On the Ground

Practical Realities of Law, Licensure and LegislationPublication: Structural Integration / Language: English

Date: 09-2007 / Volume: 35 / Issue #: 3 / Page: 15-16

For many, regulation is a dubious word. Luckily, many of us live in states where Certified Rolfers are exempt from local regulation. However, this is all about to change, as a number of states are in the process of creating legislation to regulate both massage therapy and Rolfing® Structural Integration with no distinction between the two.

More specifically, approximately thirty-eight states currently regulate massage therapy, with efforts underway in at least eleven more to institute licensing. The practical, on-the-ground reality is that Certified Rolfers and other Structural Integrators are being regulated in most of those states as massage therapists. And what this may mean, depending on the state, is that in order to practice you must go to massage school even if you are a Certified Rolfer.

Thankfully, more progressive states do consider certification from the Rolf Institute® of Structural Integration an acceptable equivalent to massage training. Or, the training is considered mostly sufficient for licensure, and the practitioner must complete a few additional hours of coursework through a massage school. It’s also important to know that in some states when a Rolfer is caught practicing without a massage license, the massage board issues a cease and desist order, as the practitioner is in violation of state laws. The result? You are left without the ability to make a living as a Rolfer.

How state legislatures define, understand, and categorize Structural Integrators rests largely on our shoulders. For example, in some states there has been exemption from massage laws granted specifically for Structural Integration. This has been the result of local practitioners taking part in and influencing legislative effort.

In Texas, the massage board had granted exemption to Structural Integration. Unfortunately, a law was recently passed making everyone who touches for health benefit subject to regulation. Here’s what happened: The law in question was originally submitted with only one proposition – massage practitioners would be required to have 500 rather than 300 hours to qualify for licensure. Then late at night over the Memorial Day weekend, amendments were added to this bill regarding additional regulation with no public opinion sought or honored. Despite all the diligence that went into the bill’s crafting, the end result had an unfortunate outcome. Such is politics.

Certified Advanced Rolfers Sam Johnson and Steve Collins were very active in Texas, attending meetings, coordinating phone and fax campaigns to the legislators, and networking with other organization representatives. Sam also traveled to Austin in order to represent Structural Integration interests. Sam and Steve gave up time, sleep, and energy to deal with events as they unfolded. Much appreciation is due both of them for their efforts.

A brighter story is seen in New Mexico. For years, several of the member organizations of the Federation of Massage, Bodywork and Somatic Practice Organizations had tried to get exemption from state massage licensure. Certified Advanced Rolfer Valerie Berg found a sympathetic state senator who backed her cause with both the massage board and the state legislature. In combination with a lobbyist and other organization representatives, as well as Valerie’s contact in the legislature, exemption was granted for those practices that have service or trademarks. Certified Rolfers are now exempt from a license requirement in New Mexico. (Massage therapy licenses can be obtained by those who do wish to be licensed as massage therapists.)

New Hampshire massage therapists, in concert with other organizations, are working on a bill that will license massage therapists and other practitioners separately, but under one board. This should eventually result in appropriate licensure for Structural Integrators. Certified Advanced Rolfer Kevin Frank was active in the original effort. This current push should result in more appropriate legislative wording and eventual protection for the practices being regulated.

One thing we have learned in the process of tracking legislation is that unless there is very exact wording in the original bill, the rules that are written by the board after a bill’s passage may not represent the intent of the bill’s authors. In other words, it must be specified in the bill what the terms of exemption and/or licensure will be for a particular profession, or the subsequent rule-writing process may not honor the exemption and/or license requirements. Again, this is the political process, and a reminder to be vigilant and stay involved every step of the way.

Another complexity in the licensing arena is that each state has its own protocol for legislation. For instance, in most states exemption language has to be fairly general, and not name a specific practice. Unlike the New Mexico bill, there is usually no consideration for trade or service marks. Fortunately, at the national level the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) – one of the primary sources of legislative initiatives for massage therapy licensure – has a policy of putting in exemption language when requested.

I consulted with Certified Advanced Rolfer Michael Murphy to gain his perspective on legislative matters, as he has been involved as the Rolf Institute’s representative in this field for the past decade. To quote Michael:

“Frustration with these circumstances has led a number of Certified Rolfers to advocate for exemption from massage therapy licensing laws. In a manner similar to the range of options for licensure, there is a range of options for exemption, as well. Some states merely see that the applicant is a Certified Rolfer(TM), and respond that we are exempt. Others require a full application for exemption and demonstrated proof that exemption criteria have been met. All of these options have been promoted through the work of diligent individuals who have promoted the notion of exemption with the officials in the state’s bureaucracy, or with members of the legislature.

At this moment in our history, we are engaged in a lively discussion about the appropriateness of these regulatory strategies. Many Certified Rolfers think that we should not be licensed as massage therapists, and yet there is no obvious category for a state legislator, or a state regulator to put us under, and massage seems like the easiest and most appropriate fit. Meanwhile, some practitioners have not wanted to pursue an exemption, since they feel that their opportunity to bill for insurance reimbursement is tied to licensure as a massage therapist.

We are beginning to hear calls for various forms of licensure, or exemption from licensure, and hearing from various corners of our profession that some new form of thinking is in order in pursuit of some kind of credible professional status.”

What does this mean for your practice? Most practitioners are already subject to some form of regulation – either licensure or registration. If legislation is introduced to form a new massage board in your state, you can be active in promoting either exemption or appropriate licensure for Structural Integration practitioners. In the states where there is already a massage board, and where of Structural Integrators are regulated as massage therapists, we can organize action to request exemption or separate licensure, but this requires real-time, on-the-ground efforts by local practitioners. As board chair for law and legislation for the International Association of Structural Integrators (IASI), I can coordinate organization and action at the local level for Structural Integration practitioners, and cooperation from other organizations at the national level. Michael Murphy coordinates these actions for Rolf Institute members. IASI reaches out to graduates of other qualifying schools as well.

IASI was formed, in part, to preserve the distinct identity of Structural Integration. That mission will be served by finding a way to separate ourselves from the umbrella of massage therapy in the licensing arena. In support of that mission, IASI has undertaken the development of a certification exam, and joined the Federation of Massage, Bodywork and Somatic Practice Organizations.

A certification exam is being developed in accordance with national standards that are recognized by state legislatures as valid. Guidelines followed in the exam development come from the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) and its certifying branch, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). This is the same organization that certifies the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), along with many other professional certifying agencies.

IASI has also become a member of the Federation, which is a cooperative group of organizations including the Rolf Institute, the AMTA, United States Trager Association, Feldenkrais Guild of North America, American Society of Alexander Teachers, American Organization of Bodywork Therapies of Asia, and the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association. Check out the website at www.federationmbs.org.

The Federation has been helpful in a number of state proceedings, and one factor that can’t be overlooked by any legislative body is strength in numbers. The Rolf Institute has 1550 members and IASI has 900. (Keep in mind that the NCBTMB has 85,000 members.) In combination with the other federation organization members, we are able to make a difference at the state level.

We must start the conversation about what we want, what is possible or likely to be accomplished given the nature of licensure in any given state, and how we might strategize to meet those goals. None of the schools is situated to take action on behalf of the entire community of Structural Integration practitioners. However, IASI is uniquely positioned to represent the broader profession of Structural Integration.

Therefore, regardless of whether or not you feel moved to become a member of IASI, it is vital to make your voice heard, as the fate of how Structural Integrators are regulated is in our hands.

Libby Eason is a Certified Advanced Rolfer(TM), Rolf Movement Practitioner™, Rolf Institute faculty member, and IASI board member.