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My View From Here

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCBTMB

About the Columnist
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We Ate the Goose (Part 2)

I would like to make it very clear that I never advocated de-regulation of massage or repealing our current licensing laws, as I have been recently accused. I debunked the myths of licensing in my May column — it does not protect the public, it never has.

Further there is no threat to the public safety from massage (none has ever been proven) that licensing can prevent from occurring. Is more harm occurring in unlicensed states? Couldn't prove it in Vermont, could you? Rather than advocate for repeal, I pointed out the potential positives licensing could/should serve and ways to improve it so that licensing serves us instead of just taxing and inconveniencing us. I advocated for a new paradigm of "promoting the public good" for the benefit of suffering humanity.

Qualified Instructors

During the "massage boom" too many schools began operations without qualified, experienced instructors. In many cases, therapists were hired off the street and put into classrooms — with or without adequate preparation or teaching materials. There were many instances of just one teacher being tasked with the burden of teaching an entire massage curriculum.

Without required teacher training programs, most schools just pick a promising-looking student from a class, and put them on the faculty to teach the next program upon graduation. To this day, our profession has failed to develop teacher standards or set requirements and qualifications for instructors. Don't get in the way of the cash flow. Schools need students and associations need members. They would not allow themselves to be restricted by instructor qualifications.

While AFMTE has created the "Core Competencies" for massage therapy teachers, none of our other stakeholder organizations has stepped forward to endorse these standards, let alone contribute the financial support needed to implement teacher training programs.

The deceptive strategies used to enroll less qualified and under-resourced students by suggesting unrealistic incomes, combined with a teacher corps that mostly lacks the fundamental knowledge and skills of classroom instruction, has resulted in a dramatic decline in the overall level of quality of both massage education and massage therapy treatment. Until both improve, our profession will continue to decline in numbers.

We Ate the Goose (Part 2) - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Filling the Open Positions

Many massage school graduates enter the labor pool seeking employment but are ill-equipped to get hired — even in businesses where the bar is set low. According to an unnamed franchise consultant, it takes an average of 10 interviews to find one qualified therapist to hire. This is from the pool that made it through licensure. Doesn't say much for most massage schools, does it?

The truth is, there were never any "easy jobs" in this profession. Massage jobs didn't exist for the most part until the advent of the franchise and spa business models. There were opportunities for people to create practices, but that required entrepreneurial skills, marketing, "people skills," and communication skills.

All things that were not taught in most massage programs but were possessed by the majority of people attracted to the profession in the 1980's and early 1990's. Skills that most 18 – 20 year olds are lacking and should now be included in our curriculums. Perhaps substituted for a few less hours of slave labor in student clinics.

The New Breed of Massage Therapists

Prior to the vocational school boom and bust, proprietary schools that only taught massage therapy built their reputations on middle-aged students, mostly women, who were looking for an alternative career. These women (and men) were frequently highly educated coming in, highly motivated to discover the world of "hand-healing" and went on to create successful private practices.

In fact, this was virtually the stereotypical profile of a massage therapist of that time. These high-quality students were professional and hard working. They often made a very comfortable living doing massage and many of them from the 1980-90's are still in practice. They laid the foundation of the modern-day massage profession.

According to a recent AMTA survey, nearly 50 percent of all massages received are still delivered in private practice settings. Only about 25 percent are delivered in the franchise setting. Yet it is the franchise setting, represented and promoted by the vocational schools that is giving the profession its "retail service worker" image that is repulsive to Millennials.

Time to Get on Track

To recover and prosper, the massage profession must reclaim its role as a therapeutic modality and restore the LMT to the identity of a "hand-healer," an alternative health care professional. It is time to ban the practice of curriculums where students enter a program at any time.

One cannot effectively learn to be a competent massage professional when one's education starts with the advanced classes and finishes with the basic introductory ones. It is time we adopt competency-based educational outcomes.

Until we have a consistent deliverable, the profession will continue to struggle. We must establish standards, as well as mandatory teacher training programs, for all massage instructors. It is time to once again promote to those changing careers and the professionally-oriented demographics, as well as to Millennials, with the message of social value through meaningful, socially conscientious work.

Wow, what a year it has been! As it draws to a close I want to thank you all for your readership.  I am grateful for this opportunity to share my ideas with the profession, which I hope promote thinking and dialogue that leads to a better massage, consistently delivered to the public.  I thank all who have studied with me at seminars. Special thanks to AFMTE for awarding me 2017 CE Educator of the Year — the highest honor I've ever received.

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