That is NOT in the purview of a certification board. It is for state education licensing authorities to handle, as well as national accrediting agencies.

    NCB should focus its efforts on certifying therapists who meet certain benchmarks of achievement. Stay out of the business that is already taken care of by the proper agencies. Not counting NCB’s approved CE provider program, we already are accountable to four state and national agencies on an annual basis. The last thing we need is another compliance process to follow.

    The NCB Board of Directors hired a well-respected “turnaround expert” to serve as its new Chief Executive Officer. If they refuse to heed the signs all around them and make a substantial change in course and attitude, NCB’s revenue will continue to decline, therapists will stay away from the new certification credential, and the organization may fade into obscurity.

    This demise is eminently preventable.

  6. A friend of mine is also a school director and had said as much. She said that as much as she prefers NCBTMB and what it represents, it has just become too much work, and it is also more expensive. Moreover, it takes longer for graduates to get licensed using NCBTMB than using MBLEX. More and more people are going to be dropping the NCB because it has just become too cumbersome.

  7. It would serve this organization to look at who the people are who are urging them to go in the right direction, and I’m not speaking of myself, although I do try to keep my finger on the pulse. When you have the most intelligent, experienced, and knowledgeable people in this profession telling you you’re going down the wrong path, you ought to pay attention to that.

  8. Well said Laura. I have discussed, talked, pleaded, assisted, volunteered, ranted and raved and here we are again. Unfortuantely the human trafficing issue is a terrible problem and bogus massage schools are part of it. I am fine with the NCB taking a stand on this. However, why the school code number when I was under the impression that NCB was moving away from licensing? Is is needed for the new board certification process? I can live with the continuing education approval process because I think it is part of certification. Certification is beyond entrylevel practice. Entry Level should be measure by licensure not certification. Why is this so confusing?

  9. We’ve got AMTA and ABMP, the two largest membership organizations in the country, supporting the MBLEx as the exclusive entry-level exam. We’ve got the FSMTB supporting the regulatory community and urging every state to use the MBLEx as the exclusive entry-level exam–and they support certification–just not as entry-level, which is as it should be. We’ve got the financial reports of the FSMTB and the NCBTMB plainly showing the writing on the wall. We’ve got the most knowledgeable and experienced people in this profession doing everything except getting down on their knees to steer this organization to a path that is meaningful to the profession and that will be profitable and sustainable for them and offering to help them get there.

  10. I always find this such an interesting topic, and I love what Lisa said about the key legitimate points here. However, I will take a safer stand in my reply to this blog.

    I think what you posted Laura a couple weeks about regarding NCB going the route of Board Cert and CE approval (with the support for that from FSMTB) to make the absolute most sense. It seems that could potentially be even more lucrative for them as well if done correctly.

    I strongly support the Board Cert process – mainly because that is the only way our profession can move forward – look at everything in medicine, if you are not board certified in say something like cosmetic surgery, you will absolute not get hired and achieving that board cert is the hallmark achievement.

    I think instead of attacking the exam process – lets move on to suggesting what would be beneficial to our PROFESSION. I find it interesting that many MTs continue to say get away from entry-level exam, but yet they are still barking about it. Let’s move into focusing on what we need and want and make that happen. Ask yourself today – what am I doing to move the profession forward?

  11. Yes Lucas, your right on. My concern right now is that it appears that the NCB is back tracking and hanging on to the licensing exam which not what I had understood. I understood that they would not longer be offering the current National Certification exam- put all their energy into the board certification which I support and let the exam for licencure slowly phase out. It appears that they are still actively promoting use of the exam for licensure.

  12. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to further explain some of the recent and coming changes that NCB is implementing.

    I think we all agree that there are some massage schools out there that shouldn’t be open, that there are some instructors or educators that have no business teaching and some certified therapists that should not be credentialed. If so, then we all agree that the overall quality in the massage profession needs improvement. NCB, by not practicing and enforcing higher standards in the past, has a role in the current state of the industry and also in helping to raise those standards.

    Many school owners have approached us with their concerns about the program not being strict enough and that there are schools out there with an NCB Assigned School Code that shouldn’t have it. To them, this has diminished the value of having an Assigned School Code.

    It is apparent through comments made that there is confusion about the use of the Assigned School Code and that it is only necessary for taking the NCBTMB licensing exams. Although it does accelerate the process, it is even more important as we look at the Board Certification exam. We have been communicating, and will continue to communicate that the 750 hours of education needed for eligibility for Board Certification be from an NCBTMB Assigned School or Approved Provider or Accredited College or University.

    Becoming an NCBTMB Assigned School does not grant accreditation; it is a free, voluntary authorization. It is an authorization that massage schools are encouraged to obtain to differentiate themselves and to aid in processing their students more quickly through the NCB licensing and certification process. We believe that quality therapists come from quality programs. This is not a new idea; this is part of a standardized process that is approved by ICE (Institute for Credentialing Excellence). It means that those teaching in the schools have the background and knowledge to educate and inform.

    We are pleased that a large number of massage programs have sought voluntary accreditation from one of the accrediting agencies. For those schools, we offer a significantly streamlined approach to gaining our new school code in recognition of the time, money and commitment that they have put into securing an accreditation. Non-accredited schools are asked for more information to ensure that their program meets the level of quality and instruction that are necessary to produce massage therapists who can safely and competently work on the public.

    We are also doing what we can to publicize and stop the significant problem in human trafficking. I am confident that most people reading this are not engaging in human trafficking and are against the very thought of it; nonetheless, it does exist in our profession.

    Even though as of this year, all but one state has passed human trafficking legislation, it is still happening in every state and in many cases operates under the guise of “massage parlors.” The Polaris Project and the U.S. Department of Justice estimate that there are approximately 5,000 brothels disguised as massage parlors nationwide and that there are approximately 800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year.

    According to our discussions with the Polaris Project, the massage industry is the single most concentrated source of victims of sex trafficking. We are committed to weeding this out of our profession and look for those who secure our credential to aid in this process. We look at this pledge as a way to build unity and awareness, and show commitment as a profession that we will work together to keep this issue top of mind. We are making a clear statement that each of us is committed to the cause of fighting human trafficking.

    Every day NCB works to build new programs. As you have seen in the recent past, we do listen and make changes based on constructive discussions from within the industry. It is an ongoing process. When new standards are implemented – the process may entail a new form or a different evaluation – it may cause some concern and questions.

    There are significantly more changes to be announced by NCB and we look forward to an open and constructive discussion of how we can work together to continue to elevate the standards of our profession.

  13. Mike you write “We have been communicating, and will continue to communicate that the 750 hours of education needed for eligibility for Board Certification be from an NCBTMB Assigned School or Approved Provider or Accredited College or University.” I missed this and just want to make sure I understand. All 750 hours of education must be from those catagoies . Any school teaching the entry level portion of the requirement will have to be an assigned school.

    Your comment was very helpful but did not address the licensing issue. Can you expand?

  14. Following Sandy’s question about why there is so much confusion around entry-level licensing and certification:

    It is because NCBTMB purposely fused these two functions together some years ago. They took advantage of the fact that there was not a standardized national licensing examination for state boards to use as new massage laws were getting passed across the country. They used this opportunity to get their National Certification Exam enshrined as the official test, along with the requirement (in many states) that new licensees also had to be Nationally Certified. I recall seeing this phrase in many of their promotions: “Licensure through Certification”.

    From a financial and power perspective, it was a great move for NCB, as millions of dollars flowed annually into their coffers, and they became the de facto national gatekeeper for the profession. However, once the state massage boards came together under the banner of FSMTB and launched the MBLEx, NCB’s days as the top dog were numbered.

    NCB’s exam revenues have been declining by about $1,000,000 per year for the past three years. Added to that the millions they spent trying to kill off the MBLEx, and it’s not hard to see why NCB is in financial difficulty and struggling to put new programs on the landscape to generate revenue.

    I support NCB’s effort to establish a true, voluntary post-graduation certification credential for massage therapists. The field will benefit from having this as part of the overall structure of our profession. It does not give NCB the right to require massage schools to go through an approval process simply to get an Assigned School Code number. As I mentioned in a comment above, schools are already subject to the regulatory authority of state educational licensing agencies and national accrediting commissions.

    Contrary to what NCB CEO Mike Williams has suggested above, there is NOTHING in the accrediting standards for certification agencies that requires them to put schools through such an approval process. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. Massage schools do not need or want this new additional process that NCB is trying to force upon them. Let the appropriate state agencies deal with the few bad actors that are running diploma mills for the convenience of the adult entertainment industry. It’s not our problem.

    Getting back to the confusion issue: Mr. Williams stated in his above comment: “Becoming an NCBTMB Assigned School does not grant accreditation; it is a free, voluntary authorization. It is an authorization that massage schools are encouraged to obtain to differentiate themselves and to aid in processing their students more quickly through the NCB licensing and certification process.”

    “The NCB licensing and certification process”

    Yes, my dear colleagues, NCB is still beating the drum on this — long after Elvis has left the building. NCB is a private certification agency, and not a state licensing authority. Never (again) shall the twain meet, and NCB needs to stop putting out this kind of distorted message.

    If NCB is to have any chance of survival, they must respect the boundaries of other stakeholder organizations, tell the truth, and focus their efforts on doing one thing properly: the process of certifying massage therapists who seek recognition of their education and experience after receiving initial state licensure.

    Why is this simple framework so hard for NCB to get?

  15. There IS indeed confusion. I cannot tell you the number of times I have received a phone call from someone who has or is about to move into my state say “I have a national license.” No such animal–but people do it all the time!

  16. I just want to comment on Rick’s post. “Let the appropriate state agencies deal with the few bad actors that are running diploma mills for the convenience of the adult entertainment industry. It’s not our problem.” States are overwhelmed and frankly, do not care, as much as WE (massage therapists) do about “schools” trafficking women and the unfathomable treatment of them. It is not about the adult entertainment industry…it is about illegal slavery, the horrific treatment of young girls and women, and countless victims of violence and suffering. The massage industry, taking pride in helping people feel better (physically and energetically), live better, and move better need to make this our problem. “Tolerance of intolerance is cowerdice” -Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

  17. Thank you Mr. Rosen and others–

    The “fusing” of NCB’s national certification exam as both a certification exam and a licensing exam as an opportunistic financial move is pretty well elucidated by now. The way they strategically took advantage of an open path to a bigger payday is universally understood by everyone who cares enough to get it. But their systematic state by state indoctrination was ingenious, timely and even laudable. And besides, it’s a capitalistic society and to the swift and mighty oft times go the spoils.

    But with the mbleX, it’s an entirely new ballgame, and NCB is no longer swift nor mighty. I believe Rosen said it here: “….NCB’s exam revenues have been declining by about $1,000,000 per year for the past three years.” What he is pointing out is simple: NCB can not AFFORD to abandon the use of their exams used for licensure. Or they would my children! But instead of owning up to this with a forthright and open discussion, they choose to mislead. Imagine that – leadership using smoke and mirrors to try and make it seem like “schools and students universally embrace the NCB entry level test,” and so by George, they must have it!

    Baloney. George doesn’t want it anymore.

    NCBTMB seems to be taking on water from every direction in professional resistance, controversy and growing disgust. For so many years they lived by the money sword, and now, they may well die by it as tests and revenue numbers seem to tell the real story. And in such desperate times, why do their CEO and board continue to send out confusing and confounding explanations that just don’t hold water? I guess even a modicum of mumbo-jumbo would be tolerable, if it weren’t for the fact that they have wholly abandoned honesty, integrity and a commitment to their profession along the way. I read that the new CEO was hired because he is an expert in “turning things around?” How about someone with expertise in “turning the right things!” Stop fooling around with the mechanics of our profession and get out of states’ entry level testing and educational req’s business. Create an advanced state of competency credential based on real and defined educational requirements, experience, knowledge and skills. Do that one thing! A credential that healthcare leaders will honor, accept and subsequently hire from. Or get out of the way and let someone else do it.

    In addition, NCB is misguided in their attempt to require massage schools to go through an onerous approval process simply to get an Assigned School Code number. No accrediting standards for certification agencies require them to put schools through such an approval process. Mr. CEO is out of his element here. Schools do not need his cumbersome and superfluous process forced on them.

    And last of all, no, NCB does not have an “NCB licensing process.” NCB PLEASE stop promulgating this ridiculous misconception!!!!

    Laura, sorry to rant. Please keep up the good work. 😉

  18. How many chances has NCBTMB had to get it right? Over the past 20 years, this organization has had a wide-open field in which to develop itself as a provider of meaningful and relevant credentialing for massage therapists. They have shot themselves in the foot time and time again with a tendency to over-reach, to exaggerate, and to act without regard to the other stakeholders in the field. Let’s look at some of NCB’s more notable failures in recent years:

    This was a slick package of NCB’s propaganda materials in an expensive color binder-box specifically prepared for massage schools. I recall that it was rolled out at an AMTA Council of Schools meeting in 2005 in New Orleans. Few educators took this home with them, and a giant pallet of these promo kits was seen being wheeled to the dumpster behind the hotel.

    This was a brash attempt by NCB in 2009 to get into the membership association business, and go head-to-head with AMTA and ABMP. for revenue. They were going to make all 90,000 National Certificants automatic members in the USA-MRA, try to sell them insurance, and offer them ancillary benefits including discounts at Kentucky Fried Chicken. This concept flew the coop with amazing rapidity once the two major membership associations caught wind of the plan. (Laura Allen is the one who broke the news to the profession — on this very blog!)

    This was the most confusing thing ever put forth by NCB. The NESL was simply a rebranded version of the National Certification Exam, offered to state boards as a smoke-and-mirrors trick to get people to think that NCB was in the massage licensing business. Same exam, same test questions, different wrapper. It didn’t work. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf.

    This program (which is still active) requires massage employers to sign a pledge that they will only hire massage therapists who are Nationally Certified. There is a special page on the NCB website listing the businesses with this prestige designation. I have never seen more than 12 “Centers of Excellence” in the entire country on this site, including their featured business: Floyds Knobs Therapeutic Massage Clinic in (where else) Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Wish I was making this stuff up.

    First announced in 2010, NCB tried to put forth a new post-graduate credentialing program that encouraged therapists to “Take Your Career to New Heights”. The core problem is that entry level standards have never been well defined in our field — so that it renders an “advanced” level moot. NCB’s hype machine promised those who earned this new designation greater earnings, identification as a leader in the massage and bodywork profession, and more job opportunities in conventional, integrative and clinical healthcare settings. Despite a massive ad campaign, there was little interest or excitement generated in this program. NCB yanked it this past March, when they replaced it with the forthcoming “Board Certification” credential. The jury is still out as to whether massage therapists will flock to this shiny new opportunity.

    That’s my nickname for the aggressive effort NCB launched in 2008 in an attempt to kill off the MBLEx and maintain its dominance of entry-level testing business. The campaign was unsuccessful, despite the fact that NCB spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and attorneys in state-by-state actions to prevent regulatory boards from adopting the MBLEx. Now that the MBLEx has permanently taken hold, NCB has turned its focus to coercing state boards and legislatures to keep its National Certification exams as an option for licensure candidates. It’s like a “Hail Mary” pass in football. The game is over.

    Lest you think I’m an NCB-basher, I’ve actually spent a lot of time over the years offering them positive and productive ideas. In 2002, I presented NCB with a proposal to support the establishment of a federation of state massage boards. NCB had the “right of first refusal” to fund and house this organization, but their leadership at the time passed up the opportunity. (They also rejected it in 2004 when I re-presented the proposal.) If NCB had taken this step, it’s likely that the National Certification Exam could have been legally used by state boards through a working agreement between the two entities. As it turned out, ABMP ran with the ball in 2005, providing the guidance and funding that allowed FSMTB to come into existence as an autonomous organization.

    More recently, I authored a proposal for the reorganization of NCBTMB, which I sent to their leadership privately in 2010. After not receiving any response from them, it was represented as a position paper from AFMTE in 2011. Still no response. But lo and behold, we were all surprised when NCB made its big announcements in March of this year that they were going to sunset the National Certification program, ditch the Advanced credential, and move towards a new post-graduate focus in their credentialing. All of these shifts reflect recommendations made in the proposal I sent them.

    Despite these forward-looking actions, there are still huge sticking points, which have been presented and debated on this blog (and elsewhere). My fervent hope is that the leaders of NCB and FSMTB can put aside their painful organizational histories, and work together to resolve the few remaining aspects of the massage therapy profession that are not in alignment. If we just could call a Rolfer in to work out these structural distortions, things could move much more easily!

    I’m still rooting for greater coherence in our field.

  19. Question: If the FSMTB sticking their toe in the water to be providing CEs for all therapists are just teachers? Because if it’s going the route of more CEs for therapists, that’s just wrong. Either put the focus on training crap teachers to be not so crap or go the route of giving some exams to teachers so that they can get credentials so that we (massage therapists) know how to identify non-crap teachers – you know, one’s that know what an “organ” is or don’t start waving their hand over people after doing a chair massage lesson to get “rid of the bad energy”.

  20. Rosemary, for some reason I couldn’t delete that–but the wrong one deleted just fine! At any rate, the FSMTB HAS stuck their toe in the water with the MOCC plan…and it is the AFMTE that is undertaking the teacher project. We need a CE class on acronyms of the profession!

  21. I am so glad you said what I have been thinking for quite a while. They need to get out of the entry level business. The National Certification Board test was not designed for entry level therapists, or at least that is what I understood way back when. The MBLEx is far better suited to test for licensure as that was its original design.

  22. So now that I’ve read everything posted here, I have to say most massage therapists don’t even know this is going on in the NCB world. We’re just going by our every day lives and doing the work that we love to do. However, I’m about to come up on renewing my certification next year and I’m unsure of what to do. With everything said above, I have no desire to support an organization that clearly has no organization and maybe no leg to stand on either, so therefore it doesn’t make any of us look good supporting it, however the fine state of Indiana requires NCB to be certified to practice. So what is one to do? Do we renew in hopes that NCB finally sees the light and because the state requires it? If not, what is the other option for those of us who fall into the category of re certifying? This is very confusing, someone please help.
    Thank you

  23. Lisa, first of all, do what your state requires of you to maintain your license. That is just the pragmatic thing to do. But, your question reminds me of one legitimate reason why NCBTMB must remain in the entry level business for now. There are some states that only recognize the NCB test and not the MBLEx as a requirement for state licensure. Other states accept either test. Some states only accept MBLEx. Until there are no states left that require the NCB test for licensure, they must continue to offer the test. Or, they could reach a business arrangement with FSMTB to discontinue their test but maintain a revenue stream at least temporarily as Rick Rosen has proposed. It seems to me that NCB would do that if it made business sense and would not do it if it was financial suicide.

  24. The problem is that there is no centralized planning happening. This could — and should be the focus of the Leadership Summits that have been held among the heads of the seven primary organizations that comprise the massage therapy field. There are models of well-functioning professions out there that can serve as models for how to structure the massage therapy field, but they are not being utilized by our own leaders.

    A well-functioning profession has a clear separation between licensure and certification. The fact that NCBTMB’s certification exams are still specified in the laws of several states is merely a technical problem to solve; it’s NOT a reason for NCB to be allowed to offer these tests ad infinitum.

    What do you think would happen if NCB suddenly went bankrupt and its tests were no longer available? Do you think those few states that are “NCB-only” would stop granting licenses to applicants? Of course not! They would adopt workaround procedures to be able to accept a “replacement” exam on an interim basis until its statues and/or rules could be officially amended. Because the MBLEx is a licensing exam developed by state boards by its umbrella agency — FSMTB — there would be no agonizing process to find an acceptable replacement. It’s already right there in use by most states with regulatory programs.

    The mechanism of a Transfer Agreement with FSMTB would give NCBTMB a well-defined path for transition out of the entry-level testing business, where it no longer has a place. NCB needs revenue to build its new post-graduate certification program, and a “buy out” of its remaining exam business will give them the bridge money they need to move cleanly forward. It’s a very straightforward solution, but it will take the willingness and cooperation of both organizations to make such a thing happen.

    As it currently stands, the leaders of NCB are afraid to turn loose of what little they have left — and the leaders of FSMTB appear content to rock back in their comfy chairs and watch NCB dissolve into dust. From where I sit, it’s downright painful. This analogy may be too strong, but this dynamic is a bit like the family of a crime victim watching an execution of the perpetrator through the blinds at Central Prison. The aggrieved family can take solace that “justice has been done”, as the body is wheeled to the morgue.

    FSMTB was in fact brutalized by NCBTMB’s “campaign of doom” against the MBLEx. As a result, it’s not surprising that their leaders feel little compassion for NCB’s current plight. Be that as it may, I’m asking my colleagues at the upper eschelons of these organizations to put aside their personal emotions and agendas, let the history take a back seat, and do the right thing for the evolution of the massage therapy profession.

    The real deficiencies of the massage therapy field — which have been elucidated by keen observers like Laura Allen, Ralph Stephens and Keith Grant — are being generally ignored while new shiny projects are pursued and tribal warfare continues.

    This situation is providing a unique opportunity to heal wounds, and to move both FSMTB and NCBTMB to stronger positions within the overall matrix of component organizations that comprise the massage therapy profession. I done about all the cajoling I can on this issue (both publicly and privately). It’s now “show time” for the decision makers.

  25. I want to start with this is my opinion soley as a massage therapist in Ohio.
    Rick thank you for this:
    “The mechanism of a Transfer Agreement with FSMTB would give NCBTMB a well-defined path for transition out of the entry-level testing business, where it no longer has a place. NCB needs revenue to build its new post-graduate certification program, and a “buy out” of its remaining exam business will give them the bridge money they need to move cleanly forward. It’s a very straightforward solution, but it will take the willingness and cooperation of both organizations to make such a thing happen.”
    The willingness and cooperation of both organizations to make such a thing happen
    I find it interesting that we are all condemning NCB. Is the Federation helping our profession by “sitting back and watching NCB turn into dust”, or are they too stopping our forward movement as a profession?

    I understand this idea of a transfer agreement is fairly new, but has NCB (Mike) been offered one from the Federation?

    I do understand the difference between Licensure and Certification, but it took a long time and a controversial meeting in Ohio to truly grasp it.
    However, in Ohio we have an interesting situation I would like help understanding better.
    We have no regulation for relaxation massage “Anyone, including LMTs, may perform relaxation massage. No training at all is needed.” stated from legal council of the Medical Board.
    Therapeutic massage is regulated “The key is whether the massage is performed to treat a disorder of the human body.”
    A license is a license right, public safety is the key, right? Isn’t most research on massage on relaxation massage? In my eyes Ohio is clearly distinguishing between two types of massage, and only licensing one.
    It concerns me greatly that the executive staff of the Medical Board has not shown interest in the board certified credential.
    In Summary I believe we are the perfect state to have both organizations work together cohesively to develop the profession, why are we shutting the door?

  26. Laura, I would like to retract my statement about “It concerns me greatly that the executive staff of the Medical Board has not shown interest in the board certified credential.”
    I do not know that to be true, it is purely my opinion. Thanks if you can edit it out.

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