Politics and Cliques

This week’s blog is about the elections at the upcoming Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards annual meeting in New Orleans on September 27-29. Who gets chosen to serve on the Board of Directors of this organization is important, because FSMTB controls the administration of the MBLEx– the primary licensing exam in our profession, and is in the process of trying to adopt new national standards for continuing education.

These upcoming elections are shaping up to be a joke, and a bad one at that. I reported last week on the bylaw changes that have resulted in handing over all the power that should belong to the Member Boards to a 3-person Nominating Committee, removed the Delegates’ rights to nominate anyone from the floor, took the power of choosing officers out of the hands of the Delegates and put it into the hands of the Board of Directors, and extended the total length of time a Board member can serve to three 3-year terms.

I don’t know who the Nominating Committee has chosen as their “slate” candidates, but I can tell you some of the people they have overlooked. Two of them are sitting members of the FSMTB Board of Directors: Phyllis Salyers of Tennessee and Billie Shea of Nevada. Both are eligible, and as far as I can tell, both are qualified. Shea was in fact just reelected as the Chair of the Nevada State Board of Massage Therapists for the seventh time. Salyers has been off the Tennessee Board of Massage Licensure for about a year, but still acts as a consultant to the Board and under the Bylaws of the FSMTB is still eligible to serve two more terms. Since they were elected the first time, one assumes that they both still possess the skill sets necessary to the job. Since both have been faithful servants to the organization, you have to wonder why they have been passed over for another term.

Another person who didn’t make the cut is Mark Dixon, currently serving as Vice-Chair of the California Massage Therapy Council. Dixon has been a massage therapist for almost 25 years and his list of qualifications and past service to massage organizations would be another whole blog. He is genuine leadership material, yet he was not even granted the courtesy of an interview by the Nominating Committee.

I actually have the biggest issue, not with the candidates, but with the Bylaw change allowing the Board of Directors to serve three 3-year terms. Since Board members can continue to serve after their service to their state massage board is over, this could effectively result in the entire Board of Directors being composed of people who are no longer on their state boards. I don’t think that was the intent of this organization when it was started–and their very name indicates that.

The issue, to me, is that when you are no longer on a state board, you are no longer obligated to follow the agenda of that board, whatever it may be. In fact, as a non-board member, you are in all likelihood not even privy to the goings-on behind closed doors when there is an executive session.  You can have your own little agenda, and that’s what I find disturbing. Due to the various election schedules of the FSMTB Member Boards, I am not suggesting that anyone should be thrown off in the midst of their term, but I think serving out that term is the way to go–and then let another sitting board member have that position.

So, here we have no nominations from the floor; a 3-person committee deciding who is best for the job instead of all the delegates from 42 Member Boards getting to put forth someone they might like to nominate; two sitting members denied another term in spite of their service and qualifications and bylaws that currently allow them to serve; a well-qualified applicant denied; and bylaw changes that are totally contrary to what is in the best interests of the state boards.

Out here in the heartland of the massage therapy profession, we’re counting on our colleagues who do the usually thankless job of representing state boards to do the courageous thing here. I will make another plea for the Delegate Assembly to stand up at the annual meeting, say that this is not acceptable, and to propose amendments to the FSMTB Bylaws that restore an appropriate balance of power and authority.


Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice

I have never before devoted my blog to a book review, but I’m doing that this time, because (other than my own books, of course) I think this is one of the most important books that has been published for our profession. I’m speaking of Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, edited by Trish Dryden, MEd, RMT of Centennial College, Toronto, and Dr. Christopher Moyer, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie. This book was published by Human Kinetics and has only been out for a few months. I got my copy about a month ago, and I’d like to see one in the hands of every massage therapist, every student of massage, and in particular, every massage therapy educator.

The contributors to this book are an impressive group of people. Besides Dryden and Moyer, there are contributions from Janet R. Kahn, PhD, LMT, who has one of the most impressive resumes in the galaxy, culminating in a recent appointment by President Obama as a Member, Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health; Diana Thompson, LMP, former President of the Massage Therapy Foundation; Bodhi Haraldsson, RMT, Research Director at the Massage Therapists Association of British Columbia; Albert Moraska, Assistant Professor of Research at the University of Colorado at Denver, and a couple of dozen other highly-educated people with an interest in the evidence-supported practice of massage therapy.

The layperson sometimes panics at the word “research.” People get the erroneous idea that they can’t read, much less conduct, a research project unless they have a doctorate in elementary statistics. Although this book introduces some complicated (at least to me) concepts, they’re broken down into plain enough language that anyone can understand.

The explanations of qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as mixed methods of research, has enlightened me. I don’t mind saying that while I have supported the Massage Therapy Foundation to the best of my ability, and been a vocal proponent of the evidence-informed practice of massage for the past few years, I realize after reading this book just how in the dark I’ve been about the particulars of what actually constitutes valid research.

The main purpose of the book is to introduce massage therapists to the various concepts of research, and how to apply that information to your every-day practice of massage.  There is a whole section, Populations and Conditions, that contains chapters on working with pediatric clients, pregnant clients, athletes, geriatric clients, and adults with a history of sexual trauma. The conditions that are covered include back pain, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, and anxiety and depression–the things that we are all confronted with on a regular basis.

Ruth Werner, current President of the Massage Therapy Foundation, contributed the Foreword to the book. She states the five crucial things that this book addresses:

1. It makes the compelling case that research literacy is a necessary skill even among entry-level massage therapists.

2. It introduces key concepts in a way that is both simple and accurate. Werner states that “As a teacher of a complex topic, I know how often the tipping point between simplicity and accuracy is narrow indeed.”

3. It emphasizes the application of research by giving clear examples of tying published findings to everyday practice scenarios.

4. By emphasizing the practical application of research findings, it acknowledge the importance of the feedback loop that must exist between clinicians and researchers.

5. It lays the groundwork for its own future development as the mass of evidence about massage therapy continues to grow.

Every time a client comes out of the treatment room and says “I feel better,” yes; that’s evidence. However, resting on those kinds of laurels is a big mistake, in my opinion. There are many massage therapists (other than myself and the contributors to this book) who want to see massage therapy gain the respect we think it deserves. The way to do that is research, research, research, and more research.

We don’t all have to BE researchers. We DO all need to know where to find it and how to make heads or tails out of it. Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice, is the only book that I am familiar with that explains it so that those of us who are not scientists can understand it. I urge you to get this book. And as I mentioned earlier how important I think this is for massage therapy educators, let me go a step further and say that if you are teaching in a school that does not address the need for research literacy, then you be the change in that. It is doing students–not to mention the massage-seeking public–a huge disservice to ignore the subject.

While I’m on the topic, The Massage Therapy Foundation has a free toolbar you can download from their website to keep in touch with the latest research developments. Research costs money. I encourage you to donate to the Foundation in whatever amount you can afford to give. Every dollar helps.

Report from the World Massage Festival

I just returned from attending the World Massage Festival in Las Vegas, and what a blast! I’ve been attending this annual event for several years, and this was the best one yet. My husband, Champ, accompanied me, and we really had a fabulous time. This event is like a family reunion every year, so I really enjoyed seeing so many people I know and don’t get to see often. The Festival was held at the Tuscany Casino and Hotel, which turned out to be a wonderful place…I think my suite was as big as my house.

We arrived on Sunday and I spent the afternoon helping out at the registration desk with our fearless ringleader, Cindy Michaels. Cindy is Mike Hinkle’s better half; Mike cooks up all kinds of great ideas and Cindy puts them into action.  Jenny Ray and Janelle Lakman, the Sacred Stone Medicine ladies, were also working registration so we all had a big time visiting in between. Sunday night was the Hall of Fame ceremony, emceed by Judi Calvert, and it was very enjoyable. This year’s honorees are Cindy Ballis, Karina Braun, Eric Brown, James Charlesworth, Scott Dartnall, Robin Fann, Irene Gauthier, Sally Hacking, Ryan Hoyme, Andrea Kelly, David Kent, Mark Lamm, Paul Lewis, Rena Margulis, Karen Menehan, Angie Patrick, Donald Peterson, Sharon Puszko, Art Riggs, George Skaroulis, Kevin Snedden, Cherie Sohnen0Moe, Les Sweeney, and Ruth Werner.

Monday morning, I was honored to participate in a Student Day panel with Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, David Kent, Joe Bob Smith, James Waslaski, David Otto, Ryan Hoyme, Michael McGillicuddy, and Angie Patrick. I hope I didn’t forget anyone! The students were so appreciative; all got a goody bag, there were lots of door prizes, and one lucky soul got a starter kit–massage table, massage chair, rolling stool, bolster, sheets, and all kinds of products.

Monday afternoon, I taught my Educated Heart ethics class, which was well-attended by a great bunch of therapists. Champ and I had dinner with Lynda Solien-Wolfe and Joe Bob Smith and we had a great time.

Most of the day Tuesday, I spent in the exhibit hall. I worked a little in the Sweet Serenity booth–speaking of which–I was determined to win the fabulous quilt so I bought 30 tickets. All the proceeds went to the Shriner’s Burn Center and over $1200 was raised, last time I got the count. Ryan Hoyme and I did a book signing of our new Manual for Massage Therapy Educators. I woke up with a crick in my neck, and James Waslaski and Bruce Baltz both worked on me. We had lunch with Bruce and Ryan and Yvette Hoyme. Tuesday night was the awards ceremony. David Kent was the keynote speaker and he did a fabulous job. David is an emotional speaker. Enid Whittaker jumped up on a massage table and did a Bonnie Prudden warmup and she was great! Vivian Madison-Mahoney received the Legislative Award. ABMP was honored as the Association of the Year (again!). The wonderful Michael McGillicuddy was named Teacher of the Year. I was personally surprised with receiving the Distinguished Service Award. After getting home at 1:30 this morning, I am going blank on the rest of the winners, but I’ll be sure to announce them on FB as my memory returns!

By Tuesday night I was feeling slightly under the weather. I slept in Wednesday morning, and Champ attended James Waslaski’s Pelvic class in my stead. He loved it. I ended up having a late breakfast with Judi Calvert, owner of Hands On Trade Association and the premier massage historian of the world. At noon, when all the classes broke for lunch, the drawings took place. One lucky winner received an Office Makeover package worth over $11,000–and I did indeed win the quilt! I was thrilled to death!

I would have to say that the highlight of my trip this year was meeting Mark Lamm of Bio Sync, and his beautiful wife Leah. Mark has been my FB buddy for several years, and I was shocked to find out that he is 84 years old. He looks at least 20 years younger than that and is just one of the most vibrant people on the planet. He did some work on my aching shoulder and it was amazing. HE is amazing. Leah and I snuck out to the restaurant for a little while and I felt as if I’d known her my whole life. They are both just beautiful people. Mark is committed to teaching at the Festival in 2015. I’ll be there!

Other highlights, and there are just too many to name, but I was glad to see my buds Scott Dartnall, Eric Brown, Christopher and Xerlan Deery, catch up with Lori Ohlman of the NCBTMB, Dari Lewis, Stephanie Beck, the totally awesome Judith Aston, and all the other folks I only get to see once or twice a year. The vendor hall was jumping this year…I got a few goodies myself! I also met a few of my FB buds: Andrea Lipomi, Bert Davich, Rob Flammia and saw some of my NC peeps, too, like Jake Flatt.

Wednesday night, I attended the Board meeting of the Massage Therapy Alliance of America. I’m not on the Board; I just take care of their website, but I love this group of dedicated people. They are stewards of the Hall of Fame and advocates for the rights of massage therapists. Then we had a late dinner with Mike and Cindy, Darcy Neibur and her husband Dennis, and Mike Hinkle’s parents, who are always helping at the Festival.

The World Massage Festival is come as you are. Leave your suit and tie behind and be casual. The instructors and class offerings are top notch, the price is as low as they can possibly keep it, and the atmosphere is all about family and friends. The 2013 Festival is being held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. I will definitely be there!

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.


Reactionary Redneck Takes Over

I allowed my Reactionary Redneck to take over yesterday when I called out a massage therapist publicly for behaving badly on my blog. If you’re a regular reader, you may know of whom I speak. I’ve always been against censorship, but I’ve now stooped to that level; I’ve deleted the comments, which I had unfortunately allowed to go on for too long, and warned the person that future comments would be deleted. I also stooped to his level by talking about him on FB. I’ve deleted the thread, but it got a lot of comments (all supportive) before I took it down.

My Reactionary Redneck pops out occasionally…well, okay, regularly. I just don’t always put it in print. Sometimes I yell at the actual person I’m mad at. Or I at least call them up or send them an e-mail to voice my opinion. Sometimes I just sit here with smoke boiling out of my ears and don’t unload to anyone except my husband and the dog. Massage is one of those subjects I’m passionate about–and as my livelihood depends on it, the one most likely to spur a Redneck Reaction.

When I am writing about the politics of massage, I am frequently in the throes of a Redneck Reaction, but I try to channel that into constructive journalism. It’s sometimes a struggle to just report the news and offer an intelligent, balanced opinion on it when what I’d really prefer to say is “WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? HOW CAN THEY THINK THIS IS EXCUSABLE? WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO PULL? THEY MUST BE STOPPED! WHAT A BUNCH OF MORONS!”  My evil twin is cussing like a sailor, while my professional self is trying to write a professional, well-thought out, balanced piece of commentary. That’s what I strive for, anyway. Occasionally I fall short of the mark.

I don’t delete comments just because people disagree with me. I’ve been disagreed with by some of the most brilliant minds in this business. Most of the time we agree to disagree, and do it in a civil fashion. Sometimes, one of us comes around to the other person’s point of view. Occasionally, my Reactionary Redneck takes over. Yesterday was one of those times. A colleague called me out and pointed out that I was stooping to this person’s level, and I was. I hate it when that happens. None of us like to hear that. We tend to want to make excuses, and defend ourselves. It’s human nature.

I’m putting my Reactionary Redneck back in the closet, and she’ll come out another day. I can guarantee it.


Report from the FSMTA Meeting

Champ and I spent the weekend at the Florida State Massage Therapy Association meeting in ChampionsGate, FL. It was our first time attending this event, and we went there to work in the Soothing Touch booth with Gurukirn Khalsa and his family. The event was  held at the beautiful Omni Resort…a lush tropical setting and superior accommodations. It was hot as the devil–but it got up to 108 ° back here at home in NC while we were there, so I really can’t complain about it. The FSMTA meeting is huge. The organization has over 5000 members, and they had a great turnout.

In addition to working, we had plenty of socializing with friends old and new. I spent over an hour in conversation with Mike Williams, Executive Director of the NCBTMB and our interview will be appearing soon in a future blog. Our booth was right across from the NCBTMB booth so I spent a good bit of time chatting with Lori Ohlman and Donna Sarvello, and later Sue Toscano and Alexa Zaledonis. You may say whatever you like about the NCBTMB–it is staffed by great, dedicated people. Bruce Baltz of Bon Vital is also on the NCBTMB Board, and he gave me a great foot massage.

I spent some time with The Massage Nerd doing a few videos–I suspect they’ll be rolled out soon. Ryan Hoyme stayed busy doing videos for everyone present that wanted one. Since I was actually working, I had short visits with a lot of people instead of longer visits with a few people! Ruth Werner was there with her daughter Lily, as were Leslie Young Giase of Massage & Bodywork Magazine/ABMP and Paul Slomski, representing  the Massage Therapy Foundation. Pete Whitridge, Cherie Sohnen-Moe, and Iris Burman were there for the AFMTE; Kate Ivane Henri Zulaski and Cliff Korn were there for COMTA, and the FSMTB was represented…this is a big meeting, so all the major organizations were in attendance. Massage Today and Massage Magazine folks were there, too. Vivian Madison-Mahoney and her husband John, Leslie Lopez, Pat Donahue and her hubby Joe, Angie Patrick, Scott Dartnall, James Waslaski, Karen Kowal, David Kent, Anita Shannon, Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Michael McGillicuddy….too many people to name but it was like a reunion of some of the nicest and most dedicated people in massage, even when I only got to see them for a minute.

Champ and I attended the FB Meet and Greet…I always meet a few of my FB friends at those events, and it’s turned into such a popular thing that all the major conventions now have one.

Speaking of major conventions, the one glitch was the same that I have noticed at other conventions, and that’s vendors getting upset with the schedule and/or location. I’m not picking on FSMTA here, because something similar seems to happen wherever we go. The particular issue this time was that the vendor hall was slam full of people Thursday evening at 5 pm, and they shut down the vendors so the association could have a 2 hour business meeting. At other organization meetings I have attended, the hall was either so far removed from the mainstream that people practically had to walk a mile to get there, or the hours coincided with the times people are in class and not much over or above that. I encourage EVERY group who organizes a massage event, whether it’s small or large, to give these people a break! Booth space is usually expensive, especially at major events, and these folks go to a lot of expense and trouble to support your events. You need to support them. I’ve heard the suggestion several times that registration should be held IN the vendor hall so that attendees had to walk through it to register, and that’s not a bad idea. As I said, I’m not picking on FL. It is a problem at many places.

The FSMTA has been around since 1939 and has 15 chapters throughout the state. That’s a pretty big accomplishment. I was pleased to meet so many of their members. I had a great time at their meeting and plan to attend again.

The ELAP Flap Continues

Earlier this week I received the ELAP (Entry-Level Analysis Project) Description from ABMP. I’ve been blogging about this for several weeks, first because I was upset that it was shrouded in secrecy; then last week because I finally got word of who is serving on this work group. While that information didn’t exactly smooth my ruffled feathers, I was gratified to see that I know some of the people working on it and know that they do the best job they can at whatever tasks they take on. And the document has changed quite a bit from the first proposal I saw, which I had numerous objections to (see previous blogs under this one). That being said, I’m still not thrilled with it.

I feel that there are some big pieces missing here, and that the profession would be better served by pointing resources in a different direction. To begin with, the document makes the point that how regulatory agencies arrived at the 500-hour minimum that has been a benchmark of entry-level education is unknown…that’s true, but it’s also unknown of how states with more hours arrived at those requirements. One thing that’s mentioned is the influence of federal financial aid, which presumably has led some schools  to offer more hours (or states to require them). As is the case with a lot of things, following the money trail often gives insight into real motivation.

Personally, I don’t think financial aid, or the lack of it, should be influencing this project at all. As a former school administrator, I’ve been involved in the financial aid process first-hand in the past. Whenever a recession and massive job layoffs happen, as they have here in my home state for the past three years or so, there’s a phenomenon that occurs. There’s an influx of displaced workers into the community college system, where financial aid is a given, and I’ve been told by students who had never even considered massage as a career that “the job counselor said I could get my schooling paid for if I would study massage.” That’s just not the reason I want to see people coming into the profession.

I feel there are some other tasks that need to be completed before anything like this is undertaken. The ELAP description states only two goals, one of which is to assess how many program hours are needed to attain this KSA (knowledge, skills, and abilities) goal, assuming capable instruction.

That’s a major issue, in my opinion—because you can’t and shouldn’t assume capable instruction. The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education is working on a National Teacher Education Standards Project to define the KSAs needed by teachers, both entry-level and more experienced/advanced. There is also a line-by-line review of the MTBOK going on. To charge headlong into the ELAP before these two initiatives are complete seems like putting the cart before the horse.  In all fairness, I am glad to see our organizations collaborating instead of refusing to play nice, but I would prefer to see them applying their resources to the National Teacher Education Standards project. The ELAP claims to be addressing what it takes to make a therapist able to practice competently. The fact is if the teachers aren’t competent in a 500-hour program, they’re not going to be any more competent in a 750-hour program until they are educated. We need educators who are competent enough to teach competencies, not just stand in front of a classroom for a longer number of hours.

Part of the rationale for this entire undertaking is the perceived  lack of competence of entry-level therapists. While the FSMTB is about to launch a new Job Task Analysis Survey, and the NCBTMB recently did the same, we ought to bear in mind what it is that a JTA shows. They tend to be snapshots of a day in the life of a massage therapist: see the clients, do the laundry, keep up the paperwork. If the perception is that therapists are not doing what they need to do in order to keep the public safe and practice competently, is asking them what they do all day really effective for this purpose? I don’t think it is. As one of the comments on last week’s blog said, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” There will be also be an accompanying survey within the JTA survey, intended to eliminate the “experience bias” present in these types of surveys, but I think that’s a tricky proposition. The return rate on these surveys tend to be very small–and usually answered by the minority of us who actually give a rip about the state of things. JTA surveys tend to be long and somewhat boring and it’s a very small percentage of people who will even fill them out to begin with.

Reportedly, the ELAP project was conceived to help address the problem of portability of massage between the states. One of the statements reads in part “we need to identify the key KSAs required to pass a national licensing exam and provide competent, safe massage in an early massage career.”

Right there is another problem. While the FSMTB would like to see every state exclusively using the MBLEx, it hasn’t yet happened. Since the NCBTMB is increasing the requirements for National Certification, leaving them with only the NESL options for entry-level exams in the states that accept those, the MBLEx will undoubtedly become exclusive in some places, but New York is not going to throw over their exam for the MBLEx, in my opinion. There is no such thing as national licensing, and there is never going to be. National licensing doesn’t exist in any profession I am aware of. If you’re a doctor, you still have to get licensed in each state in which you want to practice. While portability is a pain in the butt for massage therapists, it has never been shown to be harmful to the public or to the profession on the whole. Inconvenient, yes; but harmful, no.

The FSMTB is also working on the Model Practice Act, as mentioned in the ELAP description. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a waste of time, I don’t expect any influx of the regulated states lining up to change their existing practice acts to whatever the FSMTB comes up with. I’m sure it will be a helpful guideline for the unregulated states if and when they decide to join the fold, but it will be interesting to see how that document ends up harmonizing with the ELAP. Since the MBLEx has been an exam that uses the 500-hour threshold (and in fact, you can take that exam at any point during your education, prior to graduation), if this project somehow demonstrates that more hours are needed, is the FSMTB going to jack up the requirement to sit for the MBLEx? The Model Practice Act project was also undertaken prior to the ELAP project starting up, and while I haven’t seen a draft and don’t know what it includes, my prior knowledge of state practice acts demonstrates that those generally spell out required education and the breakdown of those hours, so presumably the ELAP would affect the Model Practice Act project as well.

Another part of the hoped-for result of this project is to cut down on the number of lawsuits and ethics complaints against entry-level massage therapists. Personally, I believe someone who is going to act unethically is going to do it regardless of how much education they have. When it comes right down to it, the injuries resulting from massage are a tiny fraction of what they are in other health-care related fields. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but on the whole it’s relatively insignificant when compared to the number of practitioners.

Lest anyone think I am against raising the standards of the profession on general principles, that’s not so. I don’t own a school, and I’m already licensed, so it’s not like this is going to inconvenience me personally. In fact, a few years ago when I was on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, we looked at raising the hour requirement here (currently it’s 500 hours). Like any good organizational beaurocracy, the result of that was to appoint a committee to study the situation. The research they conducted was to ascertain whether or not students from schools with higher number of hours had a better pass rate on the exams than students from 500-hour schools. The answer to that was a big fat “no.”

I’m not sure how much money is being spent on this project; the first proposal I saw mentioned between $60-70,000 to be shared as an expense between the organizations. I urge, or rather, challenge, all of these organizations to pour an equal amount of money into the AFMTE Teacher Standards project. Improving the KSAs of entry-level educators—many of whom tend to be last year’s star students, who may be talented at massage but without a whit of experience and training in teaching methodology—will improve the KSAs of the students, the entry-level practitioners. That should be the important first step—the key word there being first. Don’t try to build a house without a good foundation. It’s a waste of time and money, and ultimately, it doesn’t work.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I started to take the day off from doing my usual Sunday blogging…it is, after all, Christmas, and no one expects me to work on Christmas, do they? I don’t really consider it work–maybe because I don’t get paid for it 🙂 and anyway, it’s therapeutic.  I need a little therapy today. This blog isn’t about massage, so consider yourself warned.

Each year when Christmas draws near, I find myself remembering a lot of Christmases past. Some of those memories are sweet, and some are upsetting. When I was younger, my favorite thing at Christmas was the gathering of the clan at my grandparent’s house. All the aunts and uncles and cousins gathered. The cousins and I played music, we had turkey and  ham and all kinds of good country cooking. Now that my grandparents are gone–and some of the aunts and uncles are too–the whole family doesn’t come together like that anymore, and it’s kind of sad. We still see each other, but we’re never all in the same place at the same time anymore like we were back in those days.

As an adult, another tradition developed. My best friend and I spent time together on Christmas Eve for about 18 years. She was suffering from clinical depression, and some other emotional problems. Suddenly one year before Christmas, she sent me a letter saying she didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore, that she just wanted to be alone.  I responded with a letter about her depression being the cause and begging her to get some help, and she got mad at me and stopped speaking to me. For the next decade or so,  until she died, I would send her a card every year telling her how much my memories of spending Christmas Eve with her meant to me, and she never responded. It was a hurtful thing, but I know that her illness was behind it, and I just had to not take it personally.

I have childhood memories of some favorite Christmas gifts. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I got a small white grand piano. That was my first musical instrument and I loved that piano. A neighbor child who was playing at our house broke it and I was crushed. Fast forward a couple of years, and my stepdad’s parents gifted me with a real piano. That was the real beginning of my lifelong love of music. When I was nine, my mother got me my first guitar with Green Stamps. In case you’re not old enough to know what Green Stamps are, they were stamps that were given out at the grocery stores. You had to collect them by pasting them in little booklets, and they had a catalog of gifts you could get by collecting so many of them. I know there’s a picture of that somewhere, and I’d like to find it. That same year, my oldest brother played a trick on me by giving me a Christmas present that was in a huge box that a television came in. On the inside was layer after layer of newspaper wrapped around something. It turned out to be a bottle of Scope mouthwash. I could have choked him. I was all excited thinking I was getting a television for my bedroom.

Yesterday on Christmas Eve, one of my closest cousins died unexpectedly. He had taken ill, went to the hospital and was in ICU for several days, improved and got moved to a regular room, and then he suddenly took a turn for the worse and had a massive hemorrhage. They couldn’t save him. He was one of my musical cousins and there’s no telling how many times we have sang and played together. I always hate it for the family’s sake when someone passes on a holiday…it leaves an association that will always be there, that Jeff died on Christmas Eve. I visited him in the hospital one night last week and I’m glad I got to see him one last time.

Christmas has been a trying time for me for the past few years. I have some family members who are on the outs with each other, so someone is always missing from the family meals and festivities. I really hate the fact that everyone can’t just practice forgiveness and compassion and just put it aside and come together. I keep hoping and praying that some day it will all work out.

This morning, Champ and I are headed off to brunch at my niece’s home. We’ll see what Santa brought the wee ones for Christmas, my mother will make mimosas, and we’ll visit for a few hours.

Family and friends are the most important thing in the world. There is nothing on the shelf in any store that can compare to it. Today I remember those Christmases past, and those family members and friends who are gone. Tell the people you love how important they are to you. I hope you have many blessings today and every day. Peace on Earth.

Report from the FSMTB Meeting

I spent this past weekend in Los Angeles at the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting. It was a great gathering of regulatory board members from all over the US and Puerto Rico. As my own term as a NC Board member ended in June, I was there as an observer, not as a delegate this time.

The main purpose of this meeting is for board representatives to come together to discuss common challenges and hopefully, find solutions. One of the bigger issues this year was lack of funding for boards, and in fact, the Federation has given grants to a half-dozen boards so they can maintain their membership…no small contribution, since there is usually a flat annual fee as well as a per licensee cost to join or maintain membership.

Another hot topic was human trafficking. The National Certification Board started addressing this issue some time ago, to mixed reception. Some people don’t seem to realize that it is indeed a problem, and those that do realize it don’t always approve of the way their states are handling the issue. No one wants to see a big sign about human trafficking outside their massage business, and who can blame them? The primary problem seems to lie with Asian spas.  It’s doubly sad for these people, because they are brought to America with the promise of making money, charged a big fee for their transport and “sponsorship” and then virtually enslaved when they arrive.

Of course the issue of portability for licensing was a focus. At one point during the meeting, Executive Director Debra Persinger posed the question “Who thinks portability is a myth?” I was one of three people in the room to raise my hand. While it’s something I would love to see, I don’t expect it to happen in my lifetime. The states with higher standards are not going to dumb it down for the rest, in my opinion. The MBLEx may eventually be universally accepted among all the member states, but as long as education requirements vary from state to state, total portability is not going to happen.

The Federation is also working on a Model Practice Act. While I won’t go so far as to say it’s an exercise in futility, I don’t expect any state to throw over the practice act they already have in place in order to adopt the one the FSMTB comes up with. What I do expect to happen is that those states that currently have no regulation may adopt it, and any time a state is revising their current act, they may take bits and pieces from it, if it serves their purpose.

The FSMTB has also announced their intent to get into the business of approving continuing education. So far, that’s still in the planning phase. Nothing real to report on that front.

Elections were also held at the meeting. Current President Kevin Snedden reached the end of his term. Kevin has served the Federation well and has been a Board member for the past six years. I’m sorry to see him go, but equally glad to see Kathy Jensen of Iowa step into the role. I have no doubts that she’ll do a great job. Dennis Beye from Arizona is the new Vice President, and Jaime Huffman of North Carolina is the new Treasurer.

Along with the business, there was time for a little socializing. An opening night reception was well-attended, as was the Saturday night dinner that included a great jazz band. I also took a little trip organized by Chris Sluss…13 of us took a limo ride through LA to Venice Beach, Santa Monica, and we got out and hung out for a couple of hours on Hollywood Blvd. The Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club in Redondo Beach, where the meeting was held, was a beautiful place, nice without being ostentatious and a colony of sea lions was right outside my door. They were so loud the hotel provides everyone with a pair of ear plugs.

Any time people come together for the purpose of solving common problems, it’s a good thing. I’ve always thought the Federation is a good thing. If they ever do pull off total portability or total reciprocity, I’ll be happy to say I was wrong, and congratulate them for doing so.

Where I Come From

I was at the annual reunion of my mother’s family today. Any Sunday afternoon in the South, when you drive by a church fellowship hall or community clubhouse and you see cars in the parking lot, you can almost take it to the bank that a family reunion is going on. Just stop on in. The chances are really good that you’ll be welcomed and well-fed. There aren’t any strangers around here, just friends we haven’t met yet.

I see that note going around Facebook all the time, that you’re proud to be from the South where the tea is sweet, the people still say yes ma’am, no ma’am, thank you very much, and y’all come back. That’s where I come from.

I am proud of where I came from, and I think it has had a big influence on my life, and my work ethic. My mother was raised in dirt-poor Appalachian poverty. Her parents were sharecropping farmers, and the nicest and most generous people I ever met. If they were down to their last two biscuits, they’d give you one. They worked from sunup to sundown. They didn’t have anything, but they were rich in spirit. I think it’s a testimony that when my grandpa died, over 1300 people signed the guest book at his funeral. Imagine that…1300 people coming to mourn a sharecropping farmer.

Most days, I work from sunup to sundown…not because I have to in order to survive, the way my grandparents did, but because I’m a workaholic. I feel driven. I feel like I’m 52 years old, there’s still a lot of stuff I want to accomplish, and “daylight’s burning,” as my Granny would say.

Regardless of that, I have it so easy compared to the life they led. 12 hours at my desk can’t compare to 12 hours of plowing the field with a mule, milking the cows, growing and preserving all their own food, cooking three meals a day on a woodstove, washing clothes in a big cast iron wash pot over a fire out in the yard, drawing water from the well. I remember all those things. I plainly remember the day they got indoor plumbing in their house.

All I have to do is show up at the office, spend most of the day writing and filing, and do a few loads of laundry in my nice automatic machine. They never owned a car, and regularly walked the ten miles from their house to town and back . I jump in my car and go and cuss if there’s a traffic jam.

I’ve had a privileged life compared to what my mother had. She’s 72, and still working. She has retired three times and just can’t sit around. Like her parents before her, when she sees someone who needs help, she doesn’t wait to be asked. She just jumps in.

When I die, I don’t care about having my accomplishments listed. The people who matter to me already know about them. I hope my shortcomings aren’t listed, either; the people who matter to me already know about those, too. I’d just like to go out known as someone who tried to help people along their way. That’s where I come from.