Report from the 2015 Massage Therapy Educational Congress by Sandy Fritz

Report from the 2015 Massage Therapy Educational Congress by Sandy Fritz

The following is a blog post from Sandy Fritz on the Educational Conference.


Our director of education, Beverley Giroud attended this conference as well and had this to say: “I do appreciate being able to attend this conference. I feel that it is very helpful to get and stay connected to the people in the industry. It also helps us stay abreast of current trends and possibilities for our school. As I said, I met and reconnected with so many people and learned much that will enable us to stay current and improve.”

First. I am exhausted and that is because the meeting was so rich. I will be hard to pinpoint everything that happened because I was not able to be involved in every conversation. So many connections necessary to understand where we are and where we go from here. As I work on this blog there are facts, opinions, possibilities, logical directions, pros and cons and many feelings to consider. All of this energy mixes up into the experience. I believe that we left with more questions than answers. As I write in textbooks, the questions are more important than the answers anyway, especially when one question generates many answers. We do need decisions however. Without a decision about what to do we have no direction and without direction we cannot move.

I am typically lost in a hotel. The one where the congress was held was no different. The unfamiliar circumstances, the dyslexic mind I have, the various floors and ups and downs. Most know I have been working through some major eye issues related to glaucoma and cataracts. I am tickled that I went to a landmark, visionary meeting with messed up vision. My world is a little blurry, I have no depth perception, going down stairs is dangerous and I fell twice but got up and kept going. I can go up stairs however. Once people in attendance realized that I was acting weird for a reason, I had appreciated and wonderful assistance. I am amazed how exhausted I become attempting to see. This entire vision experience has an uncanny reflection about where we are in the massage world.

I present this overview from my perspective confident that there are typo’s and grammar issues. Read through them. I have a bunch of things to do today but promised this so here we go.

I arrived on Tuesday because I wanted to attend the preconference workshops by COMTA-Commission on Massage Training and Accreditation. First was a report about COMTA in general and then a report on a new program they are offering. I have been suggesting, whining, asking, bitching, researching, asking, pleading and begging for some sort or recognition for quality schools that does not bind a school to the financial aid requirements of accreditation. I know that the current accrediting bodies that work with massage school are just as frustrated about having to be a gate keeping for financial aid regulations as I am. My school was accredited for many years way back when accreditation was only accreditation. The school was accredited until not that long ago with ACCSC. I lived the shift from accreditation make a better school —–to you cannot be accredited anymore because your financials will not meet the requirements you must maintain for federal regulations. My school never participated in financial aid but for years had to maintain compliance as if we did. I just reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore and it had nothing to do with the integrity and quality of the school operations and education. It was a sad day when the people at ACCSC and I decided that I needed to voluntarily relinquish accreditation. One of those individuals (Chris) sat on the panel of accrediting bodies that spoke to the audience in a different presentation. More about that later. Chris came up to me and we chatted about the journey and it was bitter sweet.

But back to the wonderful thing COMTA has done. They will be launching a COMTA Endorsed Curriculum program. I am overjoyed. It allows schools to demonstrate excellence free from the burden of financial aid compliance. This program is affordable, well thought out and stands on its own or can be a step into full accreditation if that becomes the goal of a school. Click here to learn more check out COMTA’s website.
So I am now considered an elder in the massage community. Some may not agree and some will not like what I say. An elder is one who is old enough to have learned from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, developed wisdom based on formal study, experience and mentoring, can recall the past, function effectively in the present and understands and facilitates change for the future. I am ready to take on that role along with other who have earned the right to have an opinion worthy of consideration.

So here is my first statement: All massage therapy schools should participate in one of the following COMTA programs:
!!!!!!Endorsed Curriculum: There is no excuse for avoiding this program. ALL massage schools small and single owner to large and corporate need to have a COMTA Endorsed Curriculum. It is the right thing to do for the massage community right now and for the future. Done. !!!!!
Programmatic Accreditation: Massage Therapy education offered in a school (including community colleges) with institutional accreditation from any of the various accrediting bodies.

Full institutional accreditation : The main reason for this process(in my opinion) is the add on access to federal financial aid. The entire financial aid program is a mess, under revision and no one knows what is going to happen. But if a school is institutionally accredited and offers massage education then programmatic accreditation is important.
I have no motivation or desire to become institutionally accredited and will fight tooth and nail to avoid being force to be compliant with regulation that is specifically related to financial aid.

I will be at the front of the line to work with COMTA to have an Endorsed Curriculum because it is the right thing to do for the massage profession now.

The Panel presentation by the Franchise industry.
Four franchise organizations were represented: Massage Envy, Massage Heights, Elements Massage and Massage Retreat and Spa. There are many massage related franchises but these four provided an accurate cross section of the industry.

As presenters the range of presentation skill was ok to excellent. The focus was about what the employment based franchise system offered to individual massage therapists and the massage community as a whole. There is a lot of energy around this topic as well as fear, miss information, some hype, lots of frustration from all parties and the need to get real.
( Discloser. I have been supportive of the franchise /employee model from the very beginning of Massage Envy. My kids have recently purchased a Massage Green Franchise with my assistance. I have been personally and professionally slammed on social media by a few individuals because of miss understanding related to the franchise model and employment as a career pathway-I will keep attempting to educate. )

Entry level massage practice has changed. The main entry into the profession is employment and the collective group of franchise/spa organizations is the main employer. Yes often this collective group will take graduates right out of school. Thank goodness someone will. The model has been employee based from the beginning. Most abuse of massage therapist related to income comes from the independent contractor ( IC) miss classification not franchises. The department of Labor has fixed this problem by clarifying what constitutes an employee. It may take a while to trickle down but most currently IC classified massage therapist will need to either be reclassified as employees and employers will be held accountable for federally regulated employee protections, taxes required, and other employee mandates. It is going to be a rough time for IC based massage therapists. I expect that many contractors will sever this type of relationship rather than undertake the process and burden to become employers. I think it is going to be a mess during the transition. Massage therapist will need to be truly self -employed or employees.

So- the problem really isn’t the franchises. It is the confusion over the switch to massage as employment. Those of us who have been in private practice for a long time never had the opportunity to be an employee. Until Massage Envy entered the massage world there was very few employment opportunities. Those of us who have been in practice as a self-employed massage therapist prior to 2002 need to realize that entry level employment-with wages is the way it is now. It does not matter if we agree or not. A satisfying career in massage therapy can occur as an employee where the employer has the risk, pays the overhead, wrangles the taxes and creates the environment. This is not the blog to again attempt to describe the difference between self-employed and employee income. Right now I am tired attempting. I will say this. We need to stop confusing paid per massage and thinking that is an hourly wage. I have lots of blogs on this so if interested you can read them.

The franchise system is not perfect. There need to be some changes for sure. There is a supply and demand problem. For the first time that I can remember there are more massage therapy jobs than massage therapists graduating from schools to fill them. This was a major topic at the congress. Enrollment at massage therapy schools, regardless of type of school, is WAY down. The franchise system has NOTHING to do with enrollment. We as a group of educators do not really know what to do about this issue. The entry level income provided by employment positions for massage is in alignment with the Federal gainful employment requirements so long as entry level (500-800 hours) tuitions are no more than $10,000. Actually the need for more massage therapists by the franchises should support massage schools but massage schools need to work with the Franchises.

I need to point out that health care organization may emerge as an employer of massage therapist and—based on current educational standards (which are fine by the way for work in health care as a palliative approach unless a specific population is targeted such as oncology. Problem is schools are not teaching to the standardized curriculum set forth by ELAP) will be on the lower if not lowest end of the pay scale. Sorry- this is just the way it is. Annual starting wage will be around $25,000 for a 40 hour work week and maybe some benefits.

The representatives from Massage Envy expressed a passionate concern for massage therapist getting injured and then leaving massage. Unlike many want to think this issue is not related the number of massage session the massage therapist is required to do –bla bla bla. It is related to the massage communities lack of a real ergonomics evaluation and recommendations for safe practice for the massage therapist and the weird concept of deep tissue massage. I have been begging, whining and well you all know how I am a squeaky wheel for an independent, for real, by ergonomics professionals for this type of evaluation. So since the massage community won’t do it I publically changed to employers to do it. And I think they just might. Let’s hope.

The panel of Accreditors was up front with the problems facing accreditation per say and schools. There is tremendous change occurring behind the scenes. I think we will have a better idea of how this is all going to wash out in a couple of years. Be aware and be prepared as these changes are hammered out and implemented. Most issues involve student debt and access to federal money. If I were to provide an opinion it is to avoid financial aid if you can, revaluate tuition and see if it can be reduced so students have access to education by paying out of pocket. Learn to be lean in your operations. Tighten your belt and hold on for a bumpy ride.

The formal opening of the Educational Congress- Very cool.
Everyone introduced themselves in 20 seconds or less-a miracle.

First Keynote Speaker James Oschman. Of all the things that are so important right now and need immediate attention the biggest divide was over James Oschman as one of the keynote speakers. I will say that I think a better choice could have been made because of the potential for division over Oschmans approach and philosophy and that this could become a point of separation of the massage community instead of the focus on connection and collaboration. By the way this reflection is not so much about James Oschman and his approach and philosophy but where the massage community is in our understanding of ourselves. I know James and he is very clear about who he is. Massage on the other hand has a major identity crisis. I have been around too long to totally discount possibility and yes based on current knowledge the keynote presented information that was very suspect. But I got some good laughs during the presentation and went to dinner with the non-oschmans and had a good time.

Lunch-Fantastic. Those who planned and sustained this event have may gratitude.

The second keynote was delivered by David Lautherstein. He played is brand new traveling take apart and put back together guitar. What a concept-innovation. Everyone was happy.
We used the Whova app and I even downloaded it myself. Cool. Technology is here, we need to use it.

The Congressional Updates and Industry Projects panel was next.

All the organizations represented in the front of the room. What an alphabet. I lose track of all the ABMP, ACCAHC, AFMTE, AMTA, AOBTA,COMTA, FSMTB, MTF, NCBTMB AND S4OM. Does any other professional have this many letters? Somehow this just needs to be different.
The AFTME continues to support the Teacher Standards Project and are making progress in developing measurable criteria for educational modules leading toward teacher certification. There was fear masked as concern and resistance because those of us who have been around a long time may have to learn new stuff and let go of stuff that no longer works. It will be ok.

I am pleased that the AFMTE has been the catalyst for this meeting. I am proud to be a founding member and that against all odds this important organization is here to stay. The original board will be stepping down over the next year. Their dedication to nurturing this organization will become a legacy.
The discussion was lively but conflict was kept in check. The National Certification Board hinted and then confirmed to me that specialty certifications are now in development. Board Certification is the launch pad. Board Certification is not perfect. I have always felt and expressed that the educational requirement for eligibility is too low. However I understand that with the way the educational delivery is right now for entry level the credential that says “I am more than licensed, I am no longer a beginner and I took a test to prove it” is necessary to provide a level launch pad into specialty certification.
Elder statement alert. Board Certification needs to be encouraged. It does have value and can be used to achieve academic degrees if you want. More than that type of value—right now for the profession—it is the right thing to do. Become Board Certified and encourage graduates to strive for this credential.

I have concerns with the organizational cooperation. I still sense undercurrent without transparency by the whole group—except the Massage Therapy Foundation-. I am frustrated with AMTA for a variety of reasons but mostly because this organization did not support the Educational Congress by not offering the Summit in February. This split the educators and the Exhibitors. It is just too expensive for exhibitors and the rest of us to attend multiple meeting. I again ask AMTA to put full support behind the Alliance as the organization representing massage therapy education. If the AMTA leaders will not do this then at least do not offer conflicting meetings. To the credit of ABMP this organization did not have their annual school forum and supported the Educational Congress.

I also heard and then confirmed that the Federation of State Massage Boards in in process of developing a continuing education approved provider program. Since the Federation only answers to the member state massage boards I guess it does not matter about the important balance of power in the massage profession. The NCBTMB already has an approved continuing education approved provider program in place and is working hard to clean it up from past problems and move forward. I have blogged multiple times about concerns with the Federation having too much power in the massage profession. I am very concerned about this most recent move.

I have been a longtime proponent of the MBLEX being the only exam used for licensing and am glad that the NCB is done with licensing. However, if the Federation’s job is licensing then it should stop at licensing. The rational I received from the Federation representatives is that states have continuing education requirements in licensing regulation therefor regulation of continuing education falls to the Federation. I am very concerned over the balance of power and I think the Federation currently has most of the $$$ and way too much power. This is going to become a real problem if the entire leadership group does not put a stop to it.
In the middle of all of this are the Exhibitors. Their presence paid for a lot of the conference.

The many breakout sessions covered topics related to major issues in the profession. I attended the presentation about the MBLEX questions. I have never had a concern about the MBLEX exam. There is plenty of oversite. The exam will change as the job task analysis changes for the massage profession. The Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP) content will filter into the language used to create the questions. It will take a while. Educators, the ELAP documents are huge and overwhelming. Just consider the work that went into the development. There is tons of information. It was quite a process getting those documents workable. It is not perfect but it is better than good enough. It is done. Entry level education needs to be aligned to the ELAP content.
Most of the real work happened in the halls, at the various individual gatherings of participants, the dinners and lunches. I cannot speak to all of those important times accept that even in this time of technology we need to share physical space so our hearts can touch. via Report from the 2015 Educational Congress