Faces of Bodywork

Debra Persinger

By Erica Buehler
[Faces of Bodywork]

Debra Persinger, PhD

  • FSMTB executive director
  • Undergrad degree from New Zealand, master’s from Kansas State
  • Will be a panelist at the ABMP School Forum in April

Massage & Bodywork: For readers who don’t know, can you explain what the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) is and its mission?

Debra Persinger: The FSMTB is a membership organization whose members comprise the boards and agencies that regulate massage therapy in the US and its territories. Our mission is to support members in their work of public protection, ensuring that massage therapy is provided to the public safely and competently.

M&B: What is your response to the 150% Rule, and what is your advice to those who want to get involved? (The 150% rule allowed programs, including massage therapy programs, to offer more education than their state’s minimum requirements and remain eligible to offer students federal financial aid. That rule was revoked in 2024, mandating that programs cannot exceed a state’s minimum requirement if it wishes to continue to offer students federal financial aid.)

DP: The FSMTB leadership is convening a task force to explore the state of massage education, including unintended consequences of federal funding rules. As regulators, we are keenly aware that regulatory requirements must evolve to meet the needs of today’s learners while facilitating access and opportunity to enter the profession. In the meantime, we continue to help schools and their students navigate existing regulatory requirements while innovating to positively influence the future.

M&B: How is FSMTB helping the fight against human trafficking, especially as it relates to higher education and the massage therapy profession?

DP: Because massage therapy is a high public impact profession, it has standards that are rigorous for a reason. We have protocols to detect education and transcript fraud and developed a toolkit that is the basis of a training program provided to regulatory professionals. And although it was not developed for this purpose, the Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) plays a pivotal role in screening out unqualified individuals who cannot demonstrate sufficient entry-level ability to safely and competently practice. We also collaborate with other state and federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies.

M&B:Texas recently developed its own entry-level exam, and a few other states are having similar conversations. What are the ramifications of this type of movement, and how should the massage profession respond?

DP: It’s a case study of unintended or perhaps deliberate consequences that are the result of limited thinking. The FSMTB members own and govern the MBLEx, so they already have their own exam that is an objective, psychometrically sound, and legally defensible standardized assessment that facilitates professional mobility and licensure portability. The same cannot be said for state quizzes, which also introduce taxpayer burdens that are nonexistent with the MBLEx. The race to the bottom to offer the weakest link with a state test that allows otherwise unqualified individuals to practice massage really sets the profession back. It limits massage therapists in terms of professional mobility, excludes them from qualifying for multistate licensure, and facilitates human trafficking by allowing these individuals to practice and likely circumvent law enforcement detection.

The massage profession would be rightfully concerned about the splintering and dilution of standards that form pillars of a profession. To be silent or indifferent will allow the decay of the profession to continue. By taking the national licensing exam and essentially standing up for basic standards, the profession will be bolstered and professionals will have the foundational elements to develop and thrive in their careers.