Evolution

  The growth and development of the massage profession cannot be explained by something akin to the Big Bang Theory—our profession didn’t pop out of a box, ready to serve. It has grown and developed through fits and starts, especially in the last 20 years. Some of these developments were met with great angst within the profession, and much of our growth has survived infighting to proceed. Choose your apt geological reference (volcanoes, earthquakes)—our field occasionally emits tremors, but rarely has full-scale eruptions.   In the past two weeks, two organizations in our field—the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB, www.fsmtb.org) and National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB, www.ncbtmb.org)—have announced initiatives that could be considered significant events on the profession’s Richter Scale.   As referenced in my last post, FSMTB announced a proposal to establish a “continuing competency” program for states to utilize as part of licensure renewal. The general thrust is to require an educational program that ensures licensees maintain critical knowledge and skills in order to maintain practice eligibility. FSMTB’s news wasn’t met with universal support, but I feel this may be another one of those “fits and starts” that sometimes greets changes in a profession—especially one that changes the landscape of continuing education.   NCBTMB took their turn in the spotlight next, announcing even more dramatic changes to their programs. NCBTMB is planning on dropping their initial certification program (now known as “National Certification”), and in its stead is developing a voluntary Board Certification credential. As part of the change, NCBTMB is dropping their Advanced Practice credential initiative (N-CAP for short). Kudos to them for taking a hard look at who they are and what they do, and for having the courage to depart from their familiar framework. Incorporating hands-on field experience and advanced training is an important step toward establishing a meaningful voluntary credential. In their release, it was stated, “NCBTMB’s current exams, the NCETM and the NCETMB, which are used in 38 states, will continue to be offered to states for licensing purposes.” We understand and appreciate the need for some economic stability during NCBTMB’s transition phase, and continuing to offer their exams as a means for licensure can ensure that stability. We do hope, however, that this transition strategy does not become permanent; part of NCBTMB’s continued evolution should be to leave the licensing examination business to FSMTB.   What is refreshing about these developments is that both represent an honest look in the mirror, a re-focusing on these organizations’ respective core missions. It is tempting for organizations of all types to permit “mission drift.” Especially when financial pressures arise, the grass on the other side of the fence often looks greener.   Twenty years ago, when fewer than 20 states had massage licensing, NCBTMB initially focused on raising profession standards by offering a voluntary credential designed to identify individuals possessing excellent massage education and skills. Too quickly, NCBTMB yielded to temptation and at first acquiesced, then encouraged use of its certification exams as a measure of readiness to enter the massage profession. Then in the late 1990s and through much of the 2000s, NCBTMB too often seemed adrift in the wilderness, struggling with governance and staff leadership, and too often exhibiting a tin ear for input from the massage profession. It is truly exciting to see the product of new leadership: the new initiative represents a return to NCBTMB’s important original purpose, with the new model promising to require greater distinction from entry-level licensing requirements. Salute those new leaders for their courage to change course.   Founded in 2005, FSMTB is newer to the scene. Initially focused on enlisting state massage boards to affiliate and getting its MBLEx examination developed and broadly accepted, FSMTB finally has sufficient resources to consider developing new supports for its constituent state boards. One request from those boards was for help in developing approval standards and mechanisms for continuing education providers. It would have been easy for FSMTB to take on NCBTMB and establish a competing regime for screening and approving CE providers of all stripes. Instead, FSMTB looked at the issue through the prism of its public protection mission, resisted the temptation to take on a broader role, and instead committed to lead in developing training and assessment tools to assure all practitioners will periodically demonstrate they are maintaining core competencies. Bravo to FSMTB for having the discipline to stick to its mission.   Why is all this change happening? It could be that our profession is continuing to evolve. Just this week, a positive news report touting the benefits of massage aired on Fox News, and was reported in the Wall Street Journal. More Americans than ever are receiving massage therapy. And our organizations are working away in their specific areas of expertise and responsibility. In the process, together we’re beginning to change the landscape of the field. Are there such things as “good” tremors? Or perhaps they’re good vibrations.     Prefer to receive more from Les in small doses? Follow him on Twitter — @abmp_les.      
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