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Massage Today
January, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 01

ABT Training

By Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support on this, the one-year anniversary of my column and, coincidentally enough, of Massage Today! I appreciate your questions and suggestions, and I answer all letters.

(If you wrote and did not receive a reply, your message got lost in a shuffle between new computers. Please try again.)

I thought this would be a good month to answer the most commonly asked question I've been asked: "How can I learn more, and what books do you recommend?" I'd also like to tie this question in to a much larger issue - how people portray themselves, particularly with regard to their training.

First off, qi is a completely experiential phenomenon; you cannot learn about it from books. It is energetic in nature and thus, elusive. There is absolutely no substitute for training with an experienced instructor. You can get an idea about the functions of qi, etiology, pathology and treatment strategies from books and articles, but it is not going to come together without someone to help sort it all out. Start collecting brochures from places that you know are reputable, such as and other websites. Decide if Chinese medicine is really what you want to do, then figure out how to do it!

As far as books go, there is one that I recommend that, if you only buy one book for the rest of your life, get Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia. It is not cheap, but divide the price up over the years that you will use it and it is clearly a bargain. Foundations of Chinese Medicine is the most readable, comprehensive text written in English (or Italian if you would prefer). Everything in it is applicable to shiatsu and Asian bodywork. If you also want an acupoint book, try Peter Deadman's Manual of Acupuncture. It is also expensive, but you'll never need another meridian and point location book. Either of these books can be ordered from, and AOBTA members receive a discount.

So, let's say you've read all my articles, and purchased and read both of the abovementioned books. Maybe you've even taken a weekend course. Are you ready to add shiatsu to the list of "specialties" on your card? Probably at this point you're response is, "Heavens no, of course not!" but I know for some it may be tempting. It seems fashionable these days to list many specialties on business cards, websites and other places.

One problem in doing that is, people are less likely to call you. Narrow down what you specialize in. Interestingly enough, the more you specialize, the busier you get! The public perceives those who claim to do many different practices as jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. The public is accustomed to seeking out "specialists." There are obviously other reasons to seriously consider how you portray yourself.

How do you feel about people who say they do massage therapy after maybe only a few weekends of training? If you think this does a disservice to your profession, you may sympathize with how I feel. Substitute the word "shiatsu" for "massage" in the scenario above. It is painful for me to see people with little or no training portray themselves as shiatsu therapists.

I have been studying for over 15 years, and I have only covered the tip of the shiatsu iceberg. How much is enough? What is the minimum? Just as the National Certification Exam (NCE) is considered as entry level into the massage profession, the Asian Bodywork Therapy (ABT) Certification Exam, administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), is considered the benchmark in the field for shiatsu and ABT. Each exam requires approximately 500 hours of training as requisite; the curriculum requirements are separate but equal. Both the NCCAOM and the NCBTMB are NCCA-certified and members of NOCA. The NCCAOM also certifies acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists, has been in existence almost 20 years, and has exams accepted for licensure in over 40 states.

Do I think that there are excellent shiatsu therapists who have not taken the ABT exam? Absolutely! However, I believe that by taking the exam, they would benefit themselves and the field of ABT as a whole. Do I think that there are excellent shiatsu therapists out there with less than 500 hours of training in ABT? Maybe. But few would come close to having the high level of sensitivity, knowledge, assessment and treatment skills that I expect from an Asian bodywork therapist.

In Japan, 2,200 hours of training are required to practice shiatsu. I don't think Americans are ready for that benchmark yet, but maybe you see my point! I am happy to say that ABTs have a friend in their quest for practitioners to accurately and ethically represent themselves. AMTA has received a lot of bad press due to "the lawsuit," and I really think it's a shame.

I know Cliff said that he didn't want to appear biased in his last editor's column, but I am fine with coming out as very partial to AMTA and its current board of directors. I personally prefer to be represented by an organization that is membership-driven, nonprofit and that supports high educational standards in the field. I know many of you find that other organizations better fulfill your needs, and I respect everyone's choice!

Learn More!

For a list of schools that offer programs in ABT, go to For information on the national ABT exam, go to

Click here for previous articles by Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc.


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