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Massage Today
February, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 02


By James "Doc" Clay, MMH, NCTMB

All the foofaraw over the Great Election Debacle of 2000 made me think a lot about polarizations, and especially about the great polarization in massage therapy and bodywork: the anti-certification, anti-licensure folks vs.

the certification and licensure supporters; or, at the extremes that polarization seems to force upon us, the wild-eyed anarchists vs. the compulsive organizers.

The big problem with polarization is that everyone is right. In this case, the anarchists are right that the great strength of massage therapy and bodywork lies in freedom and variety, and that the marketplace will gradually separate the wheat from the chaff. The organizers are right that official credentials will (rightly or wrongly) command more respect from the public and other health professionals, and that self-policing is better for us than arbitrary external controls.

Neither of these "right" positions, however, is without danger. I'm sure all of us have cringed at having assumptions made about us based on people's experiences with other therapists. The hard-core clinical types shudder at the thought of being associated with the "woo-woo" practitioners of energy work and obscure, often Eastern, quasi-religious approaches. AMTA-style draping enthusiasts are horrified at postural therapists who treat clients in underwear. And all of us are fearful of truly unethical practices such as financial scams, quackery and sexual abuse by therapists. One of the things we learned when the totalitarian regimes of the Soviet bloc countries fell was that freedom brings risk - the crime statistics in those countries shot up when the police state no longer reigned. The marketplace may sort things out, but it takes time. There's always a niche open for the opportunist and the con artist, and they reflect on us all.

At the same time, where there is organization, there are power structures, and where there are power structures, there is potential for real abuse of power. Whatever you may think of the National Certification Board, always remember that, elections of board members notwithstanding, it is emphatically not a democracy. The board has broad powers to do what it will, and that includes tight control over who is and is not allowed to run for office. Not only do massage schools understandably teach to the certification exam, they also bend over backward to teach to the standards both of the NCBTMB and the AMTA - that's their bread and butter. As more and more states adopt the National Certification Exam as their standard for licensure, the board gains power.

Everyone will have to take some sort of position on the issue - even those whose position is passive acceptance of whatever happens. There are those who will continue the valiant (but I believe rather quixotic) fight against certification and licensure. There are those who will doggedly insist on trying (all too often with success) to impose their own views of bodywork on the profession. But I have some suggestions, or requests, for all parties:

First, I ask the anarchists to consider what the loss of their voices in the corridors of power will cost. If you truly believe in the value of freedom, and really want to curb some of the excesses of those who would seek uniformity in the profession based on their own preferences or biases, please consider fighting from the inside, and lending your strength to the battle for freedom and diversity within the institutional structures. In short, run for membership on the national board!

And now, to the organizers: please remember how often the narrowness and closed-mindedness of the traditional, established health professions have frustrated us. Take note of how many different approaches there are within our discipline that are effective. Observe that imaginative and daring practitioners who explored new ways of doing things have developed all of those approaches. Never forget that the next Ida Rolf, the next Milton Trager, the next Aston or St. John or Berry or Upledger or Phaigh, is some as-yet-unrecognized therapist out there practicing anonymously, and needing to work without handcuffs. Remember that when you place limits on therapists, you also restrict the choices and options of their clients.

Please make rules only when there is a clear and pressing need - not just for the sake of making rules. We seek to be different in many ways from the traditional health professions. Therefore, consider not mimicking their models of standards of practice and codes of ethics. Please think outside the box. Do not be tempted by the notion that0 because 67.4% of bodyworkers do a particular thing in a particular way, all bodyworkers should do it that same way. Always respect the minority view, however small - it is from the minority that the most creative innovations will come.

Please do not try to homogenize us, because that will be our death.

Click here for more information about James "Doc" Clay, MMH, NCTMB.


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