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Massage Today
July, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 07

Marching Toward Therapeutic Irrelevance

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

Editor's Note: To read Ralph's previous articles, go to:

From previous articles, I have been accused of being irrational and needing to do more homework. Seems I pushed too firmly on a few buttons. Homework will be forthcoming along with a softer touch. Once again, I will state that my purpose here is to provoke thought and constructive debate. I am not being critical of anyone or anything just for the sake of "stirring the pot." It is not my intention to be negative or to create fear. I am sharing my view, in hopes of having a positive effect. Sadly, even the most constructive criticism or observation can be perceived as threatening to the "leadership," who I know really do mean well. I know them. I love them. I am just questioning the outcomes that I see resulting from their actions that I feel are detrimental to those of us who take the word "therapy" seriously, or should I say, "to a deeper level."

Actions and outcomes are much more meaningful to me than intentions and words. I am trying to defend and protect the rights of massage therapists and bodyworkers to practice clinical, therapeutic massage and bodywork.

I stand in the river shouting for the sake of suffering humanity that desperately needs the benefits of skilled, specific, therapeutic touch from well-trained professionals with tears in my eyes as I believe the scope of practice, the necessary level of education and thus, the public's access to the care they need and seek is being washed away.

Proper Training

open book - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark In every state that has gained massage licensure, a sudden explosion in the number of schools has occurred. There has not been an adequate supply of trained massage teachers with years of successful practice experience, so these schools recruit needy therapists with minimal experience off the street, and put them into classrooms in many cases with little or no preparation. In many schools, one instructor is burdened with teaching an entire massage curriculum. There are few, if any requirements for instructors in massage schools to be trained and proficient in the core competencies of teaching.

The competency of the profession is eroding as a result. The national average pass rates have been dropping on the NCE over the past decade (down to 61 percent at last report). Is this the way to improve our image with either the public or the medical professions?

Research Without Education

I love research. Nothing wrong with better understanding what we do. "Evidence-based massage" is a new mantra. Like evidence-based medicine this will support orthodoxy, stifle innovation, and force providers to treat conditions, not people. We are counting on research to be our key to acceptance by the "integrative medicine" community. Yet there is no guarantee that when we have every single aspect of massage documented and validated by research, that they will embrace us. Especially when our entry-level of education and competency is laughable to them. It is not what we say we are, but what we can actually deliver, consistently, to the public that will put massage on the map as a profession.

The Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) project had potential to be a positive force in our professional development. Instead it has become an instrument to effectively suppress clinical massage. Any therapeutic scope of practice that is left in our massage laws is being defined out of our scope by MTBOK. You can see this document at: You can get more of my take on this project on my blog at:

Losing the Future

The less we can do, the less valuable we will become in the health care system of the future. If we legislate and educate ourselves into therapeutic irrelevance, we will not have time to resurrect the full potential of massage therapy and will be passed by.

My colleagues, what do you want for your profession? Or do you care? If you do, make yourselves heard. I am trying to preserve our right to perform "therapy." Where are my fellow educators? PC got your tongues?

See you in September when I will begin a series of historical columns to show the lessons our profession failed to learn and appears to be repeating. Be Well.

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


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