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Massage Today
April, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 04 >> Politics & Government

Raising the Quality of Massage Education

By Stan Dawson, AFMTE Board of Director

When the leadership team that started the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE) discussed the mission and goals of the Alliance, the primary focus was on improving the quality of massage therapy education. The next logical question was: How? There are a few obvious possible answers.

Schools could be required to be nationally accredited. The education standards in the state massage regulations could be increased above the current levels, which tend to be at the 500 clock hour level. Curriculum standards could be implemented that make massage education more consistent from state to state. A Model Practice Act could be created that implements most, if not all, of the possible solutions to improving the quality of massage education. Teachers could be required to become more than content experts by learning more about how to teach. All of these possible solutions have been discussed for years.

National accreditation has been endorsed as an ultimate goal for the profession by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), the Commission On Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) and many leaders in the massage world. School owners have expressed resistance to the idea. Regulators tend not to back proposed legislation that has a significant opposition from a group that can make a legitimate claim that the new law would cause them potential harm, even to the point of putting small schools out of business. Consequently, even though it is a goal, accreditation is not widely regarded as a practical step to attempt in our current political atmosphere. That is a real pity.

AFMTE logo - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP) could potentially lead to raising the education standards. It is a fairly long-term process, but a worthy one. COMTA, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) and the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) have all done job task analyses (JTAs) that could help with this project. COMTA has a set of competencies that are required for their accredited schools. The Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) could help, but version one was not widely accepted and the Alliance's version two has not received much exposure. Nevertheless, the MTBOK can contribute to the sense of what competencies should be required for entry level practice in massage therapy. The task force charged with ELAP is using all of these. Setting standards for entry level practice will lead to the need for curriculum standards and eventually rewriting the state massage laws to establish a new sense of our education standards.

A common criticism of massage education is the lack of consistency from school to school in terms of curriculum. Massage schools do not have a common set of competencies. COMTA's set of competencies is one that could be used, but is not being applied across the massage education sector. The MTBOK project was thought to potentially lead to a consensus that could be used to develop curriculum standards. The Alliance undertook the development of a second version of the MTBOK not just to solve the issues left from version one, but also to help in the development of a basis for curriculum standards. The stewards who oversaw the MTBOK did not see fit to follow through on making sure that version one was useful to the profession and fulfill its promise. The ELAP process may yet correct that short-sightedness.

Raising the quality of massage education is widely regarded as being crucial to the quality of massage that the public receives. Improving the quality of the teachers who teach massage is a common sense way to improve the quality of both massages received by the public and massage education in general. The Alliance surveyed the profession in 2010, and got widespread acceptance of the notion that raising teacher standards could make a significant difference and should be attempted. In late 2010, under the direction of the Alliance's professional standards committee chaired by Dr. Rebecca Birch Blessing, they outlined five phases for a Teacher Education Standards Project (TESP).

Those five phases are:

  1. The development of a set of Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teachers, which can be viewed on the Alliance website at The competencies (knowledge, skills and attitudes) took two years to develop, present, review, comment upon and finally approve. The competencies document presents the standards for entry level teachers as well as more experienced teachers.
  2. Meeting these standards will require time, training and access to resources. The second phase was the development of a new searchable database of educational resources is to help massage teachers achieve competency in the TESP standards and to provide resources to those who wish to develop a teacher training program based on the competencies. This phase of the project was overseen by Cherie Sohnen-Moe.
  3. The next phase of the project is the development of a model teacher training curriculum as a recommended template for teacher training programs based on the core competencies. There are teacher training programs already in place. Private individuals have programs as well as national associations. All of them will be evaluated in light of the core competencies and the model teacher training curriculum.
  4. An assessment-based certificate program will be created by the Alliance in partnership with a certifying agency like NCBTMB. This type of program will not require a job task analysis which would be burdensome financially and make the certification of teachers impractical to administer. Graduates of approved teacher training programs will be eligible for assessment and certification as massage teachers. Experienced teachers will not necessarily have to take an entire teacher training program. There will be a portfolio review of some kind established that recognizes the previous experience of massage teachers and gives them credit for that experience. They would have to pass the assessment process to gain a certificate. This phase will be voluntary. Teachers will be more marketable with a teaching certificate. Schools will also be able to set themselves apart with higher percentages of certified teachers or even mandatory certification for all their teachers.
  5. The final phase will involve working with national accrediting commissions and state regulatory agencies to incorporate these teacher education standards into their policies and regulations.

The entire TESP process will take 5 to 10 years, depending on the commitment of the massage profession to raising the level of massage education. The AFMTE will be working hard to see this process through with the belief that it will make a difference for the quality and the image of massage nationally.

In the spirit of fostering a culture that supports raising the standards of excellence in massage education, and highlighting the TESP Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teacher, the AFMTE is pleased to announce the establishment of the Educators of the Year Award. In partnership with Biofreeze and BonVital, two educators (one teacher in a school setting and one continuing education provider) will be recognized for their excellence in massage education. The recipients will be chosen based on their experience, teacher training taken, and how well they meet the core competency standards.


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