For many years now I have read with fascination and wonder Ralph Stephens’ column in Massage Today. A basic tenet of journalism is for a newspaper or periodical to have competing views in print, to provide balance, interest, and variety. As I mentioned once before in regard to Stephens’ column, his role is to “stir the pot.” I for one find this entertaining and useful. On occasion our organization has been in Stephens’ crosshairs. In fact, recently. That’s OK; the actions of our organization are not above reproach by any means.
However, another important tenet of responsible journalism is to report facts—or at least do your homework. The two most recent postings by Stephens fail to meet that standard.
In the December 2009 issue of Massage Today, Stephens wrote an article titled, “Year-End Observations of our Profession,” where he rightfully gave praise to the efforts of Janet Kahn and the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium. As we are all aware, the health care debate in this country is as contentious an issue as we have experienced in quite some time; having a voice like IHPC at the table has been a great step forward for our profession. What was not noted in the prior article was that both AMTA and ABMP are supporters of IHPC, recognizing it as an appropriate conduit to represent massage therapy along with other complementary and integrative health care disciplines. In our case, ABMP has been a financial supporter and our Chairman Bob Benson served on the IHPC Steering Committee during its formative years. We are delighted to work with IHPC in this pursuit.
Stephens goes on to extol the virtues of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) as the organization with the potential to “salvage the mess made primarily by AMTA, and by ABMP to a lesser degree,” and “raise the standards for our profession, something our associations and massage schools have no financial incentive to do.” We’ll take that comment as some form of thanks; ABMP helped initiate the effort to establish the FSMTB in 2005 and provided a loan to help the organization get off the ground.
In his most recent (January 2010) column, “Heart on the Bottom Line,” Stephens advances the premise that associations and schools are in collusion to limit massage therapy’s scope of practice. It is difficult to rationally rebut an irrational statement. In my 15+ years of involvement in the massage therapy profession through ABMP, 24 states and the District of Columbia have enacted massage regulation laws. During that time, ABMP has been on all sides of the debate, because ABMP’s legislative principles had not changed—we seek to ensure the most favorable climate possible in which to practice. If Stephens had been involved in any one of those state-level efforts, he would have an understanding that there has been an effort (at least on ABMP’s part) to establish a consistent legislative standard, should one be needed. However, those 24 states view our profession through their own lens; the reasons that Alabama and Nevada have different licensing laws have a lot to do with those two states, and nothing to do with liability insurance. We believe raising the standards of our profession happens through better curricula, better instruction, better schools, and more successful graduates and therapists.
Has the regulatory development of the massage profession been disjointed? Absolutely. Could we as a profession have done better? Of course. Will the regulatory environment improve in the future? I believe so, for the same reason Ralph Stephens does—establishing FSMTB will only increase the states’ abilities to work together.
News flash: The massage and bodywork profession is imperfect. As a leader in this profession, we at ABMP understand that the easy path is to blame “the big guys” for things that aren’t the way we want them. We have no illusions about the role of Stephens’ column: it is an opinion piece. However, we do feel that he should do some homework before sharing those opinions.