Ethics Violation, or Communication Breakdown?

This year I wrapped up five years of service on the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy. Anyone who has ever sat on a board will probably agree with me that disciplinary hearings involving massage therapists are one of the most stressful parts of that job. It was for me. I estimate that during my time on the Board, I had to sit through approximately fifty of them. It was very distressing to see my fellow massage therapists trying to defend themselves–and in a few cases, just outright admitting to the violation–whenever they were accused of something.

Nine times out of ten, the accusation was of a sexual nature. 99 times out of 100, it involved a male therapist. I’m dead certain there are female therapists out there performing sexual favors every day, but most men won’t come forward to complain about it. Go figure.

My question to myself at those hearings was always this: “Did this person have an intent to do something evil, or was this a communication breakdown or simple mistake that could have happened to you or me?”

If you’ve been practicing longer than a year or two, the chances are good that in spite of your best efforts, you have accidentally exposed a body part. Or you have said something that the instant it left your mouth, you thought “why did I say that?” The very first massage I ever gave, I accidentally touched the man’s penis. I went to tuck in the drape, and all I can say is there it was. He was supine on the table, his eyes were closed, and when my hand grazed it, I saw his eyebrows shoot up. I said “I’m sorry,” and carried on. If I had made a big deal out of it, I could have just made it worse than what it was.

If your only intent is to give a therapeutic massage, then your major obligation is not just about giving the massage; it is clear and direct client communication. This has come home to me again and again, and most recently when one of my friends was accused of a sexual violation. The case has not been settled yet; it hasn’t even been to court, but he has been crucified in the press and by a number of bloggers–none of whom were present in the room and have no idea what truly happened there, but I’ve been watching what amounts to a feeding frenzy by a bunch of sharks who are determined to hang him from the highest tree. He is apparently guilty until proven innocent. And since no one was in the room except for him and the alleged victim, I am fearful of the outcome. Of course I do not want a sexual predator turned loose on the public. But after a career that has spanned about 30 years with no previous complaints, it’s a shame to see that going down the tubes. He has loyal clients who are still patronizing him (including women), but what do you think the chances are of him getting any new ones while this is going on? Zilch.

You can’t be too careful. Let’s be realistic. Most massage tables are set up so that the table is at about crotch-level. That’s a fact. We lean over people. We use our body weight on people. Some therapists get on the table with people. In my younger, skinnier days, I’ve crawled up on the table when someone was prone. I’ve done pelvic work on people of both sexes. I’ve done pectoral work on people of both sexes. I’ve worked on the gluts of both sexes. If you’re performing medical massage, you’re going to find the need to touch those areas–with the client’s informed consent.

Think for a moment about the muscles that originate on the pelvis. If you want to make the belly of a muscle relax, you need to make the origin and insertion relax. That’s just the way it is. If you’re ignoring the origin and insertion, you might be giving a relaxing massage, but you’re not getting to the root of the problem. However, if you abruptly touch someone’s pelvic bone without discussing that with them beforehand, you’re the next disciplinary hearing waiting to  happen.The general public doesn’t know squat about origins, insertions, and actions of muscles. It’s up to you to educate them. And it’s up to you to abide by their comfort level. If they prefer not to have their gluts worked on or you getting near their pubic bone, then you don’t do it, period. I have found it helpful to have a muscle flip chart in the treatment room. That allows me to pick it up while someone is on the table and show them the muscle, where it begins, and where it ends. It’s a professional thing, to me.

There is also no excuse for careless draping. The law in my state says that “the drape may be temporarily moved in order to accommodate treatment.” Yours probably says something similar–or not. Working through the drape may not be ideal, but if that’s the law in a your state, then I suggest you abide by it. Don’t expose more than you need to expose, and don’t leave it exposed. If you have moved the drape in order to work on the gluts, that doesn’t give you license to perform the whole massage with someone’s butt shining. Get it done and cover them up.

Be aware of the comments you make. It’s okay to tell someone they have taut bands or active trigger points in the gluts. It is not okay to tell someone they have a tight ass. You might be thinking it, but keep your mouth shut.

You may think you’re all above-board as a therapist and that you’re never going to be accused of anything. Guess what–all those people who have been accused didn’t expect it to happen to them, either. Two things that did become apparent to me during my  years on the Board…one, there are indeed predators out there who decided this profession would be a good place to meet a fresh crop of victims, and two, there are just therapists out there who are guilty–of failure to communicate. Don’t let it be you.

It Was a Very Good Year

As I look back over 2011, it was a very good year. For the 8th year in a row, since I first opened my business, I am going to finish the year with a growth in sales and in my bottom line. That’s rather miraculous, considering the unemployment rate in my county has been between 14-16% for most of the year. Many businesses have closed. The foreclosure notices in the paper have far outweighed the job listings for the past couple of years. And still, we have thrived, and we had zero staff turnover. I’m very grateful to be blessed with such wonderful staff members and clients.

This year started out with a bang when we made a trip to Miami to participate in the Massage School Makeover organized by Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse. What started as a little project of Angie’s snowballed into one of the most magnanimous displays of generosity throughout the massage world. The Educating Hands school ended up with over $80,000 worth of equipment and supplies donated by industry partners. As they were moving into a brand-new building at the time, it was just a fresh start for their well-respected school. It was a joy to participate in it and to see so many of my friends from the profession at the festivities. I also got to visit my youngest brother on that trip, and got to see a dear friend who used to live here in NC that I  hadn’t seen for several years. That one was bittersweet since her husband, who was also a friend and former business partner with Champ, had passed away suddenly a few months before, but it was a wonderful visit.

I was honored at the American Massage Conference this year as the Massage Therapist of the Year…and that wasn’t even the highlight of the conference. Getting up to play a few tunes with Errol N Schroeder at the dinner dance was the high point for me. I had a blast! Scott Dartnall and the rest of those Canadians came out of the gate running and made their first American event a resounding success.

Then the World Massage Festival came along and I was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, which I appreciated, but I was also awarded there for Government Relations, which I’d have to say meant even more to me. I’m no Sally Hacking–whom I greatly admire and who has been working in GR for several decades–I’m not able to go all over the country attending legislative sessions and even if I could, I certainly lack her expertise and experience; the award was for my efforts to keep the masses informed of what’s going on through my blog and social media. My politics aren’t popular with everyone, and that’s okay. I feel good about it if I am able to jolt even one person out of complacency to take up the fight against detrimental legislation. I got to play some music at that one, too. The Hinkles are just some of the nicest people in massage and I always enjoy the World Massage Festival, which I refer to as the Woodstock of massage. Leave your coat and tie at home, and just come and have a great time! The 2012 event will be in Las Vegas.

My annual trip to Ireland was one of the high points of the year. It always is. I enjoy teaching the students at the Obus School of Healing Therapies, hanging out with my Irish friends, visiting a few pubs 🙂 and in general, just breathing the Irish air.

I traveled a lot this year. I was invited by the NCBTMB to come to Chicago for a meeting with a lot of industry leaders to offer input on how they can improve the Approved Provider program. I in particular appreciated that meeting, because that’s where the seed was planted for the Massage Therapy Profession Leadership Summit that took place a few months ago, where for the first time, all of our national leaders came together for the common good. It was attended by the executive management and board chairs from the AFMTE, FSMTB, AMTA, ABMP, COMTA, NCBTMB, and the MTF. Speaking of the Massage Therapy Foundation, it was another red-letter day for me to be included on Rise and Shine, a CD of wonderful music donated by massage therapists to raise money for the Foundation. If you don’t have your copy yet, get on the ball! I am very honored to be in the company of such great musicians. It is truly a great compilation.

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education meeting in Charleston was one of the best events I’ve ever attended. The annual national convention of AMTA in Portland was probably the best one I’ve ever attended, and I’ve been going to those for quite a few years. Kudos to the Oregon Chapter and to President Glenath Moyle for putting on a heck of a good time in such a lovely city. I also got to make my first trip to New Orleans on behalf of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and it was a blast. I completed five years of service to that board this year, and while I miss the wonderful staff and friends I made at the board, I don’t miss that five-hour haul to Raleigh or having to participate in disciplinary hearings. I got to make my first trip to Los Angeles to attend the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards meeting, which was as usual, informative and a good time visiting with so many other board members from across the country.

Without dragging out my calendar, I can’t recall every place I got to teach in this year, but they were all fun and filled with beautiful people. One of the high points–literally–was the Take it to the Top Summit put on by Vivian Madison-Mahoney over in Gatlinburg, TN. The hotel was at the top of a mountain, we were on the 14th floor, and the view was just beautiful. That was one of the best education conferences ever, and Vivian and her husband John certainly know how to throw a great event. A lot of my buds were there–Lynda Solien-Wolfe, Michael McGillicuddy, Irene Diamond,  Mike Hinkle and his wife Cindy and a lot more, and a good time was just had by all. I got to play some music at that one, too. Vivian loaned me her limited edition Martin for the occasion since I came without a guitar. It was great.

I made my first site visit as a peer reviewer for COMTA a couple of months ago. I went to New Bedford, MA to review a community college massage program. It was a good learning experience for me, and the other reviewers were great companions. We had a good time. Our hotel was across from the harbor and a good seafood restaurant, so it was a good time.

I had some great classes at the office this year. Marjorie Brook came down from NY to teach a Scar Tissue Release seminar, and she was accompanied by my friend Allissa Haines. We had a good time visiting with them. Christine Courtney and her husband Colum came over from Ireland for Christine’s classes in Indian Head Massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and we always look forward to their visit as well.

On a personal level, lest I just sound like an effervescent fool who never has a bad moment, we’ve had some. My husband’s best friend Brent Stephens passed away this year…he was suffering, so it was a blessing for him to go, but it was still a great loss to both of us. Another dear friend died suddenly this year. Donna Metcalf was the picture of health when I saw her last, and three weeks later, she was gone…an unfortunate case of going to the hospital for a simple procedure that went very wrong. Donna was a force of nature, one of those women who dressed in sparkly clothes and a feather boa, and just lit up every room she ever entered. Her death was a shock. It was also a reinforcement that you ought to live every day like it’s your last. It just might be.

I’ve had some family trauma and drama this year…hasn’t everybody? But I’m pleased to say it seems to be on the upswing. My constant prayer is that those family members who need to forgive each other will just get on with it. One year at Christmas when there were some family divisions, my husband said “Well, we could have two dinners.” He was referring to the people who weren’t speaking to each other and the “I won’t be there if they’ll be there” situation, and my reply was “Hell no, we will not have two dinners. They can sit down and break bread with each other or they can go to McDonald’s.” My fond hope is that they’ll all come to the table. The people we resent feel good. Carrying around resentment is, as someone said, like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It isn’t hurting anyone except the person carrying it around.

One of the last great things to happen this year was my husband Champ passing the MBLEx. He is currently waiting for his North Carolina massage license to arrive. Champ is a builder by trade, and the economy here has been a sudden death to his business. There are so many foreclosed properties here, no one needs to build anything. You can buy a house that was on the market three years ago for a million bucks for less than $200,000. You can buy a perfectly livable house for less than $30,000. In fact, if you only need a small one with one or two bedrooms,  you can find some for less than $20,000. Still, I feel optimistic that things are looking up. Facebook has recently built a new data center in our town, and a couple of other manufacturing businesses have come in on their coattails. Hopefully, the economy is going to turn around and the residents in my county will see their circumstances improve. I certainly hope so.

Another great thing this year was what I have been referring to as The Grand Purge. I have been on a mission the past couple of months to clean out my house and my office. I keep watching the old video clip on youtube of George Carlin and his rant about “Stuff.” I have too much Stuff. Or rather, I had too much Stuff. A lot of it is gone…I’ve donated things, sold things, thrown out some things, burned some things…I’m getting rid of my Stuff. Stuff is like an albatross around your neck. My attitude is if I haven’t used it in a year, I’m not going to use it in another year.  I figured if I was going to move, and wouldn’t want to take it with me, then I don’t really need it. So goodbye, Stuff. It’s been very liberating.

I’ll remember this year. A lot of good things happened. A few bad things happened. That’s the way life goes. But all in all, it was a very good year.

Problem Solving in Your Practice

Every day, I get emails and calls from therapists who want some advice on problems in their practice. I usually can’t give an answer off the top of my head without questioning the therapist for further details, and visiting their website if they have one (and by the way, not having one is a problem in itself.) Even though two therapists may be  having the same problem, there are a lot of factors that are different from one practice to another, that potentially have a bearing on my answer.

The most common things people contact me about are clients who don’t rebook, and not having enough business in general. They will give me a list, of “I’m doing this, this, this, and this, and I’m still not making it.”

Let’s look at the first problem: Clients aren’t rebooking. There are a lot of reasons why clients don’t rebook. The biggest one is probably that the therapist doesn’t ask! Besides “Thank you,” the most important phrase for your business is “When would you like to schedule another appointment?” When I was a brand-new therapist, I was worried about appearing too pushy if I asked a client to rebook. Get over that immediately, and ask every one at every appointment.

If you are asking every client to rebook, and either they aren’t doing it at all, or it’s a very low percentage, I’d look closer into that problem by taking a searching and fearless inventory. Perhaps your technique–or your level of expertise–is just not what they were looking for. Not every person who gets a license to do massage is a great massage therapist. In my traveling around and getting massage in different places, I’ve had massage that’s mediocre, and unfortunately had some that was downright bad….then again, massage is a subjective experience. The massage that I thought was unskilled and sloppy might suit another person just fine. So how do you know?

There are some indicators. If the majority of people come out from the massage praising you to the high heavens, that’s an indicator. And if they don’t, that’s an indicator. If many of the people you’ve seen have referred someone else to you, that’s an indicator. And if they haven’t, that’s also an indicator.  Judging by comments I hear from successful therapists, most have a rebooking rate of anywhere from 50-100% (yes, some folks do have a practice that has evolved only to regular clients and standing appointments.) If your own rate is extremely low–say 20% or even less, that could be an indicator–maybe not of your skill in performing massage, but of something else.

The biggest complaint I hear from consumers is about therapists who talk all the time. Many people just want to get on the table and relax, not have a conversation with the therapist or just listen to the therapist rattle on. I’ve also heard complaints about people who had offices that were less than clean and cluttered with junk. And therapists who impose energy work or other non-massage practices on people who don’t want it…I had a client tell me that a therapist she saw walked around the table chanting before commencing the massage. And I  hear about therapists who are dressed so sloppily they could be mistaken for a homeless person. If any of that applies to you, you might want to take some corrective measures.

One mistake I often see with practitioners in general is so simple it jumps out at me–but it isn’t occurring to them, and that’s the name of their business. What does the name of your business convey about what you do? Does it convey what you do at all, or is it something that the public would see and say “Mmm, wonder what kind of business that is?”  I don’t want to pick on anyone here or insult any of the hundreds of MTs who are in my social networks by inadvertently choosing their name as an example, so I’ll just say I’ve seen some business names that had absolutely nothing to do with massage; the potential client who hears the name isn’t going to automatically associate it with massage, unless that is spelled out as part of the name.

I’m not picking on therapists who incorporate energy work–when that is what the client wants–but I will say this: are you trying to be known as a massage therapist or not? The other day I looked over the website of a struggling therapist, and the first thing I noticed was that Reiki was in the top spot on the menu of services. Massage was listed below the energy modalities on the list. If you’re trying to build your reputation as an energy practitioner instead of a massage therapist, that’s going to work for you. If you’re not, it isn’t. There are a certain amount of people who will immediately decide you aren’t the therapist for them and not read any further. This is also a problem with practitioners who do a modality that the general public isn’t really educated about. For example, if your business identity is Mary Jones, Craniosacral Practitioner, you are apt to attract the limited clientele that already knows what craniosacral is. If that’s what’s on your signage and your advertisement, you are not getting a message to people who are seeking a massage therapist. That’s fine–if craniosacral is all you want to do and you don’t care about attracting new clients.

I’ve heard a few other complaints from the public…like therapists who smell like smoke. Therapists who smell like garlic. Therapists wearing perfume. Sheets and face cradle covers that smell of old oil. Cats and dogs in the office. Therapists who ask nosy personal questions that don’t have anything to do with the massage. Therapists who try to pressure sell retail items or sign up clients for MLM companies. Therapists who go outside their scope of practice and give diet and nutritional advice, or psychological advice, when they have no qualifications to do so. The list goes on.

If you take your searching and fearless inventory, and you aren’t guilty of any of these offenses, then consider a few other possibilities. Did you do a market survey before opening your business? Did you ascertain how much competition is in the immediate area? Did you choose to open your business in an environment that’s already saturated? Are you charging a lot more–or a lot less– than your nearest competitors? Is there a parking problem? Are you in an upstairs office with no elevator? Is your entire office handicapped accessible? Do you keep regular hours, and are they plainly posted?

Simple mistakes are sometimes at fault. Like using your cell phone for business and answering with a “Hey, what’s up. Leave a number and I’ll call you back.” That should be “You’ve reached Laura Allen, massage therapist. Please leave your name and number and I’ll call you back within an hour,” or whatever is the shortest time frame you can offer.

The biggest mistake therapists make is sitting around the office waiting for business to come to them. You have to go out and get it. A lot of free business and marketing advice from myself and other experts in the field is available on If you’re struggling, don’t give up on yourself just yet. There’s a solution to every problem–and identifying that there’s a problem is the first step in solving it.

Rick Rosen: A Job Well Done

Rick Rosen, MA, LMBT, Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, announced last week that he will be stepping down from that position effective November 30.

In his letter to Alliance members, Rosen stated that he is returning to his full-time duties at the Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC. He founded the school in 1983 and has co-owned and co-directed it with his wife, Carey Smith, for the past 20 years. Their beautiful school and 150-acre property is for sale, and they intend to move permanently to their new abode on the Big Island of Hawaii whenever it’s sold.

Rosen has been a massage therapist since 1978. There are very few people in this profession who could claim anywhere near the amount of hours he has spent volunteering his time, and working for the evolution of massage therapy – both on the legislative and educational fronts.

I first met Rosen in 2000 when he was a founding member and the first chair of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, a position he held from 1999-2003. He was very instrumental in getting massage regulated in our state and in assisting the Board’s legal counsel in drafting the administrative rules and statutes. As a former Board member myself (2006-2011), I appreciate fully the countless hours of unpaid work, and imagine that to be so much more for a start-up Board.

Rosen has always had a fondness for getting in on the ground floor and helping to lay the foundation for the future success of organizations. He also served as the first Executive Director of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (2005-2006), and wrote the Request for Proposal that led to the development of the MBLEx as the licensing exam of choice.

In 2009, Rosen hand-picked some seasoned educators to help launch the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. Under his leadership, the AFMTE has made its mark as the stakeholder for education among the professional organizations. Recently, the ACCAHC Board of Directors invited the Alliance to join its Council of Colleges and Schools as the designated education representative for the massage therapy field, further solidifying the Alliance’s role. Not bad for an organization only two years old.

Rosen’s school was the first to offer professional training for massage therapists in the Carolinas, and the first to offer post-graduate training. BTI was also the first school in the Carolinas to receive accreditation from the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. He has presented massage education all over the country and in West Africa. He has been a professional member of AMTA since 1983, helped form the AMTA-NC Chapter, and was Chapter President from 1985-1987. He has authored a number of white papers, and was a contributing author to TEACHING MASSAGE: Fundamental Principles in Adult Education for Massage Program Instructors, published in 2008 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Rosen’s pioneering contributions to this field over the past three decades have been many, and often unsung. In fact, I contacted him and requested a copy of his resume before I wrote this – and I could write a book about all the things he’s done in the arenas of bodywork, education and government relations that I had no idea about.

I gave a list of “kudos” and “thumps on the head” in a recent blog, and I had included a kudo to Rosen for starting the AFMTE. I’ll repeat that here, along with an additional word of thanks for all he has contributed to the massage therapy profession. It’s been a job well done.

Rosen shared with me that he is leaving the door open to future teaching, writing and consulting projects that can continue to advance the field. I’m curious to see what he gets into next!

The Forgotten Flier

Do you use fliers to advertise your business? In this age of Internet marketing, you’re probably overlooking the humble flyer as a way to get the word out. Don’t count it out!

Fliers are cheap and easy to produce. You can make them yourself using Word, Publisher, or many other programs. You don’t have to be an artist to make a professional looking-flyer. Follow a few simple rules and you’ll come up with the perfect one for your business.

First, you want the flyer to attract attention. Bright neon paper will get more attention than a piece of white paper. Bold type that’s large enough for people to read easily is a necessity. A picture or graphic is nice, and it needs to convey the message. This is about massage, so don’t put a picture of a flower or a yin/yang sign–put a massage-related picture. Don’t use your own logo as the main picture unless it truly conveys that this is about massage. I’ve seen thousands of logos that without the wording, people wouldn’t have a clue that it was anything massage-related.

You want the message to be short and sweet: who you are, what you do, and where you’re located. Leave plenty of white space; in other words, don’t try to pack so much on it that it ends up looking like an overload of information. You want it to be easy to read. Have the headline be a call to action–not the name of your business. Something catchy like “Don’t Put up With Pain!” or “Get Rid of  Holiday Stress!” Your contact information should go at the bottom of the page. Most people are carrying around cell phones and can easily enter your number, or you can also put your name and number on pre-cut tear-offs on the bottom of the page. Don’t forget to use the spell checker.

Now that you’ve got the flier, arm yourself with a box of pushpins. Keep them in a manila envelope in your car. Anywhere you go you see a bulletin board, put up a flier. They’re free, so why not make use of them? It’s a no-brainer.

Is there a university or community college in your town? There’s usually a bulletin board in every hallway. The Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, community halls, your church, grocery and convenience stores, the library, the health food store–there’s just no end to the places where bulletin boards exist. Visit local schools and ask the receptionist to put one on the bulletin board in the teacher’s lounge–maybe offering a first-time discount or an extra 15 minutes with their first session. Avoid mentioning any short-term sales or discounts that have an expiration date or you’ll need to go around and change them frequently.Works for me!

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: COMTA

This is my third year of doing an annual report on the financial status of the major non-profit organizations of the massage therapy profession. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. This information was taken directly from FORM 990, the Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, which is published on Guidestar.

COMTA is the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Obtaining accreditation from COMTA is a voluntary and rigorous process that few schools choose to go through; of the hundreds of massage schools and programs in the US, less than 100 have the credential. It is a banner of excellence, requiring that the school do an in-depth self-study and meet high standards meant to insure that they are offering a program and learning environment of the highest caliber.

Non-profits are on a different filing schedule than the rest of us; this form covers the fiscal year of COMTA from 03/01/09 to 02/28/10.

COMTA’s revenue increased by $167,345 over the previous filing. While they still showed a deficit overall of $98,102, it is a vast improvement over last year’s deficit, which was in excess of $277,000.  I guess this does go to show my ignorance on the financial matters of non-profits…COMTA isn’t the only one operating in the red, and you just have to wonder how our non-profits keep on going whenever they’re showing such losses. Presumably, some of that money comes from savings and other assets. COMTA’s assets have dropped by almost $100,000 in the past year, leaving them with net assets of a little over $93,000.

COMTA is a smaller organization than most of the other non-profits, because of the nature of their work. They are not a membership organization and they don’t have a big staff. Their Executive Director doesn’t receive anywhere near the amount of compensation of those in comparable positions in the membership organizations; Kate Ivane Henri Zulaski’s salary, including benefits, is slightly over $57,000. Only one other executive salary was paid, and that amount was a little over $14,000 to former interim director John Goss. COMTA also employs only one staff member. Site visits are carried out by volunteers who get their travel expenses paid and a $100 per diem. It’s great that volunteers will take time away from their offices to do the visits, as most would probably make a good deal more money if they stayed at home and did massage.

This is the second year in a row that COMTA did not receive any grant money from AMTA, and presumably will not be receiving it in the future. The future of COMTA, and their financial stability, is dependent on their ability to bring in income from their accrediting services and their ability to cut expenses to the bone. Their office expenses more than doubled this year; the costs of conference and workshop attendance also increased by almost $14,000. However, I won’t criticize the conference attendance; I think that’s a necessary part of networking and it gives them the opportunity to recruit new schools.

I’d like to see COMTA enjoy a substantial increase in the number of schools and programs they accredit. And of course anytime you’re working to increase business, you’re going to see a subsequent increase in costs. It costs money to recruit through marketing efforts, it costs money to train volunteers, and it costs money to do site visits. It’s a worthy credential that 93 schools and programs currently have. COMTA is the only accrediting body focused on the massage profession. There are others accrediting agencies, but some of them accredit everything from airline pilot schools to lawn mower repair programs. I appreciate the organization being focused on massage education.

The economy has been tough for all non-profits, and COMTA is no exception. Schools and programs that may want the accreditation have probably held off due to the recession. May next year be better for them and for us all.

Disclosure: I have taken the COMTA Peer Review training and will conducting my first site visit at the end of this month.

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.

Facebook: IMHO

It’s no secret that I’m a FB addict. Well, maybe that’s a strong word. I couldn’t run my business, write my blogs, teach my classes, take care of my home and husband and dog, and everything I do if I spent all day on FB. I usually sign on around 5 am every morning while I’m having my coffee and the house is quiet, and read what everybody’s been up to and make a few posts of my own. Then I check in for a minute whenever I need a break from paperwork or laundry throughout the day, and since I pop up frequently, it probably looks like I’m there more than I actually am. Okay, I’m in denial, I’m an addict 🙂

I get a kick out of FB. I also get a lot of benefits from it. I’ve gotten several teaching jobs on account of FB. Just today an editor of a physical therapy journal in another country asked me to write an article about massage for his publication. I have about 1700+ massage therapists on my page, and just recently started a public figure page for myself. I also have a page for THERA-SSAGE, my business. So, I do consider myself somewhat of a FB authority, and here’s a few things I’ve noticed:

People share the most personal things on FB. Their battles with cancer. The births, and deaths, and weddings in their families. Their divorces….I’ve seen several nasty ones play out for the FB world to see….the accusations of infidelity, the name-calling, the using of children as collateral. I saw that going on recently, and couldn’t keep from laughing when I saw the person getting offended at some of the comments people were making.

If you post something on FB, you should assume that you’re throwing it out there for public commentary, because you are. You are the one inviting advice, sympathy, or devil’s advocate when you moan that your wife left you or your husband is having an affair. You might as well take out an ad in the paper or put it on a television commercial, because that’s what FB is…it’s mass media, except it’s interactive.

Then there are the constant complainers. There are some folks, that every post they make is negative, about how bad they feel, or how their job sucks,  or how their relationship is bad or how they don’t have a relationship. These same people, when they are commenting on someone else’s posts, make negative comments to every one. They are self-appointed critics who will snark about whatever photograph, story, article, or status report they respond to. Never a kind or positive word. Their families are probably grateful that they now have FB to whine to…it’s probably cut down on some of the actual whining in their home.

There are the beautiful people on FB…those people who only share love and light and positive quotations and affirmations of health, wealth, and beauty. There are people who are selling something with every post. There are people who are sharing valuable information like news and research articles, and sharing jokes and cartoons, and having political rants. FB can be a powerful tool for activism, too.

Since I don’t play Farmville or any of the other games on FB, I’ll just give those a cursory mention, but if that’s your idea of entertainment, there it is.

There’s been a lot of griping this week about FB changing their pages yet again. And I was personally griping this morning about all the people posting that FB is about to start charging and that they saw it on the news. Not a one of them saw it on the news, because it wasn’t on the news, but that’s like a lot of other stuff on there that people share without checking on I’ve seen the same prayer request for someone who was supposedly hurt yesterday going around for two years. Prayer isn’t ever a bad thing, but chances are pretty good that the person is dead or better by now.

IMHO, the good thing about FB is that you are in control. Yep, you really are. In fact, the past couple of days I’ve noticed Allissa Haines telling people why they’re about to be un-friended. You can’t tell sexist jokes and remain on her page. That’s her prerogative, and it’s yours. If you don’t like the content people post, one click of the mouse, and POOF! They’re gone! Don’t like people cussing? Don’t like people that advocate for gay marriage, or people that love/hate Obama and say so? Don’t want to see Mafia Wars or Flower Gifts or any of that other stuff on your page? CLICK, POOF, GONE!

Don’t want people to comment on your divorce, or answer honestly when you say “Do I look fat in this dress?” or “Should I marry the guy who doesn’t brush his teeth and still lives with his mother, or wait for the other one to get out of prison?” Don’t post it on there.

I’ll see you on FB. Be nice and like my page, please please please! And if you don’t like me anymore, CLICK, POOF, GONE!

The Financial Health of Our Organizations: NCBTMB

Author’s note: This is the third year that I have reported on the financial state of the non-profit organizations of the massage therapy profession. The information I use to write these is obtained from, which is a clearinghouse of information on non-profits. If a non-profit does not provide their own Form 990 filing to Guidestar, it will be provided by the IRS, providing the organization meets the obligation of public disclosure. I am not an accountant or a financial expert. I merely offer this series as a source of information.

Just like last year, there’s good news, and there’s bad news for the organization. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork could be the poster child for cutting expenses when revenue drops. They have done a bang-up job of tightening the belt without making services suffer….I say that because people complain to me about any of our organizations all the time, and I haven’t gotten many complaints about the service from the NCBTMB in the past year.

The bad news is that revenue has taken another million-dollar hit, almost the same as the decline last year. $800,000 of that can be mainly chalked up to the MBLEx taking away exam revenue. The good news is that in spite of that, the organization managed to get back in the black, nothing short of miraculous since they were $1.9 million in the hole just a year ago. They reported a net revenue of a little over $469,000. The Approved Provider revenue was actually up by almost $100K over last year. Their assets increased by almost $500K, and liabilities decreased by over $200K as well. I’m very happy to see them back in the positive column.

The belt-tightening that went on at the NCBTMB, to me, is also telling of their getting back on track and letting go of the battle with the FSMTB over the MBLEx. Legal expenses dived by $185,000, since they realized the futility of interfering with the states in choice of examinations.

Marketing was scaled back to the tune of over $260K, another sign of improvement to me…instead of wasting money on an agressive anti-MBLEx campaign, their advertising efforts in the past year have focused on their own positives, and that’s a good thing.

Salaries and compensation went down over $300,000.  CEO Paul Lindamood’s compensation was $228K, down slightly from last year. I’d have to say he deserves it for his pivotal role in cutting expenses and focusing on the good points of the NCBTMB instead of continuing down the path of destruction that led to legal and financial woes for the organization. The Board and volunteers are also to be commended. There were 8 less employees reported in 2010 than there were in 2009, and 10 less volunteers.

Bottom line: I applaud the NCBTMB for turning it around. Even though revenue on the whole was down, I will almost take bets that as I get through this series, I’ll find that the same has happened at some of our other organizations. The recession has affected organizations just like it has affected massage schools and individual practitioners. Kudos to the NCBTMB for adapting to the situation.


Anytime I reach a milestone, whether it’s one of those birthdays that ends in zero or some other momentous occasion, it causes me to stop and reflect on the things I’ve done. I see what worked and what didn’t….what I coulda, shoulda, woulda done given another chance. And I pat myself on the back for those things that turned out well.

Next Monday is the 8th anniversary of my clinic. In 2003, I had been working for five years in the massage school I attended. I loved my job. I loved the students. The only thing I didn’t love was the pay. I wanted and needed to make more money. An opportunity presented itself when a couple of friends who were MTs asked my husband and I to go into business with them. We moved into a brand-new professional building and set up shop. Two months later, they decided being in business wasn’t for them…their parting words were that they could see our office was never going to support four people making a living. For the past five years or so, it has actually supported at least a dozen.

I’ve had a lot of therapists ask me how I built my business, so here’s my philosophy in a nutshell: The road to success is usually long and winding. There are curves and potholes, and sometimes roadblocks. But as is the case with a real road, whenever you hit a roadblock, you find a suitable detour that still leads to where you want to go. You don’t just quit.

I got another massage therapist to join us. When she got saturated, I got another one, and so on. Today we have six full-time and a part-time Rolfer.

A couple of years into the business, I got an email out of the blue from an acupuncture student in Colorado who had seen my website, was intending to move to this area, and expressed an interest in working with us. She’s been on our staff now since 2005. Around that same time, a friend of mine who is an RN and was nearing retirement expressed to me that she just couldn’t sit around retired and that she’d like a part-time job. She had taken many classes in naturopathy over the years…as her retirement loomed, she upped her class schedule, became trained first in aesthetics and later went to Upledger’s training in manual lymph drainage, and she joined us too.

The second year we were open for business, we hit another milestone when I took over an adjoining suite of offices and turned it into my classroom facility. I had been renting hotel space to hold classes in and really wanted my own space, so I got it. I also gained another treatment room and a nice kitchen and break space for the staff.  I spent a lot of money purchasing tables and chairs, anatomical charts and models, a projector and screen, and all the other things I wanted, which pretty much wiped me out of drawing a good salary that year, but I felt good about it and still do. It’s a nice facility and I’m proud of it.

A few years ago, another milestone occurred when a friend of mine who is a chiropractor and fellow musician dropped into see me. He has a practice in another town about 30 miles away and was passing through and just stopped in to say hello. That discussion ended in him joining us part-time and being able to offer that service, as well. Initially, he worked in the classroom behind hospital screens. But the following year, the universe smiled on me again when the adjoining suite of offices was vacated. The recession was in full force by this time, and the company who moved out had three adjoining suites. I called up the landlord and offered him less rent than he was asking for the suite adjoining mine. He gave it ten minutes consideration and told me I could have it. So the chiropractor got a nice new office, we gained two more treatment rooms plus a big room for couple’s massage, a storage area, and two adjoining rooms for the acupuncturist, who often treats two people at once.

I’m very blessed with the staff I have. They all support each other. They all have different talents and specialties. They don’t act jealous or proprietary with their clients…they refer to each other all the time. They also practice what they preach and hardly any of them go longer than a week or two without getting massage. They trade with each other. The chiropractor trades them all adjustments for massage for himself, his wife, and the secretary in his other office, in addition to referring his clients for massage. The acupuncturist gives them discounted fees and does mutual referrals as well.

As the anniversary comes up, I know that resting on our laurels isn’t the thing to do. I just redid our brochures and raised prices. I am having our website redone. I’ve made some changes in advertising venues. I’ve ordered new shirts for the staff. I am constantly tracking what works and what doesn’t. My main concern is always keeping my staff happy and the doors of communication wide open, because that insures the high level of service that I expect and that keeps our customers coming in the door and referring people to us. I pay more than the average employer around here and that has lead to having zero turnover. It’s worth it to me to give up a little more money out of my pocket in exchange for not having to deal with people coming and going. My staff members are appreciated and they know it, not just monetarily, but in my attitude and management style with them. I couldn’t have built my business without them, and I make sure they know that.

Lest you think I haven’t encountered any of those roadblocks I was talking about earlier, let me assure you that isn’t the case. The partners leaving so suddenly was a shock, but it was the best thing for the growth of the business. I don’t think we would have experienced the same growth if they had stayed; ultimately we didn’t have the same vision. When we first opened the business, my husband was employed by another general contractor and I had been urging him to go out on his own. He did that at about the same time we started THERA-SSAGE, so we went from having two guaranteed incomes to having no guaranteed income, but we were both determined not to fail. We tightened our belts and ate more beans and cornbread instead of going out to dinner and gave up a few new cars and vacations.

His construction business thrived until the recession hit. In one year, he lost about $20,000 worth of income. The past two years, he lost more than $40,000 worth of income. Yes, it affected our finances, not to mention my attitude. He’s busy again now, I’m happy to say. But the point is, the word “failure” isn’t in our vocabulary. We both have a positive attitude and when we make up our mind to keep plugging away, we do it. When we hit a roadblock, we look for a detour. We don’t believe in dead ends.

We’ll soon be hitting another milestone.  My husband is scheduled to take his massage licensing exam a couple of months from now and instead of just keeping up the maintenance at the office and covering the desk when I’m gone, he’ll be able to do massage as well, and he gives a great one. It will serve us as a family unit for him to have a second income when the construction business takes a dive.

Throughout the recession, our clinic has kept on rocking and continued to grow every year. I think when people are stressed out over the economy, they still need and value their massage.

We’re having an open house next Monday to celebrate the anniversary. I’m already looking ahead to the next milestone…I’m not sure yet what that’s going to be, but I already know it will be good. I believe if you expect good things to happen, and you work towards that, it will be so. And if I hit another roadblock, I’ll look for a detour. I don’t give up. I’m not the smartest person, or the smartest business person in the world, but to borrow a quote from George Allen, “People of mediocre ability often succeed because they don’t know when to quit.”