NCBTMB Responds to AMTA

By Christie Bondurant

NCBTMB Responds to AMTA

By Christie Bondurant

The top story in the March issue of MT reported on the American Massage Therapy Association's (AMTA) recent support of the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination(MBLEx). Responding to the AMTA's endorsement of the MBLEx as the premier entry-level licensure exam, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) issued a statement contending that the AMTA's decision was "driven by passion" and alleging that parties advocating use of the exam have financial interests in mind, not the profession's long-term goals.

The AMTA stated in late January that, after thorough research and two months of open discussions with both the NCBTMB and the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), "all issues were examined regarding support for the MBLEx exam, as well as its impact on massage therapists and the [NCBTMB]" itself. Even so, the NCBTMB's response to the AMTA's support of the exam stated that the decision lacked judgement and added that the existence of the MBLEx is "redundant" and will threaten the profession at large as any national health program will not likely back a profession that has "abandoned its status as a credible and credentialed profession."

The AMTA gave its reasoning for the support of the MBLEx, also in the January statement: "For many years, the [AMTA] has supported an envisioned future of portability of massage practice, fair and consistent licensing in all states, and uniform standards for the profession. AMTA continues to believe acceptance of one exam for state regulation of massage therapy will give a consistent message to legislators and regulators that can best facilitate the achievement of these goals. ... AMTA believes the [MBLEx], developed by the [FSMTB], is the best choice for a licensing exam that can lead to portability of massage practice." (To read AMTA's full statement visit:

The following is the NCBTMB's full response, sent to Massage Today on March 6, titled "NCBTMB's Position Regarding AMTA's Endorsement of MBLEx": "NCBTMB feels, respectfully, that AMTA's decision to endorse the MBLEx was driven by passion rather than reason, and does not promote the long-term interests of the profession. The parties that have advocated the MBLEx have economic interests favoring entry into the profession of a higher number of practitioners content to adhere to lower standards.

"Perhaps the most telling evidence of this intent was the decision to produce a redundant examination rather than jointly create a national practitioner data bank to protect the public. These interests are in direct conflict with the interests of over 91,000 nationally certified massage therapists, who benefit from a field comprised of knowledgeable, highly skilled and committed professionals who can best guarantee quality massage experiences for consumers.

"Introduction of the MBLEx threatens the viability of national certification and the profession at large. If massage therapy becomes the first allied health profession to abandon certification, we can only imagine what kind of message that would send to consumers, patients, hospices, workers compensation bureaus, referring health professionals, and to the Medicare program. Congress stands ready to appropriate over $1 billion for comparative effectiveness research, which has potential to demonstrate the ability of massage therapists to produce good outcomes for patients. It seems unlikely to us that any national health program will be inclined to study, let alone decide to cover, treatment in a field that has abandoned its status as a credible and credentialed profession."

The NCB feels that the "most telling evidence" of the parties' (advocating the MBLEx) economic interests is the lack of collaboration to "jointly create a national practitioner databank." However the FSMTB (creator of the MBLEx) initiated collaboration in 2005, when the federation was established because of their interest in creating a new exam. As reported in Massage Today [November 2005;5(11)], "the FSMTB states that they recognize the scope and potential impact of such a choice and have initiated a dialogue with NCBTMB to explore the possibility of the two organizations working in collaboration to improve NCB's existing exam program."

Collaboration did not take place, and thus the MBLEx, created in October 2007, was developed. According to the FSMTB, at the request of state boards, the exam was "created from a job task analysis survey of more than 7,500 professionals in massage, bodywork and somatic practices."

Why Create the MBLEx?

NCB's role in regulation has been questioned due to "the fact that state boards have had no direct input into the design and administration of this examination program, nor any role in the policy making process of NCBTMB," (also reported in MT, November 2005). According to the FSMTB, the MBLEx was created in part to solve this problem. "By having one licensing exam, the states can assist in the process of portability of licensure for massage therapists. With the MBLEx now in place, it is no longer necessary for state regulatory boards to be at the mercy of, or beholden to any party that can dictate or jeopardize the regulatory boards' function, decision making or integrity."

The NCB, in a second statement released to Massage Today on March 6, explained "NCBTMB's Position Regarding Use of its Certification Tests as the National Standard for Entry-Level Licensure Exams": "NCBTMB whole-heartedly supports licensure through our certification program as the best licensing path for the massage professional. Over 30 years of national policy and precedent in the healthcare field, as well as 16 years of successful implementation by the NCBTMB favoring licensure through certification, supports this successful inter-relationship. NCBTMB's exam program has successfully raised the standards for massage therapy and thereby protected the public health, safety and welfare since 1992. Today, in 33 of 39 states that regulate massage, our licensure through certification programs have successfully helped transform massage into the acknowledged, respected profession it has become. NCBTMB's licensing through certification programs have demonstrated their value to students, schools, regulators and businesses, with consumers as the current, and perhaps the most vital, audience. We believe NCBTMB's licensure programs are inextricably tied to the future growth and credibility of the profession in the United States."

The growing acceptance of the MBLEx may cause alarm for the NCB, however the Federation believes there is a place for both certification and licensure. "The [FSMTB] does not wish to compete with NCBTMB over its certification exams or to engage in a 'turf battle' as some observers have described recent events. The FSMTB maintains the factually-based position that licensure is the function of the licensing boards - not the function of certification boards."

In related news, Massage Today conducted a poll asking readers whether or not they preferred one entry-level exam nationwide. The overwhelming response was "yes;" however, the question still remains which exam is or will be preferred. (See the results of the poll on page 22.) Massage Today will continue to follow this story and update as necessary.