Saturday, April 2, 2016

Past time to update.

So here it is, almost 5 years since the inaugural MTBOK was published, and what has happened? I'm sorry to say that ultimately what began as a brief pause to give the profession time to absorb and adopt as well as make suggested changes ended up as an extended 5 year delay in adoption. I think this has been a well intentioned, but ultimately ill advised approach that has prevented acceptance and incorporation throughout the community, and has resulted in a static rather than "living" MTBOK as was promised to the profession.

I was the original Project Manager for the MTBOK, which I continue to believe is one of the best things the various professional organizations who constitute the MTBOK Stewards have done for the profession. The concept was important, and was developed with an almost unheard of spirit of cooperation by these organizations. It also laid out a process that was well throught out, and helped forestall the likely objections that could derail this project. We have a lively, open, and passionate professional membership, and trying to define the body of knowledge that guides and grows the profession was likely to create issues.

Like this country itself, we have liberal and conservative views of the profession, libertarian, narrow focused sub professions, progressives and even deniers. Of course this diversity is both a strength and a challenge.

The original project environment was designed to get a good, solid start to defining "what an entry level massage therapist should know and be able to do" in order to be considered professional. This defined the scope of the project to make it manageable and to not require expertise in all the advanced approaches professionals use in the broad massage therapy profession. Some other characteristics of the study:

Independence: the task force would work independently of the sponsoring organizations in order to ensure the steward organizations did not direct the outcome.

Formal Guidlines: were given to the task force that mandated an approach that was as inclusive as possible and that as much as possible input from the profession was to be solicited, encouraged and reviewed by he task force with a record of consensus determination.

No New Bureaucracies: the task force was composed of widely open solicitation, rigorously evaluated by a group from e steward organizations and representative of the wide range of talent we have in the profession as a whole. But the project was of fixed length, and the task force would be dissolved as soon as the formal product was developed and presented/published for the profession. This would ensure that following work would not become the pet project of the few already vested in the product. This was an important aspect of the project, but also left the MTBOK without vested champions to ensure its integration with and adoption throughout the profession.

There was some controversy surrounding the final product (in my opinion virtually all of this could have been resolved with more discussion and publicity) and ultimately the steward organizations decided to stand back leave open a place for comments to be addressed when the next update took place. What first sounded like a few months of delay while the stewards continued to get the word out and solicit next steps ended up being a 5 year period in which the MTBOK was left to get dusty.

So, the bad news is that the MTBOK hasn't reached its potential, isn't "living", hasn't been updated, hasn't been changed, hasn't been integrated and adopted by he community, and hasn't addressed the more advanced knowledge, skills and abilities in a full Body of Knowledge of our profession. The good news is that the existing MTBOK fulfills its mission of describing what an entry level massage therapist needs to know and be able to do.

Before anybody starts shouting, it's not perfect, and there may be some things that need significant change. But the problem is that if there had been addressed years ago we could have achieved an integrated, adopted and secure foundational document for the profession

So what's different today? I've finally heard rumblings with in the stewards that at least some of them want to complete the job, or at least get the process started again. 

I urge all of you, whether you love or hate the MTBOK, that you notify the steward organizations (see the organizations listed at the site) what your thoughts are - and it doesn't need to be long like this blog - just tell them to get it moving again. I would caution that a Body Of Knowledge document is a foundation of a profession, and I really think it is not feasible to ask that the MTBOK be abandoned.

It's as easy as sending an email to

Let's get this party started... And thanks for all you do to make our profession better!

– Chip

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A beginning, not an end

Its a tremendously exciting time! This Saturday (May 15, 2010) we will be announcing the release of the inaugural Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) at the "Highlighting Massage Therapy in CIM" conference in Seattle, WA. Its been over a year since I started on the project, and the MTBOK itself took almost 11 months to build after the MTBOK task force began their work.

The task force has done an extraordinary job on this effort, and has spent many, many hours researching, writing, evaluating your comments and achieving consensus on the inaugural MTBOK content.

While there is such a tendency to focus on the end of a project, this whole effort is about beginning a future for massage therapy. That's why I like to call the upcoming release the inaugural MTBOK.

So with the release this Saturday we will be celebrating a beginning far more than the successful project conclusion. Our mission was to put together an MTBOK built by and for the profession. Since eight people can only do so much, we went to lengths to get as much input from all of the stakeholders. We did a quick draft, then opened it up for public comment. We held an open Stakeholder Input Session at the AMTA national convention in Orlando last September which was mostly an interactive dialog in groups. We then did another round of public comments, and we met with several groups including the major schools organizations (we meet with the third one in June) and the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.

We received over 1,400 formal comments from our stakeholders, and all but about 30 of those were read, reviewed, discussed and in someway became part of the new MTBOK.

All this was to say that I think we did a great job of representing the profession and listening and reacting appropriately to comments and suggestions.

But here is where the important part comes. What happens next is up to you. The MTBOK is a living document, and you should think of it that way. If things need to be tweaked or changed, let people know about it. (The new approach to receiving comments is to ask that you submit them via email to The MTBOK Steward organizations plan to periodically review and update the MTBOK in response to your needs and comments. Its really a mistake to think of the MTBOK as a finished, static product... it really needs to grow with the knowledge of the profession, and to help the whole profession move in a similar direction.

It seems to me that there are two things that need to happen with the MTBOK now in addition to its growth as a living document. First, it needs to stay in the minds of our stakeholders so that any adjustments in its current form can be made. Second, it needs to be adopted and ingrained into the work of each of the massage therapy domains (Practice, Accreditation, Research, Certification, Education and Licensure) so that the profession as a whole is moving in pretty much the same direction.

For those of you who think it needs work... great! That's the nature of a living document, and while you may not get all the changes you want, that' part of building consensus in such a big, wonderful, complex profession.

Thanks to all of you who have participated in this effort. I really think its a great step forward for massage therapy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Just released - the MTBOK 2nd Draft for review and comment

We have just released the 2nd draft of the MTBOK as scheduled, and its available to download at along with a brief press release.

I hope you will go to the site, download the document, read it and provide us with your comments (a link to our online comment form is on the site and on the first page of the MTBOK document).

We will hold a formal comment period open until March 8, 2010. In my opinion this is the most important part of the project because the profession has a chance to give us your guidance on where you think we need correction, and I hope to let us know where we have got it right.

We do listen - every one of the 600 or so comments we received on the first draft was read and taken into account as the 2nd draft was produced. I think the MTBOK has gotten much better as a result of your participation, and I hope we can continue to receive your suggestions.

We will be producing a final MTBOK for delivery in early May, and with your help it can become rooted in our profession and a living document that changes with the growth of our profession.

Its an exciting time!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

MTBOK 2nd Draft to be published Friday, January 29, 2010

We are just around the corner from starting the e-presses and pushing out the 2nd draft of the MTBOK, and its a busy week! On friday the new draft will go up on the MTBOK website ( as an Adobe Acrobat file available for download. We are putting up a new link to a comment form so that we can get your suggestions, updates and recommendations.

As before, the comment form has a couple of questions about who your are or represent then asks for the Section number and line number that your comment is about. Provide as many separate comments as you need - we have tried to make the form fairly short and sweet so that you can enter something quickly and easily and we can better manage our review and change process.

The formal comment period is only going to be open for a month, so we do ask you to get any comments in quickly. We wont shut off the comment process (both because if we have time we will continue to process new comments and because even after the time period ends we want to be able to pass comments on to those who will continue to monitor and update the MTBOK).

The MTBOK is more streamlined, and is I think substantially better as a result of the approximately 600 comments we received on the 1st draft. Although we cant individually respond to the comments we receive, everyone was read by the task force, and in some way impacted the document and our discussions.

I hope you like the work that has been done so far, and I look forward to your comments on the document. The final version will be presented in early May, so we wont have much of a break over the next few months.

Thanks for your participation and support.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Energy Terminology Cleanup

After reviewing a lot of comments regarding Polarity Therapy and the MTBOK, I believe most of the issues relate to a mis-interpretation of the MTBOK itself, its impact, and the intent. We have made some changes which we hope will resolve the concerns, and offer the following additional information:

Impact and Intent: The MTBOK is “just” a body of knowledge for the Massage Therapy profession – it does not now, nor will it, have any legal force of law or regulation. As it stands now, the MTBOK does not in any way suggest that other professions such as Polarity Therapy belong under Massage Therapy, nor does it say or imply that Polarity Therapists must or even should be Massage Therapists. Of course, even if that was in the document (it is not) it wouldn’t matter since the MTBOK does not change law or regulation.

Although the MTBOK does include work including energy in the scope of practice, it clearly states in the section description (Section 130) that the therapist must have specific post graduate training where necessary or required. The MTBOK recognizes that although there may be some overlap between distinct professions this does not imply that a trained professional in one must be in the other.
Although the Scope and Description sections of the MTBOK are intended to cover the full breadth of the Massage Therapy profession (and does not include other professions such as Polarity Therapists), the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) section is even more narrowly focused – it is specific to entry level Massage Therapists (and not other professions such as Polarity Therapists).

In the MTBOK, the section relating to energy actually only requires that an (entry level) massage therapist should know broad theoretical frameworks of several different energy approaches, and although it did mention Poles, and included the word 'polarity,' Polarity Therapy itself was not mentioned, nor is there a skill or ability required for it. Nevertheless, since this area has apparently caused some concern, particularly for people in Polarity Therapy and other energy focused professions, we have made some specific changes which will appear in the 2nd draft:

• The term “Polarity” has been removed from the document
• The KSA section originally titled “Energetic Approaches” has been changed to “Energetic Theory”
• The bulleted item under Skills and Abilities has been changed to read “Identify personal perception of energy and one common theory of energetics.”

Let me reiterate one key point – the MTBOK does not now, nor will it suggest or recommend (much less mandate) that polarity therapists be massage therapists. I’m not sure why this concern even got started. Regardless, I hope that this explanation as well as the document changes noted above will help to clear up any misunderstanding.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

MTBOK Stakeholder Input Session was a huge success!

You may know that on Thursday, September 24th we held an MTBOK Stakeholder Input Session open to the public in Orlando, FL. We filled a double room, and senior representatives from all of the MTBOK Steward organizations (AMTA, ABMP, AMTA COS, FSMTB, MTF, and NCBTMB) were present.

The idea of holding ad open to the public meeting at the AMTA convention site gave a lot of massage therapists the opportunity to participate just as we had hoped. I did see a number of name tags with the "Public" identifier on them and I talked to one attendee who had come a long way to attend - so I'm happy that we got outside attendance.. We also were told that more than 40 attendees had returned their registrations for CE classes to attend, so we know we had interest!

I wish I had exact attendance, but I don't. ... I do know we had more than 100 since all the chairs were occupied, and we had some standing, but I don't have an exact count. Its not bad that we could get a number nearly 10% of the total convention attendees! I think the work is very important, and I'm glad that we have so many people willing to tell us what they think.

All of our Task Force members (see "Who we are" at were present, and after a brief introduction, we broke into 4 large groups with 2 Task Force members recording and facilitating the stakeholder input at each group.

We came away from the session enthused and energized, and from my perspective moving around the room, I suspect that a lot of the attendees felt the same.  The positive energy and interest was palpable, and the interaction was great.

What we got out of the session far exceeded our expectations, and we couldn't be more delighted. We spent the next morning (and some of that night) organizing and going over the notes from the sessions. The Task Force facilitators presented each of the notes they took, we discussed each, and talked about how of the comments would impact the MTBOK itself.

In the end, we have a list of updates we are making, and several items that need to be further researched and/or discussed before we take final action.

We also shared a number of less specific thoughts from the meeting - how the participants seemed to feel about the job thus far, and what "themes" we saw as a result of the discussion. 

If any of you reading this were in attendance, Id love to hear what you thought.  Everybody keep in mind that although this was our only scheduled in-person input session, we have a simple and easy way to comment on the MTBOK itself via an online form.  Both the MTBOK itself, and access to the comment form are available at our website:

Im working now on organizing and tracking the comments and changes we receive.  Over the next week or so Im hoping to catch up on responding to comments we have already received.  Our intention is to respond to all comments... at least as long as the volume of input can be managed. So if you have provided input and haven't heard back in the next couple of weeks - let me know.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Some MTBOK Clarifications

Im pleased that we've begun to get responses already on the draft MTBOK, and its just what we are hoping for.  Its also clear that the respondants are passionate about the profession, and have given thought to their responses. 

As a task force of 8 trying to represent such a broad complex profession, we think its vital that we get feedback from the community.  Thats why we have tried to make it easy to do so, why we have scheduled two drafts for review (the next update will be just after the first of the year) and why we are holding a public input session in Orlando, FL next week.

In reading over your comments though I can tell there is some misunderstanding about the approach we have taken and the impact of the MTBOK (at least in the near term).  So I thought I would clear some of that up. Please keep in mind that Im going a little out on a limb here because Im not actually a member of the Task Force... but if they take issue with what I say here, I will relay that back to you as well.

  • First, the MTBOK does not, and will not have force of law or regulation.  Which means that whatever the final product includes will not change any State or local laws or regulations, at least in the near term. Over time we believe that the educators and regulators, etc will come to value a single, profession wide body of knowledge built by and for the profession as a valuable single source of authoritative information. We also believe that the reason for the wide range of requirements for certification/licensure across the country is a direct result of organizations individually trying to cope without a comprehensive, profession-wide adopted standard. We think the establishment of the MTBOK will help over time resolve a lot of the inconsistencies that you experience from jurisdiction to jurisdiction across the country.
  • Some people have expressed concern that the required knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) are too much for an entry level massage therapist. The Task Force believes that the MTBOK needs to grow with the knowledge and science that supports the profession, and has included some new areas that we believe therapists, even at the entry level, need to be exposed to.  As in most of the knowledge areas, entry level therapists would not be expected to have in depth knowledge but would be expected to know what it is and what the general impact is on their work. This helps position a Massage Therapist to better guide their career and continuing education over time.
  • The MTBOK is to be created by and for the profession.  Which means that it is supposed to represent what our profession believes is the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to perform their work. We want and need your input.  Id suggest that as you look through the document, your approach should be to consider whether or not individual KSAs should be something that all therapists need to know and or do, not the details of implementation. If you disagree on something, tell us about it and why using the comment form.
  • The task force is trying to be sure that the variety of work that is being performed by massage therapists is included in the scope and KSA requirements. Our field is broad, and the MTBOK hopefully represents that well.  We are focused on Massage Therapy, and there is no attempt to try to bring other allied professions under the MTBOK.  In fact, we have tried to invite non Massage Therapy organizations to comment so that any issues may be resolved before it is finalized.  Since one of the ways a profession gets widely recognized is through the development and existence of a Body of Knowledge, we would encourage other allied professions to develop their own.
  •  Finally, the specific competencies (in terms of Knowledge Skills and Abilities) in the draft version of the MTBOK are for entry level therapists, and do not include the additional KSAs that are required as a massage therapist advances or specializes.  The method of documenting these are not addressed in phase 1 of the MTBOK at all, and this work will be done later as appropriate.  Phase 1 specifically notes that some of the work performed by massage therapists requires additional knowledge, certification and/or licensure.  So, for example, although we believe all massage therapists should be exposed to non-western energy theory and the existence of meridians and points associated with these, it does not mean that this is adequate for a massage therapist to practice reflexology or acupressure without the appropriate additional study, certification and/or licensure.
I hope you will keep these points in mind as you read the draft MTBOK and that you do let us know what you agree or don't agree with.The effects of this wont be immediate, but I hope you will agree that the end result will significantly strengthen the foundation on which our amazing profession is built.