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The Massage Keiretsu?


There is a business expression in Japan known as a "keiretsu," where a conglomeration of companies has interlocking relationships, typically for their mutual benefit. At the extreme, they may converge as a tightly woven monopoly, to the detriment of their clients and competitors.

I've been getting some physical therapy recently (Mick said it best-"what a drag it is getting old"). While lying there during the ice/electric stim wrap-up, I began to wonder if massage therapy has developed a sort of keiretsu, inadvertently.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has been in service to the profession for more than 65 years. In the past twenty years it begat the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) and the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF). In addition, it has a subset of its membership called the AMTA Council of Schools. Recently, a group of members of the AMTA Council of Schools decided to start its own organization, the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AMTE). ABMP has been around since 1987, and in 2005 was supportive in the gestation of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), which developed the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx).

Each year ABMP exhibits at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which perhaps you read about in this space back in July. ABMP feels it is important for us to represent our membership to state officials to help them better understand and appreciate massage and bodywork. Over the past several years, we have positioned our exhibit booth right next to AMTA's booth. Our view has been that to the legislative world, the differences between AMTA and ABMP are not as important as they might be within the profession. Both organizations are in service to the profession, and therefore we feel it's important to provide as constructive a voice possible to legislators. And we are comfortable standing next to them; hopefully they feel the same.

Massage Magazine has three primary competing publications, including Massage & Bodywork (ABMP's magazine, which is included as a benefit of membership) and MTJ (AMTA's magazine, also included as a benefit of membership). However, Massage also accepts advertising from both organizations.

As I mentioned earlier, NCBTMB was initially developed by AMTA. However, AMTA recently recommended the MBLEx be utilized as the licensing exam for the profession. NCBTMB also recently announced its intent to provide services as an association, which would place it in direct competition with AMTA and ABMP. I made ABMP's views clear on this earlier this summer; AMTA did the same. Recently, NCBTMB also announced the launch of an advanced certification examination. At this point details aren't real clear, but we think this has the potential to be a move in the right direction for NCBTMB and the profession.

ABMP has been a steward of the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) project for the past 14+ months, alongside AMTA, AMTA's Council of Schools, FSMTB, NCBTMB, and the MTF. We are delighted to do so, and have found it to be rewarding and important work. The work being done by the MTBOK task force is not about any one organization, or about these organizations collectively. It's about helping to further establish the profession in more concrete terms; I view it as "mapping the DNA" of the massage profession. We are proud to support the effort and to do so alongside these organizations.

When I look back at the definition of a keiretsu, my answer is no, massage does not have a keiretsu (despite the entreaties of the occasional conspiracy theorist). The organizations in the field do have relationships, and in some cases on several levels. But we also do not always see eye to eye, and some of us are in direct competition.

Most of the acronyms I mention here are independent entities that exist for our own benefit. At the end of the day, the mutual benefit we exist for is the profession, and its future.