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I was excited to attend The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education’s 2nd annual conference in Charleston, SC last month because I knew it would be an inspiring and valuable experience. I certainly was not disappointed. The conference was attended by massage therapy authors, CE providers, school owners, instructors, exhibitors (BIOTONE included) and several stake holder organizations (NCBTMB, FSMTB, etc). This dynamic group of 125 participants all came together to discuss “Bringing Teaching to the Next Level” for massage therapy.


With so many motivated and involved participants the conversations were dynamic and at times heated, yet always respectful. Between educational offerings and meetings, participants could be found gathered together continuing discussions from the morning sessions.


One of the lingering discussions revolved around the use of the word “Spiritual” in the language of the Competency Standards for Teachers. This document has not been made public yet as it is still being revised and refined. It is the first phase of the National Teacher Education Standards Project that the Alliance began to foster a higher level of standards expected of massage therapy instructors. The word “Spiritual” is used a total of 7 times in the current version of the Competency Standards for Teachers document. An example of the language in the document reads “The teacher includes content that supports learners' ongoing process of integrating their physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and social aspects through the learning process.”


There were opinions on both sides of the fence on whether or not the word, spiritual, was appropriate. My understanding was that in this case spiritual could refer to the energetic or holistic connectedness massage therapists often feel when doing body work. The concern was that using the word, spiritual, may convey what some may feel is a religious connotation, which is not the intent. What do you think?


Another hot topic was conversation surrounding The Federation of State Massage Therapy Board’s forum to discuss a new national approval process for continuing education courses and providers. The hope is that this new approval would streamline the process for CE providers making it easier and less expensive for educators to teach nationally. I was surprised to learn of the deep frustration many massage therapy CE providers are feeling. There was a general consensus among CE educators that the costs of teaching live courses are so great that it is extremely difficult to earn a living. Instructors have to cover marketing costs, travel expenses, workbook printing in addition to other costs and often have to cancel classes due to low enrollment and last minute cancellations.


Some of this seems to be a result of economic difficulties as well as massage therapists not being inclined toward paying for CE hours unless they are required by their state licensing. Additionally, the popularity of online and distance learning may be having an effect on enrollments. I didn’t realize that most CE providers are not compensated for teaching at national conventions. Many teach at no cost and still have to cover their own travel and hotel expenses. It seems they often attend the conventions as a way to network and market their classes, since few seem to be compensated for attending unless they are sponsored.


This last topic discussed in Ethical Issues in Massage Education with Nancy Dail struck close to home for me. During a brainstorming session class participants pondered the ethical issues they face teaching massage. In the interest of the safety of both students in the class and the public, mechanisms for screening incoming massage students were discussed. Obviously, individuals with sexual or violent criminal offenses are not appropriate massage therapy student candidates. These individuals could clearly be a danger and would be ineligible for certification/licensing once they graduated, but what about individuals with disabilities, mental health issues or a general lack of awareness? One school in my group has a pre-enrollment class that all candidates have to attend prior to be accepted into the massage school. The class gives both the student and the school an opportunity to evaluate each other to determine if they want to continue.


This process of “weeding out” students has its highs and lows. Since massage has become popular for vocational schools to incorporate into their programs, individuals that were not specifically motivated toward a career in manual therapy have found their way into the classroom. After beginning the program, these students sometimes realize they don’t even like to touch people! These individuals (and their instructors) would benefit from an opportunity to opt-out early. The thing that concerns me is the idea that a committed student could be turned away unfairly. I have taught students that had emotional trauma, depression, partial blindness, weight issues, body perception issues among other circumstances.


I have watched as the students overcame their insecurities and developed skills they never thought possible. Have they all gone on to be massage therapists? No. Did they all develop the skills needed to be great massage therapist? Probably not, but I can say the same for the student who didn’t study or pay attention. My question is: Should it up to me (or anybody else) to decide what a student is or is not capable of before they are given the chance to find out? What do you think?


These are just 3 of the many important and fascinating discussions that took place at this year’s Alliance for Massage Therapy Education Conference! I can’t wait to see what’s on the agenda for next year! Maybe I’ll see you there?