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.


Taking the Long Way Home

It’s been over two weeks since my last blog post. I’m usually more prolific, but sometimes the rest of my life has to take precedence over my blog. I’ve been on the road a lot the last two weeks, and when I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to catch up…I don’t know that I can ever really catch up. I can be like that Energizer bunny for long periods of time, and then eventually, I’m going to crash. This has been one of those times.

I attended the meeting of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy yesterday. I’m a member of that Board, and it was a 10-hour meeting, somewhat emotional for me…and it dragged on until 8 pm last night. This morning at 9, I was back at the Board office bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a License Standards Committee meeting. Thank goodness, that one only lasted three hours. I walked out into the sunshine, retrieved my car from the parking garage, and headed west on 1-40.

As is usually the case in the Triangle, traffic was crazy. People are either going 90 miles an hour–no joke–and even if you are, somebody will be on your rear-end acting like you should go faster in order to get out of their way–or it’s at a standstill due to some wreck or construction or both. After going about 20 miles, I decided to take the long way home. I hit the Lake Jordan exit and in just a couple of minutes I was on a country road, passing rolling farmland, fruit stands with pumpkins displayed, rolled hay in the fields ready to be put up. I rolled down the window and took a few deep breaths. I crossed the lake, not a boat in sight. When I made it to the Uwharrie National Forest, I pulled over for a few minutes and got out of the car. I wasn’t dressed for hiking, but it was tempting just to disappear into the woods.

This has been a busy month for me personally, and I’ve been remiss in not reporting some of the things that have gone on in the massage world. Here’s a short recap:

For the first time in history, AMTA decided to let candidates for the election have more access to the members than the short statements that have traditionally been the only thing they were allowed to have. Most of them have a Facebook page…one caveat is that they all have a disclaimer that the candidate has the right to remove statements from their wall if they are deemed inappropriate, and apparently a few of them think that means anything negative. I’ve heard some complaints from members who asked a question or made a comment and got deleted. There wasn’t any profanity, racial slurs, or anything else inappropriate, just a question or two that warranted an honest answer that the candidate wasn’t apparently ready to answer. Still, it’s a good thing that they’re interacting with people and having more of a chance to let the membership get to know them before the vote, which starts next month. I have a blog on my picks for the seats.

The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards held their annual meeting in San Juan, PR. I didn’t attend that meeting this year but apparently it was busy and productive. Kevin Snedden (MO), Kathy Jensen (IO), Susan Beam (NC), and Phyliss Salyers (TN) were all reelected to BOD seats. Scott Miller declined to serve another term, and his seat went to Billie Shea of NV. The good news of the meeting was that the start-up loan was paid off in full 27 months early.

I received a lot of emails this month from therapists in NY complaining about new CE requirements; most weren’t complaining about the prospect of learning something new, just the cost. I got a lot of “what can we do about this?” -type questions, and the short answer is, nothing. Action has to be taken before something becomes a law, not after the fact.

I have also heard from some folks in PA, where regulation is brand-new and in fact is still in process. It is expected that the initial rules will be finalized in December. Applications are already available on their website. Apparently the OT board, the PT board, and the insurance commission are objecting to the terminology “therapeutic massage” being used in the Practice Act. I hope that objection doesn’t go anywhere, and I urge PA therapists to contact your legislators and stand up for yourself. We all know that massage is therapeutic and I don’t believe in standing idly by while a turf war goes on. Why wouldn’t they want the word “therapeutic” used in conjunction with massage? Maybe the insurance commission is afraid they might have to pay for a massage if it’s deemed to be therapeutic, God forbid. Do not sit on your hands.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork elections are open until Nov 1. I have a blog about my picks for the seats. This is a crucial time for the NCBTMB. Alex Zaledonis will be stepping into the Chair on January 1. The N-CAP, the new advanced certification exam, is in progress and will be the beginning of a new era for the NCB. It’s vitally important for certificants to vote.

We should never forget that in any people-driven organization, no matter which one it is, that one or two egomaniacs can manage to get themselves at the top and cause a lot of damage. Whether you are a certificant of the NCBTMB, a member of AMTA, a member of your state board, or any other membership organization, you have a right, and I would go so far as to say a responsibility, to take part in the election process. When detrimental legislation is on the horizon, and you don’t take any action, I think we’ve all seen what happens when complacency and disinterest set in.

I’m sure there’s a lot more going on that I just haven’t caught up with yet. In the past month, in addition to attending the AMTA national convention, meeting my family at the Outer Banks two days later for our annual reunion which this year included a monsoon the whole time, coming home from that and attending another family reunion the very next day, hosting my dear friends from Ireland, going to Atlanta to teach a class one day and Charlotte to teach the next, proofing the galleys for my new book, running my office, running my household, making time for dates with my husband, teaching at my own facility, trying to get next year’s CE schedule set, attending the board meeting and the committee meeting, and trying to squeeze time for playing a little music in between, sometimes it just catches up with me instead of me catching up with it. Sometimes, it’s just time to take the long way home.

AMTA-MA Chapter Sets the Bar High

This past weekend I was fortunate to be invited to teach at the 50th anniversary celebration of the MA Chapter of AMTA. Let me tell you, these people know how to throw a party!

To begin with, in honor of hitting the 50-year mark, the members got to attend this magnanimous occasion for the paltry sum of 50 bucks–and that included their education and meals. The food and service at the Crowne Plaza in Worcester was excellent. The folks in this chapter are excellent.

The Chapter made a $10,000 donation to the Massage Therapy Foundation. MTF President Ruth Werner and IPP Diana Thompson were both in attendance and said it was the biggest chapter donation in the history of the organization. They also raised another $800 by raffling off a quilt made by Ruth Werner, that was matched by the NCBTMB for a total of $1600, that was also donated to the MTF.

The vendors were great, lots of giveaways, and Massage Today and Massage Warehouse went a little crazy giving away all kinds of goodies, including a massage table and several chairs.

The NCBTMB was one of the sponsors of the event and I spent time with their CEO, Paul Lindamood and the Director of Exam Development, Elizabeth Langston chatting about the forthcoming Advanced Certification Exam. Even the BOD Chair, Neal Delaporta, was very gracious to me, which is nice since I’ve been quite nasty to him in my blog over the years.

I shared a shuttle to the airport with Diana Thompson. She’s not old enough for me to refer to her as one of the grandmothers of massage, but I found out massage has been her one and only career since the age of 19. After rising to the position of leading the Massage Therapy Foundation, and is now the IPP, she still does 10-15 massages every week. I think that’s amazing.

Mary White, Richard Wedegartner, Allissa Haines, Lisa Curran Parenteau, Sister Pat and all the rest of the chapter members bent over backwards to make me feel welcome. The people who attended my classes in Using Research to Market Your Practice were great.

The theme of this gathering was promoting research in massage therapy, and I don’t think it could have been any better. I also enjoyed seeing so many friends and FB friends–met quite a few people who have been on my FB page and that’s always fun. I also had dinner with Chris Alvarado and Angie Palmier, who were there teaching “Research Rocks.”

I encourage every AMTA chapter in the world to shamelessly steal this theme for an upcoming meeting. We need to educate therapists about research so they can go out and educate the rest of the world.

Thanks so much to the fine massage therapists of MA!

Laura Allen

The NCBTMB: Time to Back up and Punt

This past weekend, ABMP convened the 14th annual School Issues Forum in Alexandria, VA. I was teaching at the NC Chapter of AMTA‘s Spring Conference and couldn’t attend, and apparently, I missed a little firestorm by not being there.

Neal Delaporta, Chairman of the Board of the NCBTMB, gave a presentation on the progress of the Advanced Certification Exam, that for the past 48 hours has caused my inbox to be flooded with criticisms of the path that was taking. The resignation of Task Force member Rosemarie Rotenberger was also passed along to me by an anonymous source.  The BOD of the NCBTMB, according to Rotenberger, chose to eliminate the CE requirement from the eligibility criteria of sitting for the new ACE; she offered that as the reason for her resignation, stating that the action had been taken “against the strong and repeated recommendation of the Task Force.”

One industry leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated “I am disgusted to learn that he (Delaporta) was touting NCB’s mission to define and advance the highest standards in the profession while knowing full well that the CE requirement–one of the only meaningful criteria to qualify a practitioner for any kind of post-graduate credential–had already been removed by his BOD.” A number of others who were present at the meeting also gave me an earful about the ACE; the general attitude was that by doing away with any CE requirements that the NCB was removing any shred of credibility from the exam.

As I believe in going straight to the source, I contacted the NCB to give them a chance to respond. Without divulging any names I shared some of the criticisms that were piling up, and here is part of the response I received from Paul Lindamood, CEO of the NCBTMB (shortened for space considerations):

“….Based on feedback from Task Force members, it has become clear that the rationale supported by the Board is not entirely in alignment with the recommendations of the Task Force. Consequently, the Executive Committee of the Board has determined that further communication and deliberation regarding one element of the criteria, specifically the continued education requirement, are needed to achieve consensus and move forward to the next phase of the project. A meeting will be convened between the Board and Task Force Sub-Committee members in order to better define the quantifiable threshold for the CE requirement, one that everyone in aggregate can embrace….When one considers that the framing of the ACE is intended to measure critical thinking skills and ability allowing massage therapists to function in more complex situations requiring the ability to respond and adapt massage treatment plans based on expected outcomes, it is unconscionable that CE would not play an appropriate role….”

In other words, they’re going to back up and punt. I’m glad to hear it. The pesky thing about any task force is that they’re not worth a hill of beans if you don’t take their advice. They were put in that position because of their experience and expertise. The fact that the Board of Directors failed to follow their advice speaks volumes.

I’d like to know exactly where to lay the blame, but short of polling the Board members,  who probably wouldn’t tell me anyway, I can’t figure that one out. As someone who is on a state board myself, I can tell you that it’s pretty rare for us all to be in agreement. We disagree all the time, and we argue until a majority reaches a consensus. If a majority of the NCB’s BOD reached a consensus that continuing education is not important, as they obviously did, I’d like to know what they were thinking.

My own thought is that a person who graduated from a 1000-hour program, or longer, might be ready to step up and take the advanced exam without having had any CE, but that is not the standard in this country. Very few of our states require that much education in order to get a massage license, and our neighbors in some of the Canadian provinces can even laugh at that. We need to raise the standards, but that’s another blog. And regardless of entry-level education, critical thinking is developed by the commitment to continue one’s education, as well as by gaining practical experience.

When the leadership of an organization fails to act in a responsible manner, the other Board members need to let it be known loud and clear that they dissent. I certainly do. I’d no more go along with the Chair just because he’s the Chair than I would cut off my nose to spite my face. You can ask him. I’ll be the last one hollering. I’m not going to be anybody’s blind sheep.

I am very relieved to hear that the BOD of the NCB has decided to cave to the Task Force recommendations, and to the popular demand of the leaders of this profession, that CE requirements be reconsidered as a part of the criteria for sitting for the new exam. I urge the Board of Directors, and Neal Delaporta in particular, to pay attention to the recommendations made by the people you asked to do this job! To do otherwise is irresponsible on your part at best, and despotic at worst. We don’t need any more egomaniacs running the National Certification Board, we’ve already had one, thank you, and we didn’t like her, either.

I’ve tried to be more positive in my reporting about the NCB in the past few months, because I have in fact seen an improvement in service there, and I know that at least some of the people there are people who genuinely do care and want to make a positive difference.

I suggest to Mr. Delaporta and the rest of the present Board of Directors that you were on a sinking ship, that has bobbed to the surface and shown some good signs of righting itself, and it isn’t on anybody’s head but yours if you cause it to go down again. This is a reality check, and you need to realize it. For the sake of the NCB, listen to the Task Force members, whose help you asked for, and do as they suggest. Put the budget on the back burner, and leave your ego at the door.  You just remember that it takes a majority vote and vote for the CE requirement. If you want the Advanced Certification Exam to be a hallmark of excellence that it ought to be, and not an industry joke, then do the right thing.

Laura Allen