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From the title, you might think this blog is about The Client List, the trashy new show on the Lifetime Channel that gives massage therapy a black eye. No such luck; the event I am referring to is the upcoming Leadership Summit #2, set to take place next week in Chicago.

The first Leadership Summit (to clarify: there were summits in 2003-04 before AFMTE and FSMTB existed) took place last September in St. Louis, with the executive directors and chairs of ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, the Massage Therapy Foundation, FSMTB, COMTA, and NCBTMB in attendance. It was a historic event in that it was the first time all seven of these organizations had come together in the best interests of the profession. The purpose, according to the press release announcing the meeting, “was to hold a beginning conversation about major structural issues and impediments to profession progress. The desire is to have candid exchange about core challenges, quality concerns, consumer expectations and organizational roles.”

Apparently, one of the hot topics at this week’s meeting is going to be the number of required entry-level education hours. Although this was not on the agreed-upon agenda at the first meeting, it was introduced anyway by ABMP Chairman Bob Benson, complete with a thorough proposal prepared by Anne Williams, Director of Education at ABMP. Basically, the proposal was for a task force to be formed immediately, and using Job Task Analyses that have been conducted by the NCBTMB and the FSMTB, to nail down a definite number of hours that should be required for entry-level education. This was contrary to the facilitator’s recommendation—and the group’s agreement— that they would spend the initial meeting identifying problems, and would address possible solutions for these problems at meetings to follow.

In the interest of the leaders being comfortable in speaking freely, these are closed meetings—no press and no other staff members in attendance—an executive session, so to speak. Certainly not without precedent; boards have executive sessions all the time—usually to discuss personnel matters or other things that would violate someone’s privacy if they were discussed in public.

That’s not exactly the case here; and while I am thrilled that our leaders—some of whom are from competing organizations—are sitting down at the table together, my concern is that a small group of people has the power to decide (or worse, just think they have the power to decide), what is best for the profession on the whole, without getting input from the people it affects—you and me. Practitioners, school owners, teachers, CE providers, the regulatory community, all have a vested interest in the future of our profession, and I don’t think that should be decided by an exclusive group behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, that is just what the ABMP proposal states in no uncertain terms. Verbatim, Williams’ proposal stated: There is no step in this proposal to obtain input from the broader massage profession or from other health-care or bodywork organizations during this project. The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs.

The sentence that disturbs me there is “It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught.” Any time you start to think it doesn’t matter what stakeholders think, there’s a problem, in my humble opinion, no matter what the issue. Stakeholders are the ones it will affect, and to think their opinion isn’t important is just beyond the pale.

At the recent ABMP School Issues Forum in Austin, Texas, Bob Benson stated to those in attendance that there was 100% consensus in support of this standards-setting proposal from the organizations that attended the Leadership Summit. That’s not exactly so. COMTA, FSMTB, and AFMTE all expressed concerns after the proposal was introduced in September; they are not petty concerns, and they do not appear in any way to be based on politics or turf wars.
This is bad business for two primary reasons: First, any project that has the potential to affect the entire massage therapy profession should not be designed, approved, and launched in secret. Changing the baseline numbers of entry-level education required for state licensure is a huge thing, as it will affect schools, regulators, and future students.

By contrast, the MTBOK project modeled appropriate transparency, and the massage community had adequate opportunities for input along the way.

Second, it is more important right now that our primary stakeholder organizations learn to work together in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation—than to plunge headlong into a major problem-solving project when consensus has NOT been reached. The end does not justify the means. Some of my own issues are that the MTBOK and the competency-based curriculum standards set forth by COMTA aren’t even being given consideration. This proposal also overlooks the fact that the AFMTE is currently working on a National Teacher Standards Education Project. A huge amount of work has gone into creating both the MTBOK and the COMTA standards; a huge amount of work from some of the best educators in the business is going into the AFMTE project, and for these to be cast aside when they have direct relevance to this proposal is irresponsible to say the least.

During our troublesome economy of the past few years—and it doesn’t appear to be over yet—school owners have been seriously affected already, and having a nation-wide upheaval based on an “official” number of required hours is not the be-all end-all solution to licensing portability. It will just serve to put an additional burden into the mix at the present time. The lack of portability may be an irritant to our field, but it is not causing harm to the public.

The AMTA Board of Directors voted last October to support the project in its present form. As ABMP and AMTA are the two largest professional membership associations, they carry a big stick. That doesn’t mean their agendas should be force-fed to the profession, and I hope that they will reconsider both the timeline, and the very valid concerns raised by the other organizations before barging ahead with this project. I am certainly not saying that it never needs to happen. I am just saying it doesn’t need to happen on speed-dial until all of these issues have been ironed out. I hate to see good intentions canceled out by unchecked enthusiasm for rushing something to market; I hate to see valid concerns from the other organizations swept under the carpet; and I hate to see the opinion that what the stakeholders think doesn’t matter.

When you’re meeting behind closed doors, it’s easy to forget who the stakeholders are. I’m one of them. I’m a member of both AMTA and ABMP, a founding member of the AFMTE, a past delegate to the FSMTB, a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist & Bodyworker, an Approved Provider under the NCBTMB, and a current site reviewer for COMTA, so I do indeed have a vested interest. I don’t appreciate our national organizations acting as if my opinion and that of the other thousands of massage therapists, school owners, and others who enable your very existence on this planet don’t matter.

At this week’s Summit, the representatives of these seven organizations have an opportunity to address this issue that has divided the group, and to get their process back on track. I hope that they also remember the responsibility that they have to their own members, and to the profession as a whole. To use ABMP’s own slogan here, we “Expect More” from our leaders.

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Tags: ABMP, AMTA, Anne, Benson, Bob, COMTA, FSMTB, Foundation, Massage, NCBTMB, More…Therapy, Williams

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Comment by Daniel Cohen on April 30, 2012 at 8:51am

"The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs."

Is that what the recent survey by NCBTMB that was so poorly worded that many including myself refused to respond to? It gave such an inaccurate  representation of what tasks we perform when that it is useless. Surveys that poll professionals to get preconceived results are strictly self serving and are without benefit (perhaps even with harm) to the profession.

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