Friday, January 24, 2014


Look at that grey hair


Most know that I have been a massage therapist and educator for over 30 years. Over that time my career has evolved just as I hope those reading this are experiencing.  I actually started out my career as self-taught since there were no massage schools around me. I searched for additional training and took the courses I could find with each one adding to my skills. I have always been busy as a massage professional so the very best learning experience –working with lots of clients has been the most important aspect of my professional development.  In the beginning (back in the day at the end of the 1970’s) it was a different culture for massage practice. I also know those days of professional development for massage therapist are over and a new generation is looking for their pathway for career advancement.

Just beginning 

What I hope to outline in this blog is what is available right now and potentially in the near future for career advancement.  Until very recently there was no real clear structure for professional development but things are changing.

 I actually wrote the first edition of Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage (1990 ish) before I had a bachelor’s degree. Then I realized that I would not be able to teach from my own book at a community college unless I had an academic degree. I could have gotten an associate’s degree but instead completed a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences from Central Michigan University (1998).  One of the reasons I choose this school was that it awarded credit for prior learning experience. I had to make a career portfolio ( big big job) and then it was evaluated for college level learning.  I received 30 credits in electives toward the degree. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I soon realized that it would take a master’s degree to really secure my credentials as a leader in my field of massage therapy.  I completed a Master’s degree in organizational management and leadership (2001) using blended learning (online and classroom). This educational journey has been expensive, time consuming, frustrating and absolutely
WORTH IT.  One of my professional goals has been to make this process more streamlined and cost effective for others. Here is a general outline of a pathway available for massage therapists now.



Entry level education.

While this foundational education remains in flux, I truly see consensus on the horizon. The job task analysis for the licensing exams ( both from the Federation of State Massage Boards and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork), the core competencies from the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation, the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge and the analysis by the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and the most recent Entry Level Analysis Project indicate strong agreement on what should be included in the foundational training for massage therapy. Whew----------.


I suspect that the content and clock hour requirements will fall into the certificate/diploma level educational structure found in many health professions vocational training.


This is good.  I am supportive of diploma level education defined as taking a year or less to complete the education and vocationally licensed.


An entire career in massage therapy can develop from this beginning platform without any additional certification or academic degrees involved.






Board Certification

Continuing education can cumulate along with work experience to meet eligibility requirement for the next professional achievement- BOARD CERTIFICATION provided by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.  This generalized but advanced credential indicates that a massage professional has voluntarily committed to documentation of massage education and experience beyond entry level. From this launch point specialty certifications can be created in the future.  I believe finally the National Certification Board has got it right. Certification should be voluntary and beyond entry level. Whew--------------.



This can be an end point for a career pathway for the massage therapist. But there can be more. Academic degrees.




Academic degrees.

Why would you want an academic degree?  I can think of lots of reasons such as additional validation for professional development, addition of skills over and above massage application including business and leadership, and maybe most important to me- teacher development.  I think we can agree that the massage educators need access to advanced training in the form of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. AND IT IS AVAILABLE –WOW--------.


Associate’s Degrees


An associate’s degree is typically based on 2 years of college level study

(60 credits).  Some community colleges and technical schools offer a diploma level massage training that can be advanced to an associate’s degree by adding general education courses and other massage related courses. This is really good and becomes a launch pad for the next step--- a bachelor’s degree.


Some community colleges will evaluate prior learning and award credit for the previous massage education and then develop a completion plan for an associate’s degree in general studies or more specifically in a health professions category. I have found associate’s degrees in health and fitness that I thought would be a great fit.


Another option is to find an associate’s degree program that compliments massage diploma education.  Examples include health sciences, general psychology, health and wellness, business, etc.


Yet another option is to complete general education courses at a local community college.


Courses taken to meet general education requirements provide for the following essential outcomes to insure that students are prepared for academic and professional success and for participation as citizens of their communities and the world. Typically the follow categories are used to determine general education.


Critical Thinking

Courses should require and students should demonstrate a range of abilities from tangible problem-solving to higher order processes of analysis, inference, reasoning, synthesis, and judgment. Students should evaluate information, analyze claims and arguments in their own and others’ work, consider multiple perspectives, apply knowledge in new contexts, understand processes of reasoning in various disciplines, and should regularly reflect on their own learning.



Global Awareness

Courses should require and students should demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of culture, race, ethnicity, nations, religions, and political and social systems. This includes an understanding of these concepts themselves and an understanding of their roles in forming identities and values—our own and those of others. Students should be able to identify and explain the influence of historical and cultural factors on past and current events.




Courses should require and students should demonstrate personal and social responsibility through collaboration with others in diverse group settings, and through civic knowledge and participation. A commitment to academic integrity, ethical reasoning and action, and preparation for lifelong learning should be central to all coursework.


This information expands the awareness of massage therapy practice.



In addition to the general education courses I suggest you take as much anatomy and physiology as is available at the college.


What if I already have college level learning?


If you already have college level classes that can transfer, such as an associate’s degree in massage or another discipline, or a bunch of classes that never really added up to completing a degree and/or military training and other prior learning experience you can likely use this educational collection to meet some credit requirements toward a bachelor’s degree.





Once you achieve an associate’s degree or an accumulation of classes and courses and work experience that can be used for college credit transfer or credit for prior learning experience-- now what?


The next step in documentation of achievement is through earning a bachelor’s degree. Why would you want to do this? Again there are lots of reasons including career advancement at many levels but the one most dear to my heart would be if you are now or want to teach massage.


There is a career pathway to a BACHELOR’S OF APPLIED SCIENCE USING BOARD CERTIFICATION. You really need to check this out. Board Certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is valued at 33 college credits by Sienna Height University. This 33 credits plus 12 credits at the university establish the major (45 credits) in Massage Therapy. Wow-  A bachelor’s degree in Massage Therapy.


For more information on a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Massage Therapy from Siena Heights University, please visit

Since a bachelor’s degree is 120 credits, the other 75 credits are completed as follows:


30 credits need to be completed at the university. Sienna Height University offers some minors such as health care management that are an excellent fit for completing the 30 credits.  


This leaves 45 credits to complete in a variety of ways including transfer credit from associates degrees described above or equivalent college level learning. The most cost effect way to do this is to take advantage of your local community college offerings.  I suggest you contact a Sienna Height Advisor for specific evaluation of your educational history. If you are lacking college level transfer credits, the advisor will recommendation how you can either complete an associate’s degree with Sienna Heights University or use the resources at your local community college which will be more cost effective. They will also explain how credit for prior learning outside of a college is evaluated.



So here are the steps reviewed:


1.  Choose a quality entry level education and become licensed.

2.  Gain experience and additional education in massage to become Board Certified

3.  Consider if an academic degree will be a value to you.


The only step that is legally mandated is licensing. The rest of your career journey is up to you. What I have outlined in this blog is more cost effective and efficient that how I did it. I am thrilled that the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork’s Board Certification and Sienna Heights University’s long history of awarding a Bachelor’s of Applied Science degree are available to smooth the path for you on your career journey.


PS: You can complete your degree ONLINE—how cool is that!


NEW: U.S. News and World Report recognized Siena Heights University in its 2014 Best Online Bachelor's Programs rankings, which was published Jan. 8. SHU's Distance Learning Program was one of only 12 Michigan colleges and universities to make the national list, and one of only four private Michigan institutions ranked. SHU has offered online bachelor's degree programs since 2004. 

Bachelor of Applied Science Degree from Siena Heights University

The Bachelor of Applied Science Degree (BAS) is a career-oriented degree designed for professionals with allied health or technical training, Associate of Applied Science Degrees or graduates of two-year occupational programs. The BAS Degree is structured as an individually designed degree program around the major or certification already completed. For more information on BAS degrees from Siena Heights University, please visit

For any additional information on Siena Heights University, please visit

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's Up?


Picture of the Michigan ice storm-outside my front door. 

I am entering the New Year very hopeful for the massage community. Here is why. We may be actually beginning to work together.  Check out these developments.

The COALITION OF NATIONAL MASSAGE THERAPY ORGANIZATIONS remains active. Participating organizations include:

•Alliance for Massage Therapy Education AFMTE

•American Massage Therapy Association AMTA

•Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals ABMP

•Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation COMTA

•Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards FSMTB

•Massage Therapy Foundation

•National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork NCBTMB

The group continues to meet behind closed doors and I would hope for more transparency, but at least they are working together and I am really hopeful about that.

ELAP (Entry-Level Analysis Project)

Education for massage therapists is an issue where the missions of every organization overlap. The ELAP (Entry-Level Analysis Project) is the first project supported by the seven organizations to address these educational concerns.  The ELAP project launched to mixed reviews and I was very vocal about the way the project was being conducted. I was not the only one.   However-  I believe I can support the end result.  It has not been released to the public yet. Currently the COALITION OF NATIONAL MASSAGE THERAPY ORGANIZATIONS representatives are reviewing the document.    It will not be perfect but like most forward advancements, it will evolve.  Most professional advancement is messy, bumpy and contentious. Ultimately, if it is going to be valuable there needs to be adaptation, and rethinking. I sat in so many meetings about this project but the one I most remember is the presentation by the ELAP work group at the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education AFMTE meeting in July 2013 at St. Charles, Missouri.   The realization of the work group members for the need to adapt was visible to me and I wanted to hug the work group members just because I know how exhausting a process like this can be.  The results should be available once the Coalition members finish with the review.

The Federation of State Massage Boards has been working on a Model Practice Act for massage. 

While it may take a while to trickle down, more than any other development in the massage community, the Model Practice Act will influence legislation the only mandatory requirement of practicing massage therapy.  There is very little information available so this development needs to be carefully watched.


Changes for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

Effective January 1, 2013, the original National Certification was retired and no longer exists; The BOARD CERTIFICATION CREDENTIAL launched in January 2013 has replaced it. This new credential requires fulfilling additional qualifications, including more education, hands-on experience and a background check. There is an exam that reflects the advanced level of practice. The intention of this process is to provide validation of professional development beyond entry level education and practice.  By increasing educational requirements and including a work experience component Board Certification is a way for a massage professional to validate that they support ongoing learning and professional advancement.

Those who were previously certified with the old national certification process have an opportunity to transition to Board Certification without taking the test.   By December 31, 2016 the transition process to Board Certification for those who were previously nationally certified under the old system will be complete.   From that point on to be board certified massage professionals will need to meet all eligibility requirements and pass the exam.  Those who have not been previously certified under the old NCBTMB system will have to meet all requirements and take the Board Certification exam. Here is a link to the knowledge content expected for Board Certification

New Certification Test Specifications are found on page 21.  For more information see


College credit awarded toward a major in massage therapy bachelor’s degree.

In December 2013, a partnership with Sienna Heights University and the NCB was announced for the new NCBTMB Board Certification to be used for college credit.

NCBTMB Board Certificants are awarded 33 college credits toward the 120 credits required to achieve this degree. A 45-credit major in Massage Therapy is established through Board Certification and completing 12 credits of cognate/major-related study at Siena Heights. The 12 credits are designed to assist with the business/human relations aspects of a successful massage career. The entire degree requires 120 credits, 33 of which are awarded with proof of Board Certification. Additional transfer credit up to 90 credits total can apply toward the degree. Students may need only 10 courses (30 credits) to complete their degrees.  Siena Heights University offers upper-division courses in areas such as leadership and management, organizational behavior, marketing, health care management, professional communication, social science, liberal arts, and more. These are areas that have been identifies as the most lacking in current massage education. This is a real monetary value for board certification for those who want to take advantage of the opportunity.  Sienna Heights University is progressive and open to work with the massage community like they have with other occupations and health professional since the 1970s. If you have an associate’s degree in massage therapy for example, that can be another way to establish the massage therapy major.    AND—YOU CAN COMPLETE YOUR DEGREE ON LINE! The Bachelor of Applied Science Degree (BAS) is a career-oriented degree designed for professionals with allied health or technical training.  This degree is a BAS in Massage Therapy.  WOW.

This is a very exciting development for me because I have had a relationship with Sienna Height University for over 22 years for credit transfer from my massage theory school and now massage professional all over the country through the online program can take advantage of this career pathway. 

 For any additional information on Siena Heights University, please visit


This year an avenue for massage therapy education advancement within a university setting was proposed.

Ravensara Travillian  (find her on facebook)  brought forth the visionary proposal for professional massage therapy studies and advanced-practice certificate within a University setting.  One of the many advantages of this approach to higher massage therapy education is the ability to support massage related research which is so very important.  This proposal is very different than the college degree offered through Siena Heights University described above.  When implemented the courses will be onsite at a university where active research will be conducted.  Another very important aspect of Ravensara’s vision is the ability to target and serve vulnerable populations as part of the advanced course work. One of the target populations are veterans which is a population dear to my heart as well.   I hope the massage community supports this vision because it provides a pathway for necessary advancement of Massage Therapy in our future.


I am also hopeful that more and more massage therapists and massage educators will follow and monitor these important developments.  I enjoy staying involved and informed and providing information as well as my opinion and analysis---- but it is my hope that you will become more active and informed this coming year.