An Interview with Dr. Leena Guptha, New Chair of the NCBTMB

From Laura Allen: I have skewered the NCBTMB in my blog several times over the years, including very recently. It has been a tradition with me for several years to interview the executives and chairs of the massage organizations as they come on board, so I am interviewing Dr. Leena Guptha. In fairness to her, I would like to state that she had only been the Chair for ten days when I went on my last and most serious rant about the organization, so I certainly do not hold her personally accountable for the things I have complained about. Here is the interview I conducted with her.

1. Dr. Guptha, please tell us about your background, work experience, and education.

Background: Daughter of a Scientist and a Philosopher, Wife of a Physician/Scientist, Mother of two Physicians, Grandmother of a two year old.

Work Experience: (Relating to Holistic Therapies and Lifelong Learning)

  1. Practicing: 23 years of manual therapy across three countries, with my primary interests in basic science, musculoskeletal alignment, ethics, research and business.
  2. Teaching: Science and Hands-On instructor at various Colleges including but not limited to Connecticut Center of Massage Therapy; University of Bridgeport; Chicago School of Massage Therapy; National University of Health Sciences; Pennsylvania Institute of Massage Therapy; Lehigh Valley College; and International College of Osteopathic Medicine.
  3. Administration: Held positions of Director of Education, Dean of Academic Affairs, Campus President in corporate schools.
  4. Research: The Ergonomics of Driving and Back Pain, teaching Research Literacy to graduate students, osteopathic dissertation supervisor.
  5. Volunteerism: NCBTMB, AMTA Chapter, AMTA National Board and the Massage Therapy Foundation.

Education; Massage Therapy (LMT), Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Naturopathic Medicine (ND), Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine (LAc), Complementary Medicine, Hypnotherapy (BCH) and Business (MBA Hons).

2. How did you first become interested in massage therapy?

When I was a child, my father had a hobby of tinkering with cars, (not that I recall any of them actually road worthy, sorry Dad), suddenly one day while under the bonnet (hood) as he lifted the battery and twisted—he suffered an acute low back pain. My three wise uncles advised painkillers, anti-inflammatory medication, and six weeks rest on a wooden door.

This acute phase passed and he was back to work six weeks later. The next time it happened there was no possibility of time off.  I saw him suffer in agonizing pain. I started feeling his back to see what actually hurt and what did not. As a child this lead me to develop a rudimentary sense of palpation and soft tissue.  Then I took my first massage therapy course at age 18 and have studied many modalities since. Interestingly, my father still has not needed the spinal surgery earlier recommended by my uncles and proposed more recently by his physician.

3. What led you to volunteer for service at the NCBTMB?

Through the development of a hospital based program and my own research, I felt strongly that therapists at the hospital should be nationally certified by NCBTMB. I took the exam too, later a newsletter with Cliff Korn on the front page came to our home in Madison, CT and this led me to become a volunteer.

Later, I moved to IL and visited the HQ of AMTA. During that tour, Liz Lucas said “you should become a member of the Association”.  At a similar time I visited the Indiana to present at their state conference and there I learned about volunteerism at the state level. I then discovered the  Illinois Chapter, who welcomed me with open arms, that led to various roles, including the passing of licensure during my Chapter Presidency. The Illinois Chapter encouraged me to meet the National AMTA Board, the first person I met at the meeting Laurel Freeman, encouraged me to run for the AMTA National Board.

A few years passed, and I was invited to be an appointed member of the NCBTMB Board of Directors by Alexa Zaledonis. Her zest for the massage profession and doing what is right was infectious and I was delighted to join the Board.

Today, seeking the Wisdom and the Pioneering Spirit of our founding educators, who turned a trade into a profession, with a solid grounding and deliverables, I volunteer as Chair of the Board. The historical path is inspiring. I volunteer today with Courage of my conviction that there is a rightful place for certification, specialized training, career path options, quality core education and approved providers of continuing education.

4. I know that you have read my most recent blog calling for the other massage organizations to make a concerted effort to get the NCBTMB removed from the statutory language and rules in the states. What is your response to that?

Each person’s opinion has to be respected and without the benefit of a detailed dialogue with you and a fuller grounding of the contextual relationships, I would be giving an inappropriate response. With that said, I can say that I am confused as to why you would call for the removal. Our licensing exams have been in existence for 20 years, have gone through the profession for vetting four times, and are psychometrically sound testing tools. Most of the states accept NCBTMB’s exams as an option for part of their licensing requirements as a tried and true validation of knowledge to enter the profession safely and competently.  What is wrong with giving therapists a choice in exams to take and a pathway to follow? While, admittedly, NCBTMB has not always done everything right, the value and quality of the NCBTMB exams have never been in question.

In regards to the CE Approved Provider Program, we recognized a few years back that we needed to strengthen the program and review it moving forward. Yes, we held meetings and came out with an advanced program that the profession felt was too restrictive and expensive. So, we went back to the drawing board, we talked to specific groups, held conference calls and put the program out for comment before our re-release last month. We totally understand that the profession is concerned about parts of it and we are more than happy to work through these concerns. This is not indicative of an organization that is not listening or is not responding to valid concerns raised. We are trying. We have to do better and we will.

I am deeply saddened to read disparaging remarks for an organization that was and will remain our alma mater, without whose credentials today, we would not have had the ability to re-invent and elevate ourselves as individuals and as a profession. However, I continue to welcome all critiques, and all constructive recommendations, and call on all serious members of our profession and our stakeholders to be part of the dialogue and solution.

5. What, if anything, does the NCBTMB plan to do about offering specialty certifications, and if they are going to do anything, is there a timeline for that happening?

The NCBTMB Sounding Board was surveyed on specialty certificates and the initial responses appear favorable and supportive. I encourage readers to join the Sounding Board as a mechanism to feed views and input directly to NCBTMB. (The Sounding Board is open to all certificants and can be found on the NCBTMB Facebook page). There appears to be an interest to develop specialties beyond the basic Board Certification, such that an individual could be Board Certified with a specialized concentration in for example Oncology, Sports, Orthopedics, Hospice or Mother and Baby.

Our plan was once the Board Certification credential was established we would continue the discussion and development of specialty certifications with the emerging think tank as well as our constituents.

As an educator myself, I see this as a viable tool for NCBTMB to provide massage therapists who want to grow their skills and abilities. 

6. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the NCBTMB?

Maintaining and building the confidence of all stakeholder groups despite damaging and disparaging remarks however true or false they may be. Asking the alumni of NCBTMB like you to help us transform with the changing needs of our profession, and join with us to become a leader ahead of the curve.

7. How many people have actually taken the new Board Certification exam, and how many people have been grandfathered in?

When we adopted the Board Certification credential, we understood that its success could only be judged over a period of years. Current certificants could transition into it at recertification time and do not need to take the exam; new graduates would strive to achieve the credential as they became successful in their careers.

The majority of our Certificants are still Nationally Certified and have the option to transition to Board Certification at their renewal time. Currently of those who meet the new standards approximately 3000 have become Board Certified. New graduates with entry level credentials will not be eligible until they have been in practice for at least six months, so we expect these numbers to rise through better communication, outreach and as therapists become eligible and choose to be certified. 

Since our webinar last week and this week, I have become aware of confusion in the profession regarding transition to Board Certification, as well as Board Certification requirements from licensure. We have to do a better job reaching out and communicating both the value and the requirements. Though, our team is working on a daily basis to assist certificants successfully through the transition process, I would like to take the opportunity to address this with the audience here.

The value of Board Certification:

  • Provides a credential higher than entry level licensure
  • It distinguishes the advanced therapist from an entry level therapist
  • Shows a commitment to the profession and to the consumer
  • The medical profession uses and recognizes the Board Certification credential
  • It creates a career pathway as in other healthcare professions.

Requirements to Transition into Board Certification from National Certification:

750 hours of education

Graduate from an NCBTMB assigned school.

·        Additional hours can be submitted from courses taken in continuing education or accredited college or university

·         250 hours of professional hands on work experience (25 hours will be accepted in volunteer work)

·         Current CPR Certification, copy of current identification, sign to oppose human trafficking, Agree to the NCBTMB Code of Conduct, and agree to a criminal background check

Requirements for those seeking Certification for the first time:

·         Passing the Board Certification exam

·         Submit the above transition requirements after six months in practice



8. Please also address how far back the offer to grandfather people was extended, because I have heard from several massage therapists who let their certification expire years ago that they received an offer to be grandfathered, which definitely minimizes the value of this credential.

Whilst, I am not aware that there ever was a true grandfathering period, we did announce that those who were Nationally Certified would have the opportunity to recertify, or transition, to the new program without taking the new exam. All other criteria would still need to be met. Based on that, the transition time period would end 12/31/2016, since all renewals under the old four year renewal cycle will have concluded.

On a case-by-case basis, those whose certification had expired with NCBTMB in the last year were reviewed once all of their information was submitted. If all other criteria were met they could transition to Board Certification because they did not have the new Board Certification available to them.

Throughout the review process, NCBTMB was sensitive to the following past issues:

1.      In 2013, the grace period was changed to 90 days.  Formerly the grace period was three years after expiration.  Therapists that fell into this category and were not aware of the change, were reviewed and could recertify if they met all requirements.

2.      Experienced massage therapist that were disgruntled with NCBTMB in the past and who allowed their certification to expire, welcomed the new changes and wanted to be reinstated.  These cases also were individually reviewed and, if warranted, they could recertify if they met all requirements.

All reviews that resulted in a successful transition to Board Certification were made in the best interest of the certificants, the profession, the community, and in acknowledgement of past mistakes by NCBTMB.

9. I have long been questioning some of the classes that have been approved for NCBTMB that I and many others feel hurts the credibility of the NCBTMB. There are evidence-based practitioners who will not apply to be a provider because of their embarrassment at being associated with some of the classes that have been approved here. Do you share the sentiment that classes that are based on things that have been scientifically disproven, classes that are based on religion, and classes that are based on products that people just want to sell to the public are inappropriate, and if so, what is the NCBTMB going to do about that and when can we look forward to that happening?

This is a good example of a critique that is thoughtful and constructive. We agree that only qualified Approved Providers should be acceptable and we are actively engaged in ensuring this. My Blog on the website calls for experienced educators to form a think tank and from that I envision a collective wisdom, with recommendations, to emerge. I am delighted that you have agreed to participate in the think tank to address such issues with CE classes.

I can add that classes based on selling products specifically are inappropriate and do not qualify for CE credit. Our current course criteria can be viewed by going to:
It is my vision that, based on the considerations from the think tank, these will be reviewed and recommendations will be forthcoming.

10. This is your opportunity to say whatever you would like to say as the new Chair of the NCBTMB. Is there a message you would like to give?

As I have just taken over as Chair, my first 90 days will be spent taking stock and gathering support of colleagues like you who are passionate about the educational system of our profession and have authored books for educators. I would like to tap into that positive and constructive energy, to build on the foundations of the alumni of all of our constituents to be by my side and develop a think tank to learn from old mistakes and ensure that we develop a progressive and meaningful organization that continues the advancement of the profession.  Internal “navel-gazing” as well “external assistance seeking”, behavioral modification and reaching out to all stakeholders to work with us in a positive dialogue to find our rightful place in the profession are all priorities. These are some vital initial steps.

As it is still only the first month of my position as Chair, my priority is more about “listening” than speaking. I am still learning, evaluating, and I am inviting collaboration. 

Moving forward, we acknowledge that every organization that aims to be effective and strives to pioneer inevitably takes some missteps.  We acknowledge our mistakes and should we ever forget, we can count on you to remind us! That means we count. We have a role, and we matter.  Let’s take that energy and focus forward. I want us to collaborate and move forward together with positive, constructive dialogue. Trust that we are able to—and want to—learn from old mistakes.  I invite you and all other productive and passionate stakeholders to help us.  

Now, to the “listening”…my questions are:

  1. In what form, format, and media would certificants like to receive information regarding Board Certification?
  1. What would Approved Providers like to see as the approval process and how can that be realistically implemented?
  1. As a school owner/administrator how can NCBTMB create strong sustainable relationships, what do you need and want from us?
  1. To the entire community and profession at large what specialty board certifications do you want to attain and how do you see that curriculum or requirements being integrated together, give examples of courses, activities or other professional models?
  1. We have made some mistakes. We have had our ups, we have had our downs. What do we need to do to build support and collaboration of our constituents and professional stakeholder groups?

In conclusion, I’d appreciate constructive strategies and comments.  We will listen carefully.

Finally a quote from my ultimate mentor “……pilot takes off an airplane against the wind, not with it.……….. and the naval aviator lands despite the pitch and roll………

18 Replies to “An Interview with Dr. Leena Guptha, New Chair of the NCBTMB”

  1. Two comments on Dr. Guptha’s responses. First, in regard to how many people have actually taken the Board Certification Exam: I have asked this same question of several people at the NCBTMB and have not gotten a straight answer yet. There are numerous massage schools in the US that have programs of 750 or more hours, including most community colleges that have massage programs. Those people are not depending on continuing ed to make up the 750 hours and since many of them have been in existence for a long time, presumably they have many graduates who would have met the 250 hours of work experience. I am not satisfied with this answer and I want to know how many people have actually taken the exam, which is apparently information they do not want to impart.

    Regarding the grandfathering in of people, two of the massage therapists who contacted me, both of whom I have known personally for years and both of whom hold offices in another national organization, did not contact the NCBTMB wanting to be reinstated. They allowed their certification to lapse 6-7 years ago and they were solicited by the NCBTMB to be grandfathered in, and they declined because they felt it was unethical. I agree.

  2. I find it interesting that of all the potentially wacky courses , Dr. Guptha chose to highlight the following: “I can add that classes based on selling products specifically are inappropriate and do not qualify for CE credit.” How unfortunate and what an antiquated opinion. Therapists need to understand how to ethically retail products. Many companies require therapists to sell products. Also, product sales is a great way to serve your clients and increase your revenue stream.

  3. This could be long. I will try to keep it short.

    Cherie Sohnen-Moe has noted the first problem I see, the evasive answer about cleaning up classes approved for CEs. When I combine this with the new chair being an ND – considered by much of the scientific community to be Dr. of Woo, I am deeply concerned that NCBTMB will continue to drag the field down with fairies, werewolves, and other nonsensical CE credits.

    We note NCB has tried in the past, and failed, to clean up the CEs. This may or may not indicate listening to the masses. It certainly is not being responsive to them.

    Board Certification as described here is a farce. The requirement for fewer hours than some schools already require for graduation, combined with a minimal 250 hours of experience _of unknown quality and diversity_ does not show someone has improved significantly in knowledge or application of knowledge. For all we know, that time was spent with those fairies or other non-reality based practices.

    “Board Certification” must have some legitimate meaning or it is as big a sham as “Nationally Certified” has been. It should not be a broad certification but something offered by modality or related criteria. It must include X additional hours of education and Y hours practice in the area of certification.

    I will end with this: “I am deeply saddened to read disparaging remarks for an organization that was and will remain our alma mater, without whose credentials today, we would not have had the ability to re-invent and elevate ourselves as individuals and as a profession.”

    Whether it is your alma mater or your car, after so many trips to the garage without successful repair, it is time for a trip to the scrap heap. Since the credential and elevation claims are something of a stretch, there have been repeated garage trips, and “Board Certification” already seems to be a joke, this is likely the last chance at repair.

  4. I don’t think Dr. Guptha was referring to massage therapists selling products. Rather she was saying it is not okay to make a CE class around a product, thereby forcing the class attendees to purchase it. Neither is it okay for a product to be pushed within a class. Of course massage therapists are expected to sell products at a lot of venues. However, in this instance, I think you got the wrong end of the stick.

  5. Thank you Laura for publishing this interview, it is great to be able to look beyond the organizations past and see what the future may hold.
    I applaud Dr. Guptha for her courage to take on this role. Our profession is in great need of collaboration to move forward in the healthcare environment. Dr Guptha asks:
    “What do we need to do to build support and collaboration of our constituents and professional stakeholder groups?”
    1. I believe the think tanks are a great start. I am interested in how NCBTMB will determine who participates. I hope they choose a range of professionals as they have with joint task analysis for testing procedures, to provide a global view.
    2. I would like to see transparency, the ability to back decisions with facts.
    3. I would like to see collaboration with AFMTE and COMTA as they continue.
    “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved” Hellen Keller

    I would like to believe NCBTMB has gone through the trial and suffering and has created a strengthened leadership we can inspire to achieve success as a profession.

  6. Ellen is correct. Classes about retailing products are acceptable. What is not acceptable is someone who has created a class based on the product they are selling and requiring participants to buy it. The acceptable protocol is to provide whatever the product is for students to use in the CE class, and IF they want to purchase it after the class that’s their free choice.

  7. Ms Allen, I’d be interested to know why you think it’s unethical to call lapsed members and encourage them to rejoin. Golf clubs do it. Fitness clubs do it. Political parties do it. As a massage therapist I call clients I haven’t seen in a while to encourage them to come in. Why can a national organization not solicit business from past members? What’s wrong with calling lapsed members and encouraging them back into the fold? If they meet the requirements and qualify to be there, I see no ethical issue.

  8. Ellen, the NCBTMB is NOT a membership organization of any kind. It is a certification body. In fact, they had a failed attempt several years ago to turn into a membership organization. People are not “members” of the NCB. They are certificants, and there is a big difference.

    My primary objection is that this is yet another action of them ignoring the very rules that they set in place. On their website, it states that there are two paths to Board Certification. One is to meet all the qualifications and maintain your National Certification, which you then transfer to the new Board Certification. The other is to meet all the qualifications and take the exam.

    Contacting previously expired people to solicit them to take the exam is not a violation of that policy. Contacting previously expired people to offer them the certification without having to take the exam is a violation of that policy. They have in the past had a “grace period” for expired people to be able to reinstate without having to retake the exam, and if memory serves me, it was one or two years, not 6 or 7. Their webpage on recertification makes it clear that people who became Nationally Certified prior to Dec 31, 2012 have until Dec 31, 2016 to make the transition to the Board Certification.

    In the interest of transparency, if they are going to offer to grandfather anyone who has EVER been Nationally Certified into the Board Certification without having to sit for that exam, no matter how long they have been expired, then they should announce that fact to everyone, instead of soliciting a few well-known people.

  9. Laura, is your statement about “Classes about retailing products are acceptable. What is not acceptable is someone who has created a class based on the product they are selling and requiring participants to buy it” further clarification from NCBTMB or your interpretation? I would like to think that NCBTMB clarified what they meant. Even so, this is a prime example of the importance of NCBTMB needing to fully state what is meant — particularly since they know that many people are unhappy with them. I personally (my opinion and not necessarily that of any organization that I belong to) is that we need a certifying body for therapists — particularly those who want to work on the medical world and those that want to demonstrate their advanced abilities.. Granted, this certifying body needs to offer something with meaning and substance, and then they need to promote this to consumers, so that it has value to the therapists.

  10. Laura, thanks for the interview.

    Sadly, the thing is a carcass. Only three thousand people have gone through the hoops in the almost one year board certification has been around. Therapists have voted with their feet.

    I suspect annual renewals during the national certification period were much higher than three thousand. The NCBTMB claims 70,000 certificants (Wikipedia). Looks to me like renewals (transitions) are off by about 80%.

  11. Hey Laura, Thanks for taking the time to have this interview and to share it with al of us. I do not envy Dr. Guptha’s new position, but will certainly offer her the consideration she deserves when taking on such a monumental task. I am still uncertain as to how they are going to go about change when the culture seems to be broken from the inside. However, like a million lawyers at the bottom of the Atlantic, this is a good start. I look forward to hearing more from her, you and others.

  12. With all due respect to the new NCB Chair, it’s not acceptable to rewrite the historical record. When Dr. Gupta claims that “Our licensing exams have been in existence for 20 years…” this is not an accurate statement. NCB has NOT been a provider of “licensing exams” — they created a certification exam in the early 1990’s as the centerpiece of a newly-formed CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. In later years, this exam was also used as a qualifier for state licensure by a number of state boards, simply because it was available and convenient. However, that utilization did not magically transform it from its structure as a certification exam that was designed to meet the requirements of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

    It is only in the past year that NCB has chosen to sunset its original National Certification program, and re-brand its two certification exams as the “National Licensure Exams”. This is subterfuge, and it is compounded by Dr. Gupta’s inference that NCB has been offering “licensure exams” for the past 20 years. FSMTB is the rightful provider of “licensure exams” on behalf of its state board members who rely upon the MBLEx to fulfill their legislative mandate.

    Why won’t NCB’s leadership divulge the *actual* number of therapists who have ponied up the $$ to take the new Board Certification Exam? Because it’s shockingly, and embarrassingly tiny. I heard that it was just a few percent of the 3000-or-so who took the easy “grandfathering” path to the new credential.

    And by the way… NCB is not a college, and it is no one’s “alma mater”. It is a private, non-profit certification agency that has a limited function. I dare say that the massage therapy profession has been hindered more than helped over the past 20 years by the actions of NCBTMB.

  13. This is the exact statement from the NCB website, Cherie:

    Promoting a Product
    Programs specifically designed to promote a product or commodity that must be purchased by the participant for use or resale to the public are not acceptable. If an Approved Provider does have a product or commodity for sale and wishes to share the information with the class it must be done before or after class time and attendance may not be made mandatory, nor may CEs be given for that portion of the day.

    If a participant is required to use a specific devise during a course, the devise must be supplied by the Approved Provider during the duration of the course. Participants may not be required to purchase the devise unless the requirement is posted, clearly prior to the course date.

    NCBTMB does not endorse any particular products or services and the use of the trademarked NCBTMB logo in such a manner as to imply this is strictly prohibited.

  14. Phew!!! And the beat goes on!!
    Too overwhelmed to make the comments I thought of as I read all of this!
    I hope that those with great ideas and intentions can help Dr. Guptha as she seems to sincerely be begging for or call for an end to NCBTMB so all can move on in this industry. I have loved about 27 years of my 29 years of being a licensed massage therapist and instructor but all we hear anymore is bitch bitch bitch. Where is the camaraderie of all coming together for what is right? What do we need to do?
    Laura thank you so much for sharing your interview with Dr. Guptha.

  15. Has NCB given any explanation was to why accredited university classes, which are not NCBTMB Approved Providers, would not count towards certification? Currently all my health science/A&P/Physiology classes from my state university counted towards certification. I was told this would end under the new rules. Excluding state university classes as CE is an incentive for me to not renew my membership.

  16. Thank you Laura for publishing this interview. Actually I have a institute which provide massage therapy and other type of medical education. I think this article would definitely fruitful to my Students and other readers too.
    Thanks again …

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