by Art Riggs, Certified Advanced Rolfer, L.M.T.

Recently, Erik Dalton asked me if I would like to contribute a chapter for his upcoming book. I was flattered that someone I respect so much for his knowledge and contribution to the learning of thousands of therapists would offer this opportunity, and I asked for more details. He offered a wide range of subjects, but stipulated that absolutely no specific treatment techniques could be included because he plans to offer continuing education (CE) credits for the book and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) prohibits any techniques for CE hours listed under the “Cognitive” classification. Of course, techniques can be offered under the “Kinesthetic” category, but in order to offer materials in book or DVD form for this category, the NCBTMB guidelines require (in my opinion) a laborious, impractical and expensive requirement of classroom or proctor supervision. This is the only way one can offer specific techniques rather than broad philosophical thought.

I was incredulous for many reasons, not the least being that I’ve learned a great deal from watching Dalton, Tom Myers, Ben Benjamin, Til Luchau, Michael Stanborough and many others’ incredible video presentations. I’ve read Dalton’s letter about the unfairness of this practice and wholeheartedly agree with all of his comments—so I will try to not repeat his arguments, but instead offer some other perspectives. 

I suppose one could criticize a person who confronts the NCBTMB as self-promoting, but I, for one, have little interest in offering my DVDs for CE credits because I lack the wherewithal, time and organizational skills to embark on such a laborious procedure. I am not writing to promote myself, Dalton or any other educator; instead, I am writing as an advocate for the countless thousands of therapists who want to further their expertise in specific techniques by studying recognized experts but are prevented from doing so (at least for CEs) by what seems to me to be ineffective and illogical red tape.

The rationale behind prohibiting specific techniques from being shown in learning materials is that students will not be able to glean the subtleties necessary to perform the techniques. People seem to learn by many different cues—some learn best verbally, some visually and others kinesthetically, or by experiencing. Studies show only 15 percent of the population are primarily kinesthetic learners. These students are well aware of their most productive learning environment and, indeed, may best be served by hands-on learning. But what about the other 85 percent? Should they be penalized and forced to attend expensive classes, often far away from their homes?

Does attending a class, often over populated with students, with poor vantage points to see the work performed and often with minimal hands-on supervision provide better education? I am sure many of the teachers who share their work on video format have received numerous unsolicited thank-you notes similar to this from a woman from Canada, “I was about to go away for a four-day workshop this month that was going to cost me close to $3,000. Due to financial circumstances, I had to cancel the workshop, but decided to still treat myself to your series. Well, what a lucky break for me. I cannot imagine anything I could have learned at that workshop that can compare with what I am getting from your teachings.”

Don’t get me wrong, I respect the NCBTMB for its efforts to provide high-level learning and oversight. It is a thankless and difficult job that is sure to leave some people disgruntled and feeling discriminated against. However, I feel its efforts don’t make sense and actually have a detrimental effect upon its hopes of providing the highest quality therapy to the public. From my understanding, the requirement that kinesthetic learning programs need classroom supervision or private proctoring is an attempt to assure the worthy goal of providing the highest quality therapy to the public and also to protect the public’s safety. Let’s look at how this plays out in reality.

The rationale behind the NCBTMB guidelines is that the subtleties of touch cannot be learned by watching DVDs or on the printed page. However, all of the major massage magazines are filled with specific techniques. Readers are hungry for information, and nobody is filing cease and desist orders to stop the information from being shared. Everyone knows this information results in better therapy. What is different in a book or DVD that offers similar techniques? If it is universally agreed that the information is useful, why shouldn’t students who study diligently and pass written exams be given CEs? If you want to learn how to play tennis, would you best be served by reading an excellent philosophical treatise, such as The Inner Game of Tennis, which speaks of the psychological, meditative and spiritual aspects of being centered without offering any specifics on how to hit a ball (i.e., “cognitive” learning), or would you be better off watching a video showing proper form for hitting a forehand, backhand, footwork and serving? Couldn’t you benefit from watching a DVD instructional video without going to a pro to be tested?

The NCBTMB feels that to insure proper oversight, the information in DVDs and books that teach manual skills must be tested by individual proctors or in a classroom. What this really amounts to is it favors students taking classes at massage schools and penalizes other learning. Just how efficient is classroom learning? Often, classes are overcrowded, viewing of demonstrations is poor compared to a DVD and there is no chance to re-view the demonstration. I have heard countless complaints from students who are disappointed with new teachers in massage schools with minimal experience who are just following a script soon after graduation themselves. Compare this with the knowledge and vast experience of Dalton, both as a bodyworker and educator, and many other experienced teachers.

However, there is the supervision aspect the NCBTMB feels can only be adequately performed by a proctor or in a classroom. Again, I’ve heard countless complaints about teachers sitting in the back of the classroom after a demonstration, or overcrowded classrooms with assistants who are recent graduates of the class with little practical experience or training in evaluation or supervision. Students in this environment are universally granted CEs.

I can’t understand the logic that says viewers of DVDs will not be able to pick up the specifics and subtleties of touch, but assumes watching a teacher in a classroom do a demonstration is somehow a superior learning experience. And if the human brain of a student is unable to pick up the elements of touch from a DVD, how can a teacher watching a room full of students better determine how well a student has assimilated the knowledge just by watching the student work? Do the assistants and teacher in a classroom spell out the specific “learning objectives” that are required for kinesthetic CEs from a DVD? In fairness, let’s require every student of a massage school workshop to take an impractical and expensive proctoring session in order to receive credit. How many students of a weekend workshop at a massage school providing kinesthetic CEs are ever failed for not successfully grasping the concepts? Do schools actually provide adequate oversight?

I won’t ramble on with more specific reasons I feel the present system is unfair and discriminatory in favor of massage schools. True or not, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how having educational standards determined by large massage schools is a conflict of interest and penalizes students hoping to improve their skills through other means. It seems a fair comparison to equate this practice to the recent economic debacle of having the banking system oversight left in the hands of the bankers and Wall Street.  

This editorial is not intended to further the cause of Dalton or any of the other phenomenal teachers whose efforts to disseminate their knowledge is being shackled by the NCBTMB’s rules. I am most concerned about the therapists who want to be the best they can be and are having their efforts undermined by politics or illogical restrains. These masses are the ones being discriminated against. They are required to accumulate CE credits, but are prevented from the free choice of education they want and need. They have limited financial resources and often are far away from accredited schools. They must expend large amounts of money traveling to faraway places, rent motel rooms and spend time away from their practices, often to take classes they do not desire to take—or, they can just go underground and not take continuing education because of the difficulties and unfairness. Who is penalized? Therapists, the public and everyone except massage schools.

How can this change? Not by a few teachers complaining and accused of sour grapes or self-serving promotion. There are more than 100,000 massage therapists and bodyworkers out there. If you would like to choose your best opportunity to expand your skills, write to the NCBTMB and tell your fellow therapists to do the same. Read the letters on Dalton’s Home Study Courses Resource Center to educate yourself about the CE issues and refer your friends. It is time for the masses to assert themselves. Let the NCBTMB know of your desire to further your expertise and success in your practice by allowing kinesthetic CEs for DVDs and books to be fairly allowed. Everyone will benefit.

Art Riggs, MASSAGE MagazineArt Riggs is a Certified Advanced Rolfer® and massage therapist who has been teaching bodywork since 1988. A lifetime of hard physical activity and high-level athletic pursuits, including ultra-marathons, led him to bodywork, first as a grateful recipient, and later as a student. The fulfillment he experienced in both receiving and performing bodywork led him to a full-time career as a Rolfer® and teacher of deep-tissue massage and myofascial release. Riggs conducts seminars internationally and in the U.S. at the San Francisco School of Massage. He has conducted numerous workshops for health spas and medical professionals, including physical therapists, and has assisted in Rolf Institute trainings.

Related Articles: Home-Study CE Conundrum, by Erik Dalton, Ph.D., Certified Advanced Rolfer