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Board Certification and specialty certifications are key pieces of the massage profession’s overall picture as a health care specialty, according to National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Chairperson Leena

Guptha (pictured), D.O., B.C.T.M.B. The NCBTMB offers Board Certification; however, a greater number of massage therapists need to earn that certification in order to help elevate the profession, she said.

NCBTMB will focus on promoting its Board Certification to the massage field, now that the organization has decided to cease administering its National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork as a licensing exam.

On Oct. 3, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) announced that NCBTMB will no longer provide licensing exams, effective beginning Nov. 1. People who apply by Oct. 31 will have a 90-day window in which to take the exam.

An FSMTB press release stated that the two organizations’ leaders created an agreement whereby FSMTB’s Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) will be the only exam offered for massage therapy licensure.

Guptha spoke with MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, Karen Menehan, to provide her perspective on the decision and outline the NCBTMB’s plans for the future, as the organization works to promote Board Certification.

MASSAGE Magazine: Why was the decision made to no longer offer the NCETM and NCETMB entry-level licensure examinations?

Leena Guptha: When we compare the roles [of organizations] within other professions such as allied health or medical, different entities are responsible for different qualifications for the profession. Especially in respect to licensing, having two organizations that are duplicating efforts causes a great deal of confusion. In other professions, certification is not used for licensure—but our [licensure] kind of evolved in that way.

MM: The FSMTB has been in existence for the better part of a decade. Why wasn’t this change made sooner?

LG: Since I wasn’t with NCBTMB at that time, I can’t guess or predict why something didn’t happen. I can only tell you what is happening now. Maybe it should have been done long ago, but I can’t speak as to why it wasn’t. I’m very focused on the present and the future.

MM: What does this decision mean to people who are already licensed via an NCBTMB exam, when they renew?

LG: This change won’t affect anyone who is already licensed. It only affects those who will graduate and need to take an exam. The exam was the route through which people got their license. There’s no relationship between the original exam and future renewal.

MM: Can you explain the differences between licensure and certification?

LG: When people become part of a health care profession, the career path is the same as for any other profession: they go to college, they take a licensing exam, they can become Board Certified and then earn specialty certification.

Licensure is an entry-level qualification, while certification is an advanced credential. I think confusion started right from the very beginning, when the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB) was accepted by states as one of the requirements to become licensed. As more people took the NCETMB, more people got licensed and they equated the two—licensing and certification.

MM: How do you feel about NCBTMB no longer administering a licensing exam?

LG: I’m actually very excited about completely relinquishing licensure to  FSMTB, and  focusing NCBTMB on the Board Certification and Approved Provider program. It more clearly defines  the organizations’ roles, and allows us to create a career pathway for massage therapists while gaining the support of other entities that maybe in the past had to choose between supporting one or the other. 

MM: How will this change improve NCBTMB’s standing in the massage profession?

LG: I think there will be ground swelling of support for NCBTMB, and make us a more relevant organization to the profession. When people understand that we are doing this for the greater good of the profession, to move forward and align ourselves more with how different entities offer different services and products, we will regain the trust that was here for NCB many, many years ago. 

MM: How many people currently hold Board Certification through NCBTMB?

LG: I don’t have a number to share with you. What I can say is there has been much more momentum toward people transitioning to Board Certification in 2014 than there was in 2013. A year ago, people were unfamiliar with Board Certification and that they were eligible to transition into Board Certification. I believe we will see the positive trend of 2014 continue. 

MM: It seems this decision is a natural evolution of the massage profession. True?

LG: Medical professionals—including physicians, chiropractors and dentists—have struggled with similar issues that we are facing now in the massage therapy profession, and if we can come together and talk openly and freely about issues, we can grow together.

If we keep our eye on the ball of moving the profession forward, it will have ramifications not only within the profession, but with professions outside of ours as well. Not everyone wants to be in the medical environment, but it is an area in which we can grow and develop. These developments [regarding licensure and certification] will help [other medical professionals] relate to us as a profession rather than as a trade.

MM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LG: This is a profession that operates very much from the heart, and I believe it will resonate with every massage therapist that we are doing something to help realign the profession, that we will have growth in Board Certification and new therapists becoming Board Certified.

People really need to know that we have made this decision for the greater good of the profession, to eliminate a lot of confusion that has been existing for the past few years.

NCBTMB wants to be a central part of the profession, in terms of what we offer. It’s very important people understand that this is something that is a conscious choice from NCBTMB. I think this will show people this is a new NCBTMB after years of having other priorities.

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