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Massage Today
September, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 09

Associations Aren't for All Massage Therapists, but All Massage Therapists Benefit from Them

By Ron Stephens, LMT

Editor's note: This article is the first of a series on massage associations. Following a brief introduction emphasizing the benefits of association membership, Mr. Stephens focuses on the Texas Association of Massage Therapists (TAMT).

Articles featuring other state massage associations will appear in subsequent issues of Massage Today.

"I don't do politics." "What is the association going to do for me?" "I can buy insurance cheaper from someone else." "I am too busy to be bothered." On and on go the reasons for not getting involved or supporting massage associations, be they local, state or national.

Yes, you are busy; yes, politics play a role; and yes, insurance can be purchased from different sources and at varying prices. There are many reasons to refrain from joining an association, or anything else, for that matter, but there are even more reasons substantiating the positive role associations play in the massage profession.

Our profession is very strong when it comes to learning how to be better at what we do and how we do it - but there is something more basic and more critical to our ability to treat than even the highest skill level, best equipment, or strongest referral system. This fundamental strength is our legislated right to work as touch therapists, and even the slightest change in the legislation can drastically alter how and if we continue to practice.

For example, in Florida, being a licensed massage therapist allows you to touch, make home visits on your own (vs. through an agency), or choose to work in a medical or spa setting (or both). With what is considered to be a fairly minimal amount of classroom training, Florida massage therapists have tremendous flexibility in how we conduct business. This freedom to operate a health care business must be protected, and the only entities available to accomplish this are our state and national associations.

Legislators regard massage associations as speaking representatives of the profession. Associations are the only legislative entities representing massage therapists, so those who don't get involved are subject to the decisions made by those who do.

The reality is, all massage therapists belong to one of the associations representing professional massage. There are two categories of members: those who pay dues, and those who do not. Which one are you? I hope you consider becoming involved with an association. Think of it as a cost of doing business, much like continuing education, supplies and equipment are costs. Becoming a member is the first step, but active involvement is also an important option.

I had the privilege of working with the Texas Association of Massage Therapists (TAMT) to establish an association-sponsored insurance program (FSMTA and TAMT). This program has proven successful for both associations.

The TAMT is in a reorganization mode, but it has made some major strides toward pulling themselves together. The hard work by the leaders of this association, past and present, is indicative of what it takes to bring an association together and keep it growing.

I recently spoke with the newly elected president of the TAMT, Vanessa Carpenter, RMT, and legislative chairperson Sharon Stumpf, RMT. They provided me with insight regarding the history, growth and present status of the TAMT.

The Texas Association of Massage Therapists (TAMT) was established in 1994 -- young by association standards. It was the vision of a group of therapists that saw a need to protect the profession of massage therapy in the state of Texas. These visionaries brought the new association into full swing with the election of officers and the establishment of bylaws. Their legislative board format of choice was president; 1st and 2nd vice presidents; secretary; treasurer; and regional representatives from throughout the state.

Business continued to be conducted in this fashion as member benefits were added. Initially, a newsletter and a website were created, with the intention of including a job and client referral system. These were the first established communication tools in a state that presented unique challenges due to its very large size. When the ability to accept credit cards was established, it was considered a milestone, in that it allowed the TAMT to do business on a much larger scale.

As mentioned above, another of the TAMT's significant business ventures was to work with the FSMTA, which sponsored its professional liability insurance program. This was a true enhancement, as it allowed for membership development and revenue generation on a larger scale than would otherwise have been possible. Both of these areas remain a challenge, as they are with every association, but the foundation for growth is in place.

In 1999, the TAMT took a major step with the establishment of an executive director position. The president resigned and accepted the position of executive director, with board approval. The TAMT was young and inexperienced as an association, and although there was an income stream, revenues were not sufficient to pay an ED salary. In essence, the ED position was that of a dedicated volunteer.

Under the direction of the ED, two major occurrences took place. The TAMT held its first annual convention and trade show in August of 2000. It was profitable, and more importantly, it brought the TAMT live and in person to members and potential members throughout the state. Representatives from agencies such as the Department of Health, Massage Therapy Division attended and interacted with attendees. The convention was a success from all perspectives.

With limited resources, membership and legislation became the primary focus of the TAMT. A major legislative issue was that of newly established continuing education requirements. The TAMT was able to provide its members with input into the rule development process on this issue. This likely would not have occurred without the organizational structure that existed at that time.

The demands of non-paid volunteering took their toll, and the executive director eventually stepped away. In a sense, this left the TAMT stronger and with a better organizational structure, but also with a staggering amount of work and effort necessary to maintain a totally volunteer organization.

In many associations, a handful of members believe in the need to have strong representation. They work hard, eventually burn out, and the process starts over. The sad part is that so much history, hard work, and resources are often forgotten or lost as the building process regenerates. Extended volunteerism at any level is demanding. It extracts its toll in energy, effort and emotion. Eventually, those who have given so much are scorned when pausing to catch their breath or do things differently.

The "angry active" is the death knell to any organization. They spend just enough time being involved to monitor everything going on, and they eagerly share their "expert" opinions, which are often that of ornery "shade-tree mechanics." This attitude often keeps an association from growing and moving forward.

Holding it all together while exploring all of the alternatives, from association management companies to total self-rule, has been the order of the day for those who have stepped forward to guide the TAMT to the next level of growth. There are already plans for a TAMT Convention in January 2002, coinciding with the new continuing education requirements for Texas massage therapists.

The TAMT is dedicated to the profession and will grow as more RMTs in Texas recognize that it is one of the only professional organizations in Texas representing their specific massage interests.

For more information on the TAMT, contact Vanessa Carpenter, TAMT president, at 830-529-3757.


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