2019 Delegate Report

Published: October 30, 2019

2019 Assembly of Delegates Report
By Sarah Ernst-Edwards and Gordon Pilotte

Sarah Ernst-Edwards and Gordon Pilotte had the honor of representing the AMTA MA Chapter at this year’s Assembly of Delegates (AOD) meeting at the National AMTA Convention in Indianapolis this past October. There was one position statement and two discussion items on our agenda for the day. Below is a brief summary of each topic and what the general conversation was. We both enjoyed discussing these incredibly important topics regarding the future of our massage therapy industry!

A Position Statement is submitted to the AOD. This year the statement was submitted by Whitney Lowe, a nationally recognized and respected educator. It is hoped that the AOD will vote to send the statement to the National AMTA Board so that the position will be reviewed and become a statement on professional or public policy issues that relate to the mission and goals of the association. Such a statement is not what we think or wish to be true, but a statement supported by strong evidence and research.

Proposed Position Statement: “Online education is an appropriate method to deliver curriculum content for non-psychomotor subjects in massage therapy entry-level training and continuing education.”

Anyone can propose a position statement or discussion item. A position statement must be backed up by enough current scientific research and it is voted on and approved by the Assembly of Delegates (AOD) and the National Board of Directors (NBOD). Typically, it is a clinically-based topic such as “Massage therapy can aid in pain relief”. However, this year the statement was related to massage therapy education standards. Whitney Lowe proposed a statement that would advocate for online learning for entry level and continuing education. It was not passed by the delegates. We needed 58 yes votes for a 2/3’s majority and we only got 51 votes. It was very close! This doesn’t mean the National Board of Directors won’t consider accepting this as a position statement, but it will be a lower priority.

It had been pointed out that even though the AMTA offers online classes, this statement seeks for AMTA to actively promote online education and not just offer it.

There were many delegates voicing strong opinions about our current lack of education standards for massage therapy in general. Many people wondered why we would support online education without first having nationwide educational standards within the classroom. The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) has educational standards that schools must uphold in order to be approved by their body, but it’s optional in order for a school to be open. States don’t necessarily require schools to be COMTA approved. AMTA’s bylaws currently say you have to have a minimum of 500 hours of “in-class” learning in order to be a member. Would AMTA then have to change their bylaws if we had passed this and it was adopted by the National AMTA?

Other delegates voiced the opinion that massage therapy is a people-oriented business, therefore, all classes should be in-person, especially with entry level education. Even on top of the hands-on classes, the business, lectures, and ethics classes should also be in person so that students would understand the importance of working with people.

Your Massachusetts delegates did support this position statement because this would have been one of the first position statements discussing educational standards and would have hopefully created a precedent for more educational position statements to be made. We believe that our massage therapy schools need to become more competitive with other very successful education programs that include online learning. Also, for many massage therapists in rural areas, access to online education is essential. Even if this position statement had passed, there are still 20 states that do not allow online learning for entry level massage therapists. The government relations representatives, volunteers and lobbyists would have had to fight with their state licensing board to determine how many hours of online education would be allowed, if at all. Hopefully AMTA will not leave this important discussion on the table even though the Assembly of Delegates did not vote to have the National Board of Directors (NBOD) proceed with this statement.

Discussion item #1: “What specifically does “speaking the same language” mean in relations to massage therapy becoming more integrated in healthcare?”

A discussion item may be submitted by any interested individual or group associated with the massage therapy profession. The AOD discusses these questions/topics to get a sense of the feelings and thoughts from the AOD. There is no approval process for these items.

Our first discussion item explored the idea that massage therapists should speak a common language to their clients/patients, colleagues, and referring providers. There were two sides to the debate: do we learn how to speak a more medically accurate language or can massage therapists who don’t consider themselves to be medically based continue to use their language in interactions with clients and with other health professionals? Recommendations were made to the AMTA board to create some online courses regarding medical terminology, updated research on common terms, a list of medically approved terms, how to write to PTs, surgeons, doctors with medically appropriate language and also how to do medically accurate SOAP notes. It was again discussed that education levels need to be standardized and vetted. Should there be different types of massage therapy degrees (i.e., Swedish or Energy or Medical Massage as separate types of degrees) to allow for those with different intents in their massage therapy careers? Should there be more time in massage therapy school practicing this medical language? Should there be more of a focus on role-playing discussions with other health providers?

AMTA MA Chapter delegate, Sarah, proposed to her table that there should be discussions of terms describing what we are sensing underneath our hands in our treatments, similar to how the Fascia Research Society is doing with the term “fascia”. Could we agree on a uniform language that is also medically accurate? What does “tight” mean exactly? Some language that is currently in massage language is medically inaccurate such as “knots” and “flushing lactic acid out of the body”. We need to keep up with current research!

There was also quite a bit of discussion about how our language changes based on our audience. Should we use the same language we use with our clients/patients, colleagues vs. medical professionals? AMTA MA Chapter delegate, Gordon, spoke up about how the common language should be uniform for all massage therapists depending on the audience, it does not necessarily have to always be medical or anatomical when speaking to clients, however professional and in words and terms they can understand. He believes it depends on the audience and uniformity is key!

Discussion Item #2: “As massage therapists, how do we show the measure/accomplishments of our advanced studies and skills in massage education to healthcare professionals and the public?”

How do you show mastery of a skill? Do current continuing education certifications need to be re-examined? What do these certifications mean to the general consumer public? Is this something the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) should be creating standardizations for? One of the delegate’s tables turned back again to the discussion regarding a general lack of education standards. There are many other professions, for example physical therapy, where the board (the American Physical Therapy Association [APTA]) got together and created requirements for their basic education. They created the standards for the basic education as well as the specialty (which is currently only offered with various continuing education private companies in the massage world). We don’t have a cohesive effort in our field. The current players are the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMBT), the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE). They have come together to have states agree on the Massage and Bodywork Licensing examination (MBLEx), but no other efforts at portability have been made as far as we know.

Massage therapists aren’t even called the same thing state to state: Licensed Massage Therapists (LMTs), Registered Massage Therapists (RMTs) or Licensed Massage Practitioners (RMPs). Why don’t we have additional certifications that describe the type of massage we do? Once you finish initial massage therapy training, your education could veer off towards Swedish Massage, or Energy work, or Medical Massage. Or perhaps there could be a ranking process based on many different factors that a therapist achieves such as education, experience, intuition, success, reputation or knowledge. Then therapists could charge more and the public could see they had demonstrated achievements in these many areas, not just completion of an exam. Some dissenting opinions against creating national certifications (for lack of a better term) are as follows: would some people be limited to certifications due to cost? Should the AMTA “Find a Therapist” web site vet people out (require certifications) for listing a specialty on their listing? And how does the public really know someone who is certified is better at their job or better at providing a good service?

In conclusion, thank you for voting for us to be your delegates. It was a great experience and we are happy to bring the results to you. The Assembly of Delegates is vibrant and important to the AMTA as we continually strive to maintain and even elevate the profession of massage therapy.