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Massage Today
December, 2009, Vol. 9, Issue 12

Year-End Observations of Our Profession

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

Good Stuff

Kudos to Dr. Janet Kahn, PhD, and the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC) for their successful efforts to ensure that alternative practitioners have a place in the new national health care legislation.

They managed to get an amendment into the Senate health care take-over bill that adds the language "licensed complementary and alternative medicine providers and integrated health care practitioners" to the definition of the health care workforce. This is huge.

At least someone is working for us in this stampede toward socialized medicine, which may be a done deal by the time this article reaches the printing press. I hope not. I hope it is completely defeated and the country can start over on a simple, understandable plan that will improve people's health care instead of increasing politician's power over us.

The work of IHPC is ground-breaking and they deserve our support. They are the only organization of which I am aware that is actively engaged in the debate in Washington, D.C. Hopefully their amendment will survive the process as the various bills move through the legislative process. I am confident they will stay on it. Sadly, in several states where massage therapists are not licensed, we are going to be excluded. Registration, certification and other bogus forms of regulation enacted in some states will not count. The shoddy, patchwork quilt of massage laws passed by our major associations will be put to the test if (when) the draconian health care regulation bills in Congress are enacted.

Fortunately, there is one group that has the potential to salvage the mess made primarily by AMTA, and by ABMP to a lesser degree. By "mess," I mean the state massage laws that have been passed with no uniformity, model, or intent of protecting and expanding our scope of practice and facilitating portability. After all, these are the main purposes of professional regulation. For the most part, good meaning people who have no understanding of professional regulation have written our laws. This has created portability nightmares for therapists and in several states sold out and given up our historic scope of practice. Our regulation "system" is so discordant that it is mostly a burden on therapists. And our associations are so proud of their "work" that there is little hope of them working to change anything for the better.

However, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) has the opportunity and the potential ability to create model practice act legislation and have it enacted uniformly in every state. There are a lot of pieces in the puzzle that must come together, but FSMTB is the only hope I see for uniform regulation and thus easy portability.

This organization is already moving ahead with an ambitious plan to bring about reciprocity for therapists moving from one state to another ("portability"). Other standardization language will also be developed. FSMTB has the potential to raise the standards for our profession, something our associations and massage schools have no financial incentive to do. FSMTB deserves our support; they need volunteers who care about our profession for committees.

Less Than Good Stuff

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCB), which has continually refused to accept its real purpose of being a certification agency, has now decided to become an insurance vendor and a pseudo-professional association. This will be interesting. I wonder if it will use the same tactics to keep its insurance customers that it uses on its primary certification exam customers: the state regulatory boards, which is lawyers and intimidation? Threatening clients has never been an effective marketing tool for customer retention, except maybe for the Mafia. NCB has sealed its fate and will not be around much longer. Its poor service, legal actions and legislative tactics have created incredible ill will against it in the regulatory arena. You can never win a war against the bureaucracy. Maybe a battle or two, but eventually the bureaucracy will have its way. NCB's days as a licensing exam are over once the lawsuit agreements expire. The ongoing transition of our profession to a trade will minimize the demand for a certification credential. NCB was initially a good idea. Too bad it didn't live up to the high expectations. Oh by the way, I actually hope I am wrong about this observation. It would be such a waste of time, money and energy if NCB was lost. Time will tell.

Speaking of insurance vendors, there are two principles being demonstrated in the massage world at this time. The first is that obscene profits bring ruinous competition. AMTA once had a monopoly on the professional massage practitioner insurance package. Then along came ABMP. Now there are many vendors, the newest being NCB. Most are competing on price. The icing is melting off the insurance cake and the big two are losing business and thus, profit.

The second principle being demonstrated is the Third Law of Thermodynamics. This law of physics says that a system tends toward entropy (chaos) as its energy becomes disorganized over time. However, the practical application of the law also provides that local order can be produced while increasing overall entropy. This is what is happening. Smaller groups are bringing a more localized order to the massage community. However this is at the expense of increased chaos (less order) in the overall group. This may be a good thing internally, but who is going to represent the entire massage community externally in issues like state legislation and the new national health care system, whatever that turns out to be? This increase in overall entropy will probably not help us as a profession unless it somehow evolves to separate the profession from the trade in a way that elevates the profession. At this time, it is probably helping the good to get better. We need the good to get larger, to be an ever-increasing percentage of the whole. At this time, that is not evident. But hey, there is always hope for change we can believe in.

Merry and Bright Stuff

It is hard to believe that the holiday season is already upon us again. Hope you sell lots of gift certificates! However you celebrate it, remember there is a bigger reason for all these special and sacred days than just shopping. May all the various holidays bring you joy and peace. Here's to a better year in 2010! I wish a healthy and very Happy Holidaze to all. See you back here in January.

Click here for more information about Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB.


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