High Angle View Of Medical Team Solving Colorful Jigsaw Puzzle Against Grey Background

If there have been coordinated leadership efforts by national massage organizations during this COVID-19 crisis, I have not been able to identify them.

Some of the massage therapy leadership organizations appear to have responded individually, and the response has been sporadic and fragmented. To fill the gap, individuals in the massage therapy community began stepping forward in a leadership attempt, but this action has also been fragmented.

I will not cast fault or criticize the individuals within the massage therapy organizations for this type of scattered response. No one in any sector has known what to do — but the fragmented organizational structure of the massage field did not provide a platform to do better.

There is no one point of leadership for the massage therapy community. The closest we have is the Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations, which comprises the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), the American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), the Massage Therapy Foundation and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).

We Need a Unified Voice

For example, on May 19, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) released its Massage and Bodywork Guidelines for Practice with COVID-19 Considerations. A task force was created several weeks ago to work on this. The resultant document is helpful and the expertise of the taskforce members resulted in valid information.

I appreciate the efforts; however, if it was known this task force had been created and the guidelines were in development with a general timeline indicated, so much frustration, duplicate efforts and multiple streams of conflicting information could have been avoided.

This an example of the difference in providing information and providing leadership. Leadership would have been demonstrated by a joint statement released weeks ago from all the organizations explaining actions being undertaken.

As another example, the term massage parlor was often used by government officials during the categorization of various occupations or work settings. The coalition could work together as a unified voice to change this. I have identified, via social media, some individual efforts at a state level to change the terminology, but there are unified actions that could be taken on a national level to work toward this change.

The various organizations informally meet, occasionally; however, there is very little concrete information about the coalition and its activities. Yes, each organization has an area of focus, but there are many duplicate efforts and multiple streams of information — or lack thereof — leading to confusion.

Intentional or not, there is little transparency about what the organizations are doing in general, let alone during this pandemic.

To continue to function in this fragmented way is not leadership. The various organizations need to come together with one unified voice for issues that affect us all.

What Language Are We Speaking?

We cannot even speak a similar language within the massage therapy community, let alone with other health and medical disciplines.

We do not even have an agreed-upon definition of massage, massage therapy and massage therapy practice — even though excellent definitions have been put forth.

How can we change vexing issues such as the classification of massage parlor or speak with one voice if we do not have a common language?

These issues could and should be addressed with a master plan for massage therapy. The leadership organizations could and should work together to formalize this sort of plan. We have all the pieces but no unified statement of acceptance.

People keep saying that the confusion lies in a subpar education and keep calling for increased educational standards. This is not the issue. The issue is a lack of leadership with one clear message about massage therapy.

We do not have to recreate the wheel. We have all the pieces — but leadership is required to put it all together.

We have definitions:

A qualitative study of the massage therapy foundation’s best practices symposium: Clarifying definitions and creating a framework for practice”;

“Clarifying Definitions for the Massage Therapy Profession: the Results of the Best Practices Symposium”;

“Process for massage therapy practice and essential assessment”; and

“Entry Level Analysis Process (ELAP) developed by the Coalition of Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations.”

We also have:

• Competences for education and practice with COMTA and teacher standards and educational support with the AFMTE;

• Entry level massage practice standards and content following the ELAP guidelines and indirectly framed by the MBLEX exam along with the Model Practice Act by the FSMTB;

• A tier-two practice credential with Board Certification by the NCBTMB; and

• Pathways to academic degrees, both associate’s and bachelor’s based on Board Certification, through college partners or some community colleges that offer AAS degrees.

All of the above could certainly be reviewed, updated and refined and then organized into a master plan.

The leadership organizations or the massage therapy community as a whole would need professional help create this master plan. We would need external leadership experts to coordinate the master plan development — because it is obvious that we have been unable to do it ourselves, at least in the 40 years I have been involved.

The plan cannot be based on special interests or individual agendas. We have to look at realities and approach the vision logically.

But we won’t have a plan such as this until we have unified leadership speaking with one voice to put the puzzle together.

We’re All Part of the Problem

There must be more transparency. Maybe, individually, the organizations are doing productive work, but the general population of massage therapists either does not know about the efforts, could not find the information, determine if the information was valid, or if it was being used by government bodies when making policy.

The problem lies with more than the fragmentation of the various organizations within the massage therapy community. It lies with us — all of us — who will not work together to find common ground.

I believe it is too late for our current crisis. I am confident we will muddle through, but we better prepare for the future. I am reminded of this quote by Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

The overarching flaws in leadership and governance have been exposed by the pandemic. All of us are part of the problem. We must not deny it any longer.

About the Author:

Sandy Fritz is a founding member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education and the author of massage textbooks including Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic MassageMosby’s Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage: Anatomy, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Pathology; and Sports & Exercise Massage: Comprehensive Care for Athletics, Fitness, & Rehabilitation. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Old Myths Die Hard: The Truth About Toxins,” “Missing Pieces: What About the Glutes, Abs and Pecs?” and “The Massage Field’s Generations Must Create a Future That Works for All.”