by Rick Rosen, L.M.B.T.

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education was created in 2009 by educators, for educators, because we recognize the power in bringing colleagues together to work cooperatively. It is an independent, nonprofit membership organization that serves as the voice, advocate and resource for the massage education community.

Just as individual massage therapists have two national associations to represent them (Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and the American Massage Therapy Association), the time is ripe for massage schools, teachers in those schools and continuing education providers to have a champion of their own. Why is the alliance so important, and how will it support the evolution of massage therapy into a full-fledged profession?

Most long-established health care disciplines have an autonomous organization for its educational institutions; in fact, it’s an essential part of what constitutes a profession. Examples include the Association of Chiropractic Colleges and the National League for Nursing. The alliance fills in one of the last missing pieces in the matrix, and establishes a designated representative for the education sector.

This advocacy role is a crucial element in dealing with other stakeholder organizations within the massage therapy field, as well as interfacing with the many state and national agencies that have regulatory authority over our sector. In this way, the alliance will help its members take control of their destinies, by ensuring that the wisdom and perspective of this community is part of the decision-making processes that shape the future of our field.

The alliance is a gathering place where many different streams of massage, bodywork and somatic education can join together for the common good. Educators are lifelong learners themselves, and need opportunities to share the latest news and knowledge, gain new methods and enjoy the nourishment of one another’s fellowship.

Everything in our field is based upon education. Entry-level training at massage schools provides the vital foundation for those who seek to become therapists. Once licensed, postgraduate seminars and advanced trainings give therapists a wide spectrum of learning opportunities to increase knowledge, skills and awareness to better serve their clients.

As crucial as education is to the practice of massage therapy, it’s humbling to acknowledge that this field has grown tremendously over the past three decades without the benefit of consistent national standards. While it might seem like everything’s OK, we are operating with a haphazard set of guidelines for entry-level curricula — and there are few jurisdictions that require teacher training for those who provide massage instruction.

Quite simply, we cannot progress any further until these shortcomings are addressed. As the principal advocate for the massage education community, the alliance is the natural entity to guide efforts to create new standards and provide the leadership necessary to implement them over the long term. This is consistent with our passionate commitment to strengthen and improve the quality of massage therapy education.

At its inaugural conference this past June, a diverse group of massage school directors, administrators, teachers, continuing education providers and association leaders from the U.S. and Canada gathered to explore the future of massage therapy education. Out of the visioning sessions that were a key part of this event, consensus emerged on the most pressing challenges facing our sector. The information from these sessions is guiding work by our Professional Standards, Education and Government Relations Committees — and has helped the alliance board of directors chart a strategic course for the organization.

Not surprisingly, the number-one issue identified at our conference was the lack of teacher training within this community. It is one of those painful realities that is broadly known but often ignored. While it’s commonplace for massage instructors to be required to have practical experience as therapists, only a small percentage of teachers in our schools have received formal training and evaluation in the core competencies of teaching. Elsewhere in the world of education—from kindergarten on up—teacher training has been an absolute requirement for decades. Effective instruction and successful learning cannot occur without it.

The alliance is taking on the challenge and is initiating a broad-scale project to develop national teacher education standards for the massage therapy field. It’s long overdue. While alliance members will be most closely involved with the work, the organization will survey the field as a whole to determine the foundational knowledge, skills and attributes needed to create excellent classroom outcomes. This will eventually lead to the publication of standards that can be adopted by massage schools, accrediting agencies and state education licensing authorities.

In support of this endeavor, the theme for our next conference will be “Bringing Teaching to the Next Level.” At this meeting, to be held Aug. 16 to 20, 2011, in historic Charleston, South Carolina, the alliance will debut a two-day Introduction to Teacher Training course. It will provide an overview of the core competencies of teaching, plus specific tools that participants at all experience levels can utilize in their classrooms.

Along with this major initiative, the alliance will also be working on two other fronts.

The first is a review of and commentary on the recently completed Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge Project, which will have significant impact on the delivery of massage education.

The second is an effort to improve and streamline the approval system for continuing education. The alliance will advocate for a single, well-administered national approval program for continuing education providers and courses. This will begin with a careful examination of the existing protocols used by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the various state boards that run their own approvals. A consistent program will greatly benefit both continuing education providers and the massage therapists who take these courses — and it will improve portability of professional credentials.

As the only organization of its kind in the massage therapy field, the alliance has membership categories for massage schools, teachers, continuing education providers and industry partners. In addition to its advocacy role, the alliance is dedicated to providing the information and resources our members need to be successful and satisfied in their endeavors.

Your involvement is welcomed and encouraged. Complete membership information and updates about these projects may be found on the alliance’s website.

Rick Rosen is executive director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education. He is a North Carolina-licensed massage-and-bodywork therapist, founder and co-director of the Body Therapy Institute, founding chairman of the North Carolina Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy and a 2010 inductee into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame. For more information, visit www.afmte.org.

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