by Erik Dalton, Ph.D., Certified Advanced Rolfer

In 2007, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) surprised many in the massage and bodywork community with this announcement: Videos of any type could no longer be included in home-study and online courses unless NCBTMB-approved instructors offer one-day workshops to monitor and test home-study participants on the techniques presented in the videos. Furthermore, home-study reading material was restricted from displaying photos or diagrams of hands-on techniques without a one-day testing seminar. Bottom line: Continuing education credits could only be granted upon successful completion of the home-study program in addition to the one-day supervised workshop if any hands-on techniques were displayed in the material.

Since 1999, the Freedom From Pain Institute® has been an NCBTMB-approved provider. Over the years, participant evaluations have enthusiastically confirmed our view that high-quality reading and video programs provide a much-needed service to the community. We’ve found that well-designed home-study programs often spark a passion that encourages students to further enhance their skills by attending live presentations—if their physical and/or financial condition permits.

Fortunately, the Institute’s original Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques® and Advanced Myoskeletal Techniques® home-study programs (which include technique DVDs) underwent the re-certification process just prior to the rule change allowing us  to be “grandfathered” in for an additional three years. When that period expires, our programs must be reconstructed to include a one-day testing process—or simply taken off the market. Sadly, many fine educators who had spent years developing well-designed home-study programs did not meet the recertification deadline and were forbidden from selling their broadcast-quality videos, accompanying books and testing materials. It is our opinion that perhaps NCBTMB should have chosen to more closely monitor and regulate the quality of the home-study courses presented to them rather than take the easy way out and “throw the baby out with the bath water.” So many creative and talented instructors are now deprived of experimenting with advanced technological breakthroughs, such as streaming videos, enhanced anatomical animation and modern dissection studies, due to the associated increase in financial costs incurred with the additional day of live workshop testing.

Many educators were blindsided by the NCBTMB’s surprise rule change. Dozens of home-study projects (including two of ours) were brought to a screeching halt once considerations were made concerning the financial viability and complexity required in arranging for instructors to travel the country offering live testing.

Is it possible to learn from video presentations?

Many believe manual therapists are not visual learners and lack the ability to observe educators while they perform hands-on techniques and then follow along and duplicate the routines. The implied rationale is theory takes precedence over the assessment and technique. One wonders if the NCBTMB really believes students cannot adequately grasp bodywork maneuvers without consistent oversight and live testing (which is rarely done in live workshops anyway). The idea that therapists cannot view a hands-on maneuver and duplicate it may hold true for those students still in training who’ve not yet mastered basic hands-on skills and anatomical astuteness. However, students in training are currently not required to participate in continuing education until after graduation and successful completion of the NCBTMB’s exam. 

During the past 30 years in the touch-therapy business, I’ve personally witnessed (like most of the population) that everyone learns uniquely and at different paces. Some possess an “innate kinesthetic palpatory awareness,” while others prefer repetitive observation of the techniques to ensure their understanding of inherent subtleties. Regardless of individual differences in learning, it seems that when dealing with hands-on modalities, following along with a hands-on video (whether online or DVD) does more to enhance the learning experience than simply reading theory from a book or manual; although, both ingredients are essential to the successful outcome of any comprehensive home-study program.    

Now that the home-study CE rules have changed, therapists today can receive CEs simply by reading a book or online material (no techniques allowed) and successfully complete a test based on theory, rules or research. This type of online program is called “cognitive” and, in some cases, can be an appropriate learning tool, i.e., ethics, business courses, etc. Option two, termed “kinesthetic,” is an amended version of the original home-study method. The NCBTMB and some state licensing agencies have determined kinesthetic learning must be accompanied by an additional step, since certifying agencies cannot confirm the hands-on work is being performed correctly. Their solution to this perceptual issue, as discussed above, is to require therapists attend a live class to be tested on their ability to adequately perform each technique. Some may disagree, but it seems rather contradictory and hypocritical to define this kinesthetic option as a home-study program when participants are still required to attend a live workshop.

Why be punished for wanting to further one’s education by studying theory accompanied by video? Probably the finest online CE program in the manual-therapy industry comes from Michigan State College of Osteopathic Medicine where the legendary Philip Greenman, D.O., clearly presents written theory, anatomy animation and supporting research accompanied by video footage of him performing each hands-on technique. Professionally, I learned more from taking that Michigan State online continuing education program than in any single class I attended during my 1,400 hours of live training with Dr. Greenman. Why? Because I’m a slow learner and a visual learner. I tend to do best in a relaxed atmosphere that allows me to absorb the theory, view each technique over and over, if necessary, and practice on friends and family.     

I encourage participants in my live workshops to not try to absorb and master all the material covered in a typical three-day Myoskeletal Alignment presentation. If they can only master some techniques and be enlightened by a few new theoretical concepts that anchor in their hearts and hands forever, the workshop should be considered a success. Tthe same mantra applies for the home-study courses. 

Should you have Freedom of Choice? 

Some seeking quick CEs typically select one of the dozens of online “book-learning” courses introduced into our industry by large online corporate businesses. Typically, these are designed to be completed in an hour or so with little research or reading required. Ultimately, I believe the current online testing method, ”absent techniques,” continues to water-down the hands-on learning experience and ultimately harms the reputation of the massage and bodywork industry. The “cognitive” online approach tends to breed a group of “talking-head” therapists with limited hands-on skills. Well-designed home-study courses should spark passion and motivate therapists to pursue exciting and educational live seminars to further enhance their skills.   

In full disclosure, before concluding, I feel I should admit my bias toward this subject. I have been a compulsive video-junkie for many years and host a collection of more than 300 VHS and DVDs from every country. Admittedly, some languages I do not understand, but visual learning from great hands-on practitioners in every field of bodywork truly inspires and challenges my quest for greater knowledge. Each morning while running on the treadmill, I grab something newly purchased or perhaps watch one of my old favorites. Even if I’ve seen the video dozens of times, I’m always able to pick up some little tidbit that piques my interest and boosts my motivation to get into the therapy room and share what I’ve learned with my clients. 

Erik Dalton, MASSAGE MagazineErik Dalton, Ph.D., has dedicated 30 years to the study of massage, Rolfing® and osteopathy while maintaining a full-time practice. Developer of the Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques® and founder of the Freedom From Pain Institute®, Dalton is dedicated to research and treatment of chronic pain conditions. Myoskeletal workshops and home-study courses are approved by NCBTMB, Florida Board of Health and most state certifying agencies. Visit www.ErikDalton.com to read published articles and subscribe to the free monthly “Technique” e-newsletter.

Related Articles: Guest Editorial: The Home Study Quagmire, by Art Riggs, Certified Advanced Rolfer, L.M.T.

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