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A New Course

January 12, 20216 min read

As the Education Director for Healwell, I spend a lot of time in gratitude – for the students who turn to us for information, for the fabulous instructors who partner with us to create courses, and for my colleagues’ big brains and bigger hearts.

Today, I want to talk to the students.

I know that you expect things from us – and well you should. You expect us to provide the best possible information we can in the moment. You expect us to listen to your needs and concerns and to respond thoughtfully. You expect us to create educational opportunities to support your learning and growth. And you expect us to support you as heath care providers. One of the very practical ways we support you is by submitting our classes for CE approval so you can maintain your credentials. Currently, the most recognized organization for CE approval is NCBTMB.

Healwell and I take the implicit promises we make to you every day in our offerings very seriously. We exist to help you grow your knowledge and skills. NCBTMB makes a similar promise. Unfortunately, they do not have the same ideas about how to achieve these goals. We have worked with them for years to make sure our classes had the necessary credentials for massage therapists to gain CEs. In the past few years, as we have started to grow (and hopefully take some folks with us) NCBTMB has made it clear that our priorities differ.

Let me pause here to say that the work of both associations and regulators is difficult, thankless, and decidedly un-sexy. (NCBTMB is an association, not a regulatory body.) The work that associations like NCBTMB do takes an attention to detail and a commitment that deserves respect. I do respect all the work they have done, especially in 2020 when live classes were shut down and massage therapy educators scrambled to put together online learning. I can only imagine the volume of requests and questions they received this past year. A sincere deep bow to them for keeping up with everything.

As we have all experienced, though, we can grow away from those we respect. Even though it is painful, it is necessary to acknowledge when this happens and to part ways when it’s clear that traveling together is no longer possible.

In recent years, through the process of submitting our courses to NCTMB for approval, we have come up against several questions that we felt were informed by rubber stamp policies or arbitrary lines in the sand rather than thoughtful consideration of what might be best for the profession and for the learners taking our courses.

We work hard on our content, as do all CE providers. Anytime a question arose about our courses, we engaged with NCBTMB with the intention to come to an understanding. This has often meant conceding to NCBTMB requests that felt unnecessary and that, frankly, felt like they made our content less impactful. (For example, an objection by the NCBTMB review board is the reason why our online “Treatments for Cancer” series is not called “Curative Treatments for Cancer.” NCBTMB was concerned that massage therapists would assume, from the title of the course, that we were suggesting that massage therapy could cure cancer.)

Recently, however, one of our courses was rejected outright based only on the subject matter. After a few inquiries from massage therapists who needed CEs about Human Trafficking for their license renewal, we created a Human Trafficking course. NCBTMB responded to our submission right away, stating that the course could not be approved. It was their position to no longer accept any classes on the topic of Human Trafficking. You can read their policy statement about that here: https://www.ncbtmb.org/ncbtmb-issues-human-trafficking-statement/

Their policy statement asserts that NCBTMB exists to elevate the profession. We support this goal. It is one of the main reasons that Healwell exists. Each time NCBTMB has questioned or rejected one of our courses, it has become increasingly clear that our vision of how to get there is vastly different.

The decisions we have received from NCBTMB have led us to understand that their path toward elevating the profession is more about the mechanics and the business aspects of massage therapy than it is about being a self-aware and responsible health care provider. We feel that massage therapy, as part of health care, is social justice work. As such, part of our responsibility as providers is to educate ourselves about injustice that is perpetrated in the name of our profession and, at least in part, as a result of low regulatory and educational standards in our profession.

To put it more simply: human traffickers are using our profession to exploit and abuse people, and to confuse consumers. This can make it unsafe for massage practitioners, and definitely influences the way massage is perceived by the community at large. While the “causes” are complex and the systems that allow the practice of human trafficking to continue are intricately connected, the existence of this clandestine trade in human lives is very much an issue for our profession. It is also an issue for law enforcement and state and federal regulators, but the massage therapy profession cannot absolve itself of responsibility for limiting the ways that it continues to exist as an easy access point for human traffickers.

Our disagreement with NCBTMB about this issue made it clear that they are not compatible with the kind of content we want to create. Therefore, we have made the difficult decision to no longer submit our classes to NCBTMB for approval. We will now go exclusively through FSMTB for massage therapy CEs. FSMTB’s CE Registry program is now recognized in 27 states and that number grows each month: https://www.fsmtb.org/continuingeducation/ce-registry/. If your state does not yet recognize CE Registry, contact FSMTB to find out how to connect with your state massage board. FSMTB’s CE Registry will support reciprocity of licensing across state lines and simplify CE credit tracking for employers and practitioners.

What does this mean for you? Healwell classes that have already been approved by NCBTMB will remain so. You do not need to re-apply for those CEs. Going forward, any new classes we create for CEs will go through FSMTB. If you have any questions or concerns, please email [email protected].

We will continue produce the same quality education and hold ourselves to the same high standards we have always held ourselves to. However, we are no longer offering the same convenience of CE credentialling as we were before. I am aware this is a burden that some folks will not want to deal with, and we will lose their support. Our entire organization is deeply sad to know that we may lose the support of some practitioners for a while. If this is the case for you, I am sorry to see you go, and I am available to talk more about why we made this decision if that serves you.

We hope that NCBTMB continues to strive to do what it feels is in the best interest of the profession. Their methods and ethos are simply misaligned in our viewpoints regarding the future of the massage profession. We are always willing to enter into conversation with folks who are open to an exchange of ideas.

Thank you for your continued commitment.

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Rebecca Sturgeon

In addition to being a valuable member of Healwell’s faculty and curriculum development team, Rebecca is also Healwell’s Education Director. She works tirelessly to organize existing courses and to create new opportunities for Healwell to offer meaningful and robust inter-professional education for massage therapists and other health care providers. Rebecca co-authored Oncology Massage: An integrative approach to cancer care (Handspring, 2021.) As a former teacher of writing at the college level, Rebecca is passionate about the written word and about all forms of human communication. In her massage practice, she focuses on integrating therapeutic massage as part of overall health and wellness care. She is also an experienced mentor to new massage therapists, and facilitator of learning groups.

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