resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
Sit or Stand? Analyzing a Mixed Message
I'm more than a bit confused. At my age, that seems to be a rather common occurrence. However, today more than ever, I'm getting a mixed message.
Introducing the Acupuncture Today Digital Edition
In response to the changing habits of our readers, Acupuncture Today will introduce a digital edition of the publication (in addition to our print edition) beginning with the August 2016 issue.
Kansas Achieves Licensing Law
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2615 into law on Friday, May 13, 2016. HB2615 includes provisions for the licensure of acupuncturists in the state of Kansas.
Insuring Quality Control in Herb Importation: An Interview with Wilson Lau
Wilson Lau is the vice president of Nuherbs, a Chinese herb importation company based in San Leandro, California. Before joining Nuherbs, he trained as a lawyer specializing in FDA law.
What's New in Phytonutrition: Mangifera Indica, "The King of Fruits"
One hundred percent pure Indian green mango fruit (mangifera indica), harvested at a special degree of ripeness for efficacy and taste, can now be concentrated as a phytonutrient nutraceutical powder.
Treating Hip & Groin Pain With Abdominal Release of Upper Lumbar Nerve Impingements
Have you encountered patients with groin and hip pain you can't seem to solve? You know it's not a worn-out hip; you suspect the pain is somehow connected to the spine. But somehow, you just can't help them break through.
AOM Hospital-Based Practice: A Future Reality?
The natural evolution of health care on the planet is integrative health. We may have some challenges ahead, but based on my research, all indicators are pointing in a positive direction. There seems to be an evolving consciousness among our patient population that is "getting it."
Acupuncture's Impact on the World
For several years, I have been hearing about the town of Rothenburg, Germany. It seemed just a dot on a map until I arrived. It is the home of the TCM Kongress which began in 1968. It has been held annually for 47 years and it has only missed one year.
A Long-Overdue Win for Oregon Medicaid Patients - and the Implications for Other States
Beginning July 1, 2016, Oregon Medicaid patients with spinal pain (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, pelvic) who are determined to be low risk based on a biopsychosocial assessment tool (STarT Back – Keele University) can receive four chiropractic visits per episode.
Adventures with the San Jiao
Those of us who have been in practice for several decades relish the way meridians and points reveal new diagnostic clues and new insights. I love to encourage my students to see this as an adventure that goes way beyond the textbooks.
Chronic Pain: Become Part of the Solution
I have lectured to more than 7,000 chiropractic physicians over the past five years regarding the chronic pain and opioid epidemic in this country.
Increasing the Value of Spine Care: CMS Approves New Low Back Pain Registry
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has approved the Spine IQ Low Back Pain Registry as a qualified clinical data registry for the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) in 2016.
What You Say Isn't Always What Patients Hear
A few years ago, my aunt Edna (name changed for the purpose of this story) suffered a stroke. After a short hospital stay, she was transferred to a nursing home for rehabilitation. When she arrived at the nursing home, Edna requested a private room.
Beating the Odds: Interview With Para-Powerlifter Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta
Since October 2015, the FICS Foundation, the charitable organization affiliated with the International Federation of Sports Chiropractic (FICS), has been supporting disabled athletes internationally.
An MD Who Understands the Opioid Epidemic
Doctors of chiropractic have an important role to play in ending the opioid epidemic and dealing with chronic pain by conservative means (see our top story in this issue) – but who's to blame for opioid dependence and abuse in the first place?
Believe it or not, an estimated one-third of your patients have eaten some form of fast food within 24 hours of their appointment with you.
Multivitamin Supplement May Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence
There is a great deal of controversy regarding the value of multiple vitamin supplements in cancer prevention.
Three Tips to Help You Analyze the Acupuncture Case Studies of the NCCAOM Exam
Confirm the answer quickly by the elimination method. Case study:
After two treatments for back pain, a patient presents for a third
session complaining of rapid breathing and wheezing that is made worse
during cold weather.
How to Stay Sane During the Elections: Understanding Through the Lens of Chinese Medicine
In Chinese Medicine philosophy, everything consists of Yin and Yang. The law of polar opposites – one cannot exist without its opposite.
The Pertinent Negative
We all have to perform evaluations on patients. Most of us don't like doing it – exams take time, and worse it takes even more time after the evaluation to put together a narrative summary of the findings. Sometimes, this process becomes downright tedious.
Tai Chi Documentary Premier
First Run Features recently announced the world theatrical premiere of Barry Strugatz's documentary The Professor: Tai Chi's Journey West, which premiered last month at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles.
An Emerging Partnership Model
Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) has educated integrative health and wellness practitioners for the last 40 years, originally as an acupuncture clinic and school. The institution's transformative, relationship-centered programs integrate traditional wisdom with contemporary science
Acupuncture Muscle Trigger Point and Oriental Medicine Sports Therapy
It is difficult to ascertain the internal condition of professional basketball player Lebron James during game one of the 2014 NBA finals, in which he developed debilitating muscle cramps that led to his premature removal from the game.
November, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 11
It's Time to Stop Chasing Rainbows
By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCTMB
Would you rather be told the truth, even if it were unpleasant – or would you prefer to hear a fabricated storyline that sounds great and matches what you wish for? Many of the "stakeholder" organizations in the massage therapy field are betting that you want the second option and are hoping you can't tell the difference between the two.
"Truthiness" may be commonplace on the political landscape, but we're being bamboozled by the leaders of our field who are pushing an overblown agenda for the massage therapy profession. It's a scenario impossible to achieve from our status quo and could actually cause more damage than good.
Instead of addressing the inherent weaknesses in massage therapy education and practice, these organizations are ramping up efforts to move our field into mainstream healthcare. We're getting served up messages that highlight the expanded opportunities, increased earnings and greater professional recognition awaiting rank-and-file therapists when we get to the "promised land" of integration with Big Medicine. To be sure, massage folks are hungry for better pay and more respect, but the powers that control our healthcare delivery system are not interested in letting any other practitioner groups into the game – especially when there are reimbursement dollars on the table.
But wait a minute ... doesn't the Affordable Care Act have language that mandates coverage for licensed practitioners of complementary and alternative therapists? Yes, but Section 2706 is on the chopping block, as the medical, hospital and insurance lobbies are gearing up to get this provision removed as Obamacare goes into effect. Even if that part of the law stands and is implemented, massage therapists would be at the lowest level of the totem pole. National certification for our field is meaningless and irrelevant here.
We'd be in a system in which reimbursements for massage services would be low, wages paid to massage therapists in medical facilities would also be low (probably not much more than what techs are paid to clean bedpans) and we would lose the most important thing we have today: autonomy.
Being able to treat who we want, using the techniques we choose, with the opportunity to address the whole person (and not just a symptomatic complaint) is a major part of what has made massage therapy successful in the marketplace. Let's not kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Consumers are looking for alternatives to the rushed, impersonal and reductionistic care that is the norm in our medical mainstream. Sacrificing our freedom as practitioners for an empty promise of a brighter future would be a tremendous loss. It's time for our massage organizations to stop chasing rainbows, get honest with themselves and their constituents, and work on solving the real problems limiting our progress as a profession.
Massage therapy is not ready for prime time because we still lack: 1) a consistent scope of practice; 2) consistent standards in massage education; and 3) requirements for teacher training. Until we handle this (which will take at least a decade), the quality of services delivered to consumers on a daily basis will remain random and often ineffective. The growing body of research on the therapeutic effects of massage is a good thing, but it is merely theoretical. By itself, research will not advance the profession; the entire corps of 300,000 massage and bodywork therapists must be able to provide quality treatment on a regular basis.
Research data comes from specific aspects of massage performed under controlled conditions. Because of the serious training and skill deficits that exist, many therapists are unable to provide competent massage that meets the expressed needs of the client. Our massage organizations should fund a research study on the hallmarks of effective treatment and investigate the percentage of therapists who are actually able to deliver a treatment to these standards. And contrary to the "public safety" mantra hammered into our heads as the reason we have subjected ourselves to state massage regulation, there is little actual harm done in the practice of massage therapy. We do not have a safety problem – the crisis is with our deliverables.
In the August 2012 edition of this column, I wrote about the "Seven Deadly Sins of Massage Education." I'm sorry to say these sins are being repeated daily by a sizeable number of our schools and no organization or state agency is holding them accountable. The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education recently completed the first phase of its National Teacher Education Standards Project, which was to define the Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teachers. We now have the model for teacher development, but the "Big Three" organizations in the massage field – ABMP, AMTA and FSMTB – have refused to contribute a dime to the Alliance to move this project forward. It's shameful.
Instead, these same organizations have spearheaded and funded two major initiatives that have taken huge chunks of time, money and expertise, and have failed to produce results that are actually usable to improve the quality of massage education and practice. I'm referring here to the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) and the still-in-process Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP). In both cases, the organizations came together under a feel-good banner of cooperation, but dropped the ball when it came time to supervise these efforts to ensure they remained on track.
The MTBOK was supposed to produce the definitive set of knowledge, skills and abilities an entry-level massage therapist needs to practice safely and effectively. The eight-member task force that did the actual work overshot that mark by a country mile. And despite a prodigious follow-on effort by AFMTE to remap the competencies and make them relevant to entry-level massage education, the final product has been put on a back shelf for a five-year period by these organizational "stewards."
If one useless project wasn't bad enough, we now have the same organizations forcing the ELAP upon us. This time, the entire project was conceived in secret and there was no opportunity for therapists and educators to put their names in the hat to be considered for the hand-picked work group. In addition, the public comment opportunity that was provided by the sponsoring organizations was so long and hard to navigate that it's likely only a handful of people outside of the work group itself have been able to grasp the recommended curriculum map as a whole. Since it's impossible to give an educated opinion on individual standards or competencies without seeing how they relate to the entire document, the feedback from the field cannot be considered valid.
Many of the standards contained in the draft version of the ELAP are significantly beyond or outside of what is generally considered entry-level education in our field. It appears the sponsoring organizations are using the ELAP (as they did with the MTBOK) to push massage therapy into a framework whereby it can be accepted by the medical mainstream, rather than identify and set standards based on what actually exists today. This is not a virtual-reality game, my colleagues ... this is our lives, our careers, our profession – and the 5,000-year-old lineage of a healing art. Would you give up all this for a feeling of greater self-esteem?
We can raise the number of entry-level education hours to another arbitrary number, but will that increase the earning potential of new massage school graduates? I doubt it, but it will most certainly increase their student-loan debt. (I will expand on this in my next column.) Will more hours, poorly taught, result in the delivery a better or safer massage to the public? Highly unlikely. Membership organizations like ABMP and AMTA are in the business of attracting and retaining members. Therefore, they benefit from serving up fantasy pictures of the profession to encourage people to join and renew. Who wants to hear that most massage therapists have short career spans and don’t earn much money? That’s a guaranteed buzz-kill!
For their parts, FSMTB and NCBTMB are in the testing business, even though they cloak their endeavors in the garb of public protection. Their revenue is dependent on how many people take their exams and the money bags have shifted in the past four years away from NCB to FSMTB. For every six new therapists who enter the field, five leave. That revolving-door scenario means a constant supply of new test-takers. Do the math.
And what about dear, lonely COMTA? One of the hallmarks of a fully-fledged profession is having a specialized accrediting agency for that field that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. COMTA is just that, but it's lost in a sea of six other agencies that accredit massage schools and programs. In most fields, there is just one such agency and all schools are required to be accredited by it. That's how consistent standards are held and enforced.
COMTA is essential to the development of a bona fide massage therapy profession, but it, too, has gotten the orphan treatment from the Big Three. In the past, AMTA pledged to provide financial support to COMTA "in perpetuity." That sounds like forever to me, but the AMTA Board of Directors yanked its commitment in 2008. Since then, COMTA has struggled to grow its market share of massage schools in the shadow of much larger and better-funded accreditors.
COMTA has one of the best templates for entry-level education: its Competency-Based Curriculum Standards. All COMTA schools are required to uphold these standards and they would provide a solid basis for all massage programs. We did not need the MTBOK and ELAP to reinvent the wheel when we already had a proven model to guide and improve massage education.
The Massage Therapy Foundation is AMTA's latest darling, to the tune of about $500,000 year in financial support. AMTA has pledged to support the Foundation "in perpetuity," which sounds really good until you remember how it treated COMTA. Who doesn't love research? It's beneficial, as I indicated above, but it can also be an elegant distraction that shifts our attention away from the unpleasant realities of the massage therapy field as it exists today.
As long as these organizations continue acting in their self-interests, putting forth puffery projects that boost their image and refusing to focus on solutions to the real problems, the status quo will persist. I'm reminded of the final courtroom scene from the 1992 movie "A Few Good Men," when the Navy JAG officer played by Tom Cruise is cross-examining the hardened Marine colonel played by Jack Nicholson. With his back pinned to the proverbial wall, the colonel shouts at the young attorney, "You want the truth? ... You can't handle the truth!" When it comes to the future of massage therapy, we want the truth and we can handle it. Stakeholder leaders, be advised.
WOW – This is my 80th column. Thank you all for your support, feedback and comments. The Holidaze are upon us. Try to remember these holidays are about more than shopping.
May we be reading this column in Massage Today again this time next year, healthier, happier, more prosperous and in a more peaceful world. And to all, a good night!
Click here for more information about Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCTMB.
Join the conversation
Comments are encouraged, but you must follow our User Agreementcomments powered by Disqus
Keep it civil and stay on topic. No profanity, vulgar, racist or hateful comments or personal attacks. Anyone who chooses to exercise poor judgement will be blocked. By posting your comment, you agree to allow MPA Media the right to republish your name and comment in additional MPA Media publications without any notification or payment.