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Massage Today
February, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 02

Trust and Expectations

By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB

By now, you have probably already read this issue's top story outlining assertions of wrongdoing in the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork's (NCBTMB) election process.

The news of this possible wrongdoing pains me; the situation is needless and is potentially evidence of a betrayal of trust by one of the most powerful and influential organizations in the massage therapy profession.

I know it also pains the volunteers who serve on the board and committees of the NCBTMB. Their organizational culture is not one that enjoys or allows much airing of dirty laundry; however, initial fact-finding indicates that Elizabeth McIntyre's complaint contains a certain amount of credibility since the NCBTMB's documented bylaws and policies have been vague in defining criteria.

In a nutshell, McIntyre maintains that although she is currently a sitting member on the Board of Directors (BOD), the NCBTMB nomination committee advised her that she does "not meet the current criteria for consideration" to run for a second term. According to McIntyre, this incident suggests that the NCB's nominations process is not fair or equitable, and further asserts that personal differences within the BOD affect the election process and that a "power play to control the BOD and the ballot process is occurring." If McIntyre's assertions ultimately prove accurate, the NCBTMB has exhibited an egregious breach of trust in the community it serves and will have outlived its useful life.

Of all the entities in our profession, the NCBTMB has long touted the highest of ideals and standards. Its statement of organizational purpose - its entire reason for being - is to foster high standards of ethical and professional practice in the delivery of services through a recognized, credible credentialing program that assures the competency of practitioners of therapeutic massage and bodywork. If the NCBTMB is indeed stacking the deck and manipulating the elections process to ensure a skewed result in populating its BOD, then it is the worst violator of its own standards. A grand house on a crumbling foundation cannot be expected to stand for long.

I am pleased that the NCBTMB took McIntyre's complaints seriously and investigated them. To the best of my knowledge, the NCBTMB nominating committee does not have substantial criteria to review for anyone desiring to run for the BOD. NCBTMB Bylaws state only that "Members of the Board of Directors, except for the public member, must: 1) be Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB), 2) have a minimum of three (3) years experience in the profession of therapeutic massage and bodywork, and 3) be in good standing with the NCBTMB." Period, exclamation point - that's it.

Unless there is a secret document in a safe somewhere, to my knowledge, the above passage is the sum and substance of qualifications for someone to sit on the BOD. It is also the only criteria mentioned in NCB's Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, or Policies and Procedures. Without some clearly defined hurdles for prospective board candidates to clear, it is unfathomable to me that a nominating committee would find a sitting board member who has not been censured or sanctioned unqualified for re-election. Is the NCBTMB suggesting that it made grave errors in the past by letting McIntyre "slip through by mistake" and can correct that mistake by pulling her name from the ballot now? Does the NCBTMB think the certificant base is too stupid to realize that there might be better candidates for the position than an incumbent? Either suggestion makes me shudder.

As saddened as I am by this story, I am equally saddened by what has not been affirmed in all of this. I know many of the NCBTMB volunteers personally; I know them to be decent, honorable hardworking people doing their best to do right by the profession and the public. I also know that, contrary to McIntyre's allegations, the NCBTMB Board of Directors has no interfering capabilities in the nominating process or a desire to do so. The committee who reviewed the candidate's applications worked autonomously from the BOD. I know because I "lived in that house!"

I have chaired NCB committees, served as a director, and ultimately served as a chairman of the BOD. I know the culture; I know the effort those individuals expend on our behalf to make our profession the best it can be. I remember the untold hours I spent as chair of that organization dispelling myths about the NCBTMB. It is easy to suspect the NCB of myriad faults. It is a private, nonprofit, tax-exempt, autonomous, voluntary credentialing organization and as such, it doesn't have "members," or need to answer to or provide answers to massage therapists as a whole. I feel that the NCB has frequently accepted poor advice from its advisors and has chosen to use "legalspeak" to avoid real answers to real questions by real massage therapists. Coupled with a history of poor customer service, the NCB became an easy target for distrust. Those who choose to look, however, will find that the intent - if not the results - has always been for the highest good. I have personally never been more proud of any activities than those I did in support of the NCBTMB's goals.

The NCB certainly has not asked for my opinion of what to do about the situation it finds itself in now, but as I understand it, its recent problem-solving actions have gone a long way to ensuring that similar election questions are no longer raised. For one, it is in the process of completely revamping the entire election process from the bottom up. Giving McIntyre another chance to get on the ballot seems like a good first step to problem resolution. Developing real qualifications and criteria in policy that is made public is another step. If McIntyre's name is ultimately put on the ballot, it is then the responsibility of every eligible voter to determine if someone who took an internal matter and made it public while also campaigning for public support (an activity prohibited by NCB policy), can actually serve as an effective member of the team. I think not.

The NCBTMB has well over 80,000 certificants. A large majority of states regulating massage utilize the National Certification Examination (NCE). While it is technically a voluntary credentialing organization, the fact that many states require the NCE makes dealing with the NCBTMB an involuntary requirement. The NCBTMB arguably impacts more massage therapists than any other entity in our history. As such, the expectations are that the high ethics and standards espoused by the NCBTMB are reflections of how it functions internally. If it is it to remain in a position of authority and influence, the NCBTMB must earn the right to do so and accept the needs of the profession - not determine, then dictate them while breaking the rules it has set for itself.

The fact that it has recognized its systematic shortcomings and is actively arranging to revamp its systems to earn public trust, shows that NCBTMB's lofty ideals have not disappeared. McIntyre will get another shot at having her name on the ballot, as will all others who were previously reviewed by the NCBTMB's nominating committee. Hopefully, the form-letter language will be modified so that rejected candidates will understand that there were other, more qualified candidates to choose from, not that they didn't meet ambiguous selection criteria.

One of my favorite "curmudgeons" said recently, "In the absence of sufficient supportive information, the human brain will nevertheless construct meaning." I hope I have not fallen into that trap in my observations here. Scandal is a terrible thing for everyone, and this one certainly gets in the way of much of the good that the NCBTMB has done for the profession. If the NCBTMB satisfactorily exorcises this demon, I feel it deserves our support in fulfilling its ideals. If it chooses not to or fails to do so for other reasons, it will have not regained our trust and will likely wither and die.

Thanks for listening!

Massage Today encourages letters to the editor to discuss matters related to the publication's content. Letters may be published in a future issue or online. Please send all correspondence by e-mail to or by regular mail to:

Massage Today
P.O. Box 4139
Huntington Beach, CA 92605

Former editor of Massage Today, Cliff is owner of Windham Health Center Neuromuscular Therapy LLC. He is nationally certified in therapeutic massage & bodywork and is licensed as a massage therapist by the states of New Hampshire and Florida. Cliff is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners; a professional member and past president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association; a certified member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Inc.; and a past chairman of the board of directors of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.


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