Expect More, with Les: Difficult Conversations

Last week, after a year hiatus (that was for the most part a goodwill gesture to the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education), the ABMP School Forum returned with a flourish in Memphis, Tennessee. It was my first visit to Memphis, which is a rare statement I can make about a major US city after 20-plus years of business travel. I wasn’t there for long, but I give Memphis a big thumbs-up—it’s a place I would gladly return to when I have a little more time to explore.

As for the Forum, we’re back—and we didn’t lose our mojo. That is primarily thanks to Anne Williams, who developed a great program, and her partner-in-crime Cindy Williams (no relation), who made sure a great meeting occurred. We are delighted to be engaged again, and we have two more Forums (September 23–24 in Scottsdale, Arizona, and November 3–4 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) this year. Make your plans!

Part of our curriculum at the Forum this year—and my role as keynote presenter—is to offer a sobering look at where the massage profession is today. Having this conversation requires navigating some serious hot-button issues—the role of franchises and employers, the impact of accreditation, Title IV funding, and the role of training institutions.

As part of our internal development of the program, we deliberated about how to address these serious challenges. The presentation could have been very easily portrayed as, “ABMP President Dumps on Franchises, Schools.” That would be inaccurate, not to mention not very ABMP growth-friendly.

On an almost weekly basis, I receive correspondence from members and nonmembers, and as I tell our staff on many occasions, “People contact us not because they are having a great day, but because they need something.” Some of the issues are presented to us regularly—from working conditions of therapists, to the cost of obtaining a massage education, to the fundamental issue: How do I make a career doing massage?

Our presentation­—and our belief system—focuses on working to help solve these problems. And no solution is easy, or a quick fix. But to not talk about the challenges in the field would be dishonorable, and not what we stand for at ABMP. Even if the conversations make people uncomfortable at times, we owe it to our members, the profession, and ourselves to have the discussion.

 —Les Sweeney, BCTMB, is the president of ABMP.



Hi Les!

I'm picking up what you're putting down. It's seems we have a lot of challenges to overcome if this industry is going to realize it's full potential, and there is a desperate need out there for the massage industry to do that. I hear people blaming franchises, other people blaming schools, and others pointing the finger back at your standard unprofessional MT. Who's right? The answer of course is everybody is right. I own a school in Indiana. For years I have heard nothing but excuses from school owners: We can't meet ELAP standards (blah, blah). But we've proven that schools can, and darn well better be meeting those standards. We hear from franchises, "We can't pay more." I respect the need for healthy profit margins, but come on, I don't believe there isn't any room to improve wages and working conditions. And massage therapists as whole need to grow up and take ownership of their own careers. In case you haven't noticed, I am fed up. We need to be uniting as a profession. We need a bold decisive course correction. My question to you: What are you willing to do to be part the solution? Where does ABMP fit in to all this? It needs to be more than yelling at the rest of us. I look forward to your response, and an open dialogue for change in the future.