Why I Believe in ELAP

 

I’ll start my post by revealing my biases: I am President of Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), a Registered Massage Therapist in the great State of Colorado, and Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage. I am also a member of the “Leadership Group,” which consists of representatives of the following organizations: Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE, or “the Alliance”), ABMP, American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) and National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).

 

Much has been written or stated about the Entry-Level Analysis Project (ELAP) already; though many individual comments have been positive, most of the blogs and articles have not been supportive of the project. This post will be. My colleagues Laura Allen, Ralph Stephens, and John Weeks have raised concerns and/or objections, some of which merit discussion.

 

The Entry Level Analysis Project, in its initial form, was the brainchild of Anne Williams, ABMP’s Director of Education. Anne is a restless character; consumed with passion and energy, she embraces the change that seems always to exist in massage therapy and is determined to be an agent for positive change. She continues to devote significant energy to achieving a solid ELAP result and to ensuring opportunities for broad profession input. Already the ELAP design has evolved to incorporate suggestions from the organizations listed above and numerous other key individuals. The ELAP is not an ABMP project; it germinated with Anne, but has been embraced and developed by the organizations listed above.

 

Jean Robinson, ABMP’s Director of Government Relations, and I have long lamented the incongruence of massage therapy regulation; the evolution of statewide regulation of the profession has been marked by pockets of provincialism, resulting in a patchwork quilt of regulations and practice requirements. Our views aren’t unique, or probably that original; since regulation accelerated in the early 1990s, 25 states have adopted state regulatory laws. One of the critical elements of state regulation is the educational requirement. The varied hour requirements among states have been a source of consternation for many of us in the field. Numerous engaged entities, including ABMP, have contributed to the patchwork result. But as a profession, we are where we are. What’s encouraging is that we are now working together using a different angle of attack to try to arrive at an agreed-upon standard with a substantive rationale behind it.

 

The educational foundation of our field is in need of further commitment to consistency and quality; that is why many organizations (ours included) and individuals have committed to improving teacher and student readiness. The ELAP is in a similar vein.

 

FSMTB has embarked on a broadly well-regarded project called The Model Practice Act. It has the full support of ABMP, and, to my understanding, the same from the profession’s other leading organizations. A fundamental challenge with this exercise is selecting a required minimum education component. Every state massage therapy regulation includes a minimum education requirement necessary for licensure/registration. There isn’t today an agreed-upon educational standard upon which FSMTB, the individual states, or the rest of us can rely. The ELAP will potentially—and ideally—help inform a recommended standard. The most commonly utilized “standard” today­—500 hours of education—is recognized by ABMP, AMTA, and NCBTMB for each organization’s membership or certification requirements. The challenge is that standard was at best loosely defined (and weakly justified) sometime in the 1980s. The fact that the origins of the 500-hour standard are subject to debate tells you all you need to know. We are due for an updated process and result.

 

One of the primary benefits from the ELAP will be that recognized training can aid portability of licensure from state to state. Would establishing portability be easy? No. Is it impossible? No. Is it in the best interests of the profession? As one who serves the interests of individual therapists, I can tell you without hesitation that the lack of consistent state regulations creates hardships for many therapists and has for decades. The ELAP is not a panacea, but would be an important step in the right direction. To those who dismiss portability as not important to the profession’s growth—you are wrong, and you are turning your back on your peers. To those who say it will never happen, I say, “Step aside.”

 

Some of the concerns expressed regarding the ELAP focus on prioritization. Critics say this isn’t the most important priority in our field, and major national organizations are wasting time and resources by working on it. I will save space and refer you to three individuals I highly respect who spoke to this perspective in follow-on comments on Laura Allen’s blog: Emmanuel Bistas, Pat Archer, and ABMP Chairman Bob Benson. You can read their comments here. Nothing I could say could improve upon their efforts.

 

The Alliance has made one of its goals establishing appropriate teacher standards for massage therapy training programs. For the last six years, ABMP has emphasized that teachers in the field need more support, training, and preparedness. We have walked the talk by instituting our Instructor on the Front Lines and Instructor 101 programs—to name two of many efforts—and we offer them at no cost to all educators. We believe strongly in the need to establish an appropriate qualification for teachers. But improving teacher quality and the ELAP are complementary undertakings that can’t and shouldn’t be addressed sequentially. We can and should be simultaneously moving forward on both of these worthy initiatives.

 

The development and continuing use of COMTA’s competencies have been mentioned as a reason rendering superfluous the launching of the ELAP. In his Integrator Blog, John Weeks states it would be smart to start with COMTA’s work. Indeed. In fact, COMTA’s competencies are being used as resource material to inform the ELAP, as are numerous other profession developed resources. However, what John doesn’t recognize or mention is that only 6% of U.S. massage therapy training programs have received program accreditation from COMTA, and only 51% of all massage therapy programs are taught at schools that have been institutionally accredited by any U.S. Department of Education-recognized agency. While universal program accreditation may be a worthy goal for the field, we simply aren’t close to that reality. Massage program accreditation today remains a point of differentiation.

 

The ELAP’s intent is to establish a consistent education baseline in the field. Through careful assessment of needed skills, knowledge, and abilities to be ready to begin practice, ELAP seeks to persuade both schools and regulatory bodies to adopt/require a common baseline instructional curriculum. Success will promote consistency and encourage states to support credential portability. The vision isn’t cookie-cutter curriculum templates for all schools. Programs will still be differentiated, reflecting diverse perspectives and consumer desires. ELAP will simply encourage universal adoption of core curricula, which if adequately presented and taught, will create confidence that students completing the core will be ready to begin practice. It will help us better understand what we need to teach, and to what depth, to prepare practitioners to successfully enter our field.

 

By all means, let’s continue to encourage diversity in supplemental coursework as each school imprints its own unique stamp. But let such uniqueness constitute additional enrichment on top of a commonly shared base of knowledge and skills.

 

The massage therapy profession is not perfect—far from it. But there are many things to feel good about.  The collaborative nature of the ELAP project is one of them. For too long, ABMP and AMTA have engaged in activities that ranged from “unsupportive of the other” to “in direct conflict.” One of the many reasons I feel so positively about this project is that our two organizations—competitors for 25 years now­—see eye to eye and understand the importance of working together on ELAP. We’re still going to compete for members, but the profession benefits from our joint leadership, and I for one am optimistic we will continue to find ways to do so. Similarly, the other five participating national organizations—even though they are less directly competitive when compared to ABMP & AMTA—haven’t always been mutually supportive. These meetings, and this project, are true opportunities for our profession. All the organizations, despite having their own DNA, culture, mission, and purposes, seem to hold a common belief that there is room for improvement and that the ELAP is an effort worth trying.

 

The ELAP is important, relevant, and long overdue. It is being tackled by some of the brightest lights in our field. I salute their commitment, and encourage those who believe massage therapy’s brightest days are ahead to become active stewards of our profession and raise our collective knowledge. The first step in supporting the work of the ELAP is to participate in FSMTB’s Job Task Analysis, which also includes an ELAP education survey. To do so, click here. It’s not a short survey—all told it might take up to 45 minutes. But that’s a small investment in our profession’s future. If you are an educator or employer of massage therapists, you soon may also have additional opportunities for input through other surveys.

 

Thanks, in advance, for your commitment. I’m Les Sweeney, and I approve this message.

 

 

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