My Organization is Better Than Your Organization

The massage profession has a plethora of organizations these days.

AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) is a non-profit organization that has some executive staff at the top, a board elected by the members, and a hearty band of tireless volunteers that keep the wheels turning. AMTA has about 57,000 members.

ABMP (Associated Massage & Bodywork Professionals) is a for-profit concern, and frankly I’m just sick and tired of hearing that fact stated as a criticism. What is inherently wrong with making a profit? I want to make one in my massage therapy practice, don’t you? ABMP has around 77,000 members.

The NCBTMB (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork) , for 17 years, was virtually the exclusive provider of certification exams that were used for licensing in many states, and the approval body for continuing education providers. A few states had/have their own exam. About 90,000 massage therapists are nationally certified. The NCBTMB also has a board elected by their certificants.

Then along came the FSMTB (Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards) with the MBLEx test as a route to licensure, which many of the 40 or so member states have adopted. The Federation also recently announced plans to get into the business of approving continuing education, and they are creating a model practice act. They also have a board, which their state delegates elect.

The new kid on the block is the AFMTE (Alliance for Massage Therapy Education), which aims to advance the quality of education and develop a model of teacher standards. The Alliance has announced that they would be collaborating with the FSMTB on the continuing education project. They still have their first board seated; that’s how new they are.

We’ve also got COMTA (Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation) in the business of giving accreditation to schools and programs who meet their standards of excellence. Getting COMTA approval is voluntary, expensive and time-consuming. There are only 100 or so that have earned it.

The majority of states now regulate massage, some by their own self-supporting massage board, some lumped in with nursing boards or other health boards. I am often asked by therapists what their state board does for them. Other than issuing their license and in some states licensing schools, the answer is not much. A public board serves the purpose of public protection. Some do a better job than others. State board members are appointed by politicians. The average board is usually composed of a few dedicated people, often includes one or two clueless slackers, and a rebel redneck like me. I’m sure my board is glad I’m at the end of my service. My blog makes them nervous.

I’m a member of both AMTA and ABMP. I’m a member of FSMTB by virtue of my seat on the North Carolina Board, which I will be vacating later this month after five years. I have been a past delegate to the Federation. I am a founding member of the AFMTE. I’ve been nationally certified for over ten years, and an approved CE provider under the NCBTMB as well. I am soon to go on my first site visit for COMTA. I attended their reviewer training after I wrote a few derogatory blogs about them and they invited me to attend. Positive change usually happens from within, doesn’t it?

I have a stake in all these organizations so I’ll pat them on the back when I think they deserve it, and I don’t mind calling them out when I think they deserve it. I have the same attitude with them that I have with other massage therapists who act competitive instead of collegial. This isn’t a contest. If one organization has to fail in order for another to succeed, that’s just a big shame as far as I’m concerned. When one organization slams another and presents half-truths and posturing, it starts to look like a playground fight–better call that a turf war, I guess–and it’s not attractive in the least.

None of these organizations would exist without their constituents–the massage therapists. And none of them can represent all of the people all of the time. They’ve all made moves that didn’t suit me at one time or another, and what ticked me off may have made other MTs perfectly happy, or vice versa. And the therapist who isn’t represented by any of them probably couldn’t care less what they do or how they act. In fact, many of their own members couldn’t care less what they do or how they act. When it comes to the professional associations, many therapists just join for the insurance and have no interest in the political fray at all–until something detrimental happens that affects their license or access to education.

If you don’t like a piece of proposed legislation, contact your legislators to tell them. And if you don’t like the direction your professional organization is taking, contact them to tell them. Get yourself in there as a board member or volunteer and change it from within. Cancel your membership, or switch organizations.  Money still talks. It’s akin to voting…if you don’t exercise that right, then don’t gripe about the outcome. Go to your state board’s meeting and sign up for public comment. You have a voice. It’s only effective if you use it.

Competency vs. Hours

I have long desired to see the standards for massage therapy education raised in my state and across the nation. Here in North Carolina, the requirement is only 500 hours. That varies in the US, from the unregulated states that have no requirements at all, to the 1000 hours required by New York, Nebraska, and Puerto Rico. The rest fall somewhere in between.

Our neighbors to the north in Canada have a few provinces that are unregulated, but those that are regulated have a much higher hour requirement than the norm here in the US. However, in looking over their documents pertaining to their regulations, I see that it is not really about the number of hours; it is about the basic competencies that they have set forth for an entry-level massage therapist, and I must say that I find it quite impressive. You can read those here.

I imagine that the higher number of hours is merely a by-product of the competencies that are required. It would take a lot more than 500 hours to pack all those competencies in. And I couldn’t find any fault with any of them. It actually bears a lot of similarities to our recent document, the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge. That’s not a perfect document; it’s just a start on defining what an entry-level therapist should know here. I’ve heard a good many complaints about it. In fairness to the dedicated volunteers who gave of their time and expertise to work on it, they offered a long period for comments from the profession, and I was personally appalled at how few they got. I think they got about 600 or so, and about 50 of them were mine. It was also very telling to me that when our Board sent out a survey to the approximately 40  school owners and program directors recently about raising the standards, only 7 of them bothered to reply. There is a big lack of interest in raising the bar.

The complacency here is staggering, and people just tend to complain after the fact instead of offering input on the front end. It’s the same thing I’ve seen over and over again when it comes to detrimental legislation in our profession; a few dedicated people will contact their legislators before something awful gets passed into law, and the rest will just gripe about it after it happens. That’s another blog, and one that I’ve written several times.

I’ve actually been pushing for our Board to raise educational standards, which like anything a public board is considering gets passed along to a committee for study. It is unfortunate that we could not find any concrete evidence that requiring more hours leads to better test scores. Then again, is that what it’s all about? The ability to pass a test? In our paradigm, yes, it is. We are lacking here in measuring competency in any other way.

I am the author of a popular book on how to pass the exams that are required here, and for over ten years I’ve been teaching a test-prep class as well as tutoring students privately. Let me tell you what I’ve observed. There are some people who can’t pass a test. Does it mean they can’t give a good massage? Not at all. They might be perfectly capable of putting me to sleep on the table or helping my aching back. And on the other hand, we’ve got the people who happen to be good test-takers and who are good at regurgitating information, who couldn’t give a decent massage if their life depended on it. They just don’t have what it takes. The ability to pass a test doesn’t make you competent, in my humble opinion. It just demonstrates that you know a certain amount of information.

When I was reading the Canadian document, I was more than a little envious of it. I kept comparing it to what I learned in massage school, and thinking, “Wow, I wish I had been taught that at the beginning.” In the dozen years since I went to massage school, I have managed to learn most of it through continuing education, self-study, and on-the-job experience. I’m the resourceful type and a go-getter, and I’ve had a modicum of success in spite of not knowing these competencies right out of the gate. I’ve learned a lot of them through the school of hard knocks. There’s no doubt I could have avoided some of those hard knocks if I had known these things at the outset of my career.

As a provider of continuing education, I’ve often been distressed and appalled when people call me up and say something like, “I need 6 hours, do you have any classes that long?” They don’t give a rip if the subject matter interests them or not. I’ve also been informed that “I don’t know why I have to get continuing education, I already know everything I need to know.”  They are clueless.

One of my North Carolina colleagues stated on a forum this week that his poll showed that people were very satisfied with the 500 hours, and of course, a lot of people are. Going beyond that requires money and effort, and many people don’t want to spend any more money or effort than they can get by with. I’m personally not interested in just getting by.

Education is never wasted, and hopefully, I still learn something new every day.That’s my goal, anyway.  My education didn’t end at 500 hours. It hasn’t reached 3000 yet, but I intend for it to, and I still won’t know everything there is to know.

Continuing Education Providers: Sink or Swim

Every time I turn around, it seems that something is on the horizon that affects CE providers–and the therapists who are obligated to get CE in order to maintain their license.  The latest salvo has been fired from the state of Maryland, where legislation is afoot with big changes in the CE environment. According to the Maryland Chapter of AMTA, the proposed regulations mean that NCBTMB-Approved Providers can no longer offer classes in Maryland unless they have been pre-approved by the Maryland Board of Chiropractic and Massage Therapy Examiners at least 90 days in advance; CE offered by community colleges and online classes will be subject to the same rules, and providers will have to pay $25 per course unit for approval. CE hours earned at AMTA conferences won’t fly unless they have been pre-approved and the fees paid. This is going to be voted on this coming week and the MD Chapter has been making a big effort to drum up enough support to kill the changes. If you haven’t weighed in yet, you’ve got until the 18th of January to call your legislators and protest. Every time something like this happens, I get a lot of email from people asking me what they can do about it. The short answer is do it right now–don’t wait until the bill is passed to complain. You can send your comments and questions to

As a provider myself, there are certain states I’ve never visited because of the hoops you have to jump through. New York, as I reported last year, requires a fat fee of $900 to be a provider, and a New York-licensed massage therapist has to perform the hands-on portion of any CE training. I don’t pretend to hold myself in the same class as Erik Dalton or Ben Benjamin, but it does seem strange to me that someone with a PhD can’t perform the hands-on portion of their own class unless they have gotten themselves licensed in NY.

If you want to be a provider in the state of Texas, you must get yourself pre-approved, reapply and pay a $200 fee every two years. I just looked at their list and there are 549 providers currently approved there. That’s a tidy chunk of change for their board.

Florida also has their own process. I got their approval last year, and while it didn’t cost me any money, I did find their process a little confusing to go through. I actually sent them $250 because I thought I had to after muddling through their directions for applying. My money was refunded.

The Chair and Vice Chair of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy reported upon their return from attending the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting in 2010 that the Federation was investigating the possibility of approving continuing education. Recently, the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education has also been making noises about national teacher standards as well. Alexa Zaledonis, the new Chair of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, has also put up a statement on the NCB website that they are about to undertake new initiatives in the CE provider program.

The opportunity for continuing education here in North Carolina is so competitive, it’s almost overwhelming. We have about 8000 active licensees, and 145  CE providers who live in the state…that doesn’t count the folks who are traveling in from elsewhere to teach. If you only count the ones who actually live here, that breaks down to 55 students per provider per renewal period, so if you’re wondering why it seems to get tougher to attract students, basically it’s because there’s a CE provider on every corner. While some students will seek you out because of what you teach or who you are, there are hundreds of others who are just looking for the closest class so they don’t have to travel, or the cheapest class they can get due to their finances, or they’ve procrastinated so that they just take the first thing that comes along when it’s time (or past time) to renew.

I love teaching. It isn’t my primary source of income, but it’s important to me to get that interaction. I feel energized after I’ve spent the day in a class with a bunch of people who actually care about learning something.

The CE river is rolling along, the water is getting pretty muddy, and we’re all going to have to sink or swim.

ADDENDUM: After I finished this blog, MK Brennan brought to my attention the following post from the MD Board:At its General Session Meeting of 1/13/2011, the Board of Chiropractic & Massage Therapy Examiners announced that it would forthwith withdraw from the rulemaking proposal Chapter 16 (Recordkeeping) and Chapter 20 (Continuing Education) pending further review and study. Both of these chapters were contested in comments received to date. This means that Chapters 16 and 20 will not be processed further in the current rulemaking proposal.

When further review and study of Chapters 16 and 20 is scheduled, details shall be posted on this website and in the Maryland Register.

That is the best demonstration of what can happen when MTs rise up and take ACTION! Legislators are forced to LISTEN! Kudos to Maryland Chapter of AMTA and all the MTs who protested this move!

One of Life’s Little Lessons

Yesterday I notified COMTA that I have withdrawn my name from the ballot to be a commissioner.

The blog I wrote earlier this week, where I reported on some of the recent developments there and offered my opinions about them, didn’t sit well with the folks there, to the point where they were trying to figure out how to get rid of me before I ever got there.

I felt compelled to expose that, so I put up another blog about that.

After some heart-felt discussions with a few of my mentors, I have reached the conclusion that I don’t need to serve on any boards for the present time, other than completing the term I am currently serving on the North Carolina Board. I’m on my last year there. Our Board usually isn’t too controversial, and there aren’t many big doings there that would interest the rest of the world for the most part. We try to practice transparency there, and even though I’m a sitting member, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them out on something if I felt there was a need.

The fact is, I enjoy reporting on legislation and the happenings at all the professional associations of massage therapy…I have the freedom to report on comings and goings, expose activities be they mundane or shocking, and express my opinion whether it’s popular or not. If I’m working for an organization, my ability to report on them goes out the door. And I certainly don’t want my ability to speak my truth affected in any way.

I used to volunteer for AMTA, and I enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed my time on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy. It’s been very enlightening, although stressful at times. I like volunteering; I give 100% whenever I’m devoted to a task, and I would have done the same if I had been elected at COMTA. However, I think it serves the higher good if I’m free to expose what needs to be exposed, and comment on it,  no matter what entity is involved.

I’m still a member of AMTA, also a member of ABMP, a member of the Federation, a member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and an NCBTMB certificant and provider. I have a vested interest in what these organizations do, the ethical or unethical behavior of their leadership, and the transparency with which they conduct their business. And none of them are safe from my pen! Of course, it’s not all negative. I do give pats on the back when I think they deserve it.

I simply cannot give up my freedom of speech just so I can say I’m in some position somewhere, so no more “positions” for me. My chosen position is blogger, and I’m going to stick to that for the time being.

Peace & Prosperity,

Laura Allen

A New Day, A New Blog

Welcome to my new blog site! For the past couple of years, I’ve been blogging about the politics of massage on the Massage Magazine website. More recently, I’ve also been contributing to the WIBB (Women in Bodywork Business) blog on the Massage Today website. I finally decided it’s time to put up my own blog, on my own site.

I’m always opinionated, and sometimes controversial. I like to keep up with what’s going on in the political arena of massage, report that, and offer my opinions on it. The issue with that in the past has been that the magazines that host my other blogs accept advertising from the entities I sometimes report on, and it makes them a little uncomfortable when I slam a big advertiser. Of course, the big advertiser doesn’t like it, either.

Having my own blog site will take care of that problem. Now I can be just as offensive as I dang well please, and the magazines can relax, secure in the knowledge that I am not upsetting their advertisers on their playground. And I won’t worry about being censored or being asked to tone down my opinion to make an advertiser happy.

I support freedom of speech, and I don’t mind when people disagree with my opinions. It would be a pretty boring world if we all thought alike. All comments will be welcomed.

There’s also an “About” page here, and a page with my schedule of classes. Thank you for reading my blog!

Peace & Prosperity,

Laura Allen