Wednesday, February 13, 2013

HB 1372: Certified Professionals Lose Right to Work?

Virginia House Bill 1372 would, if enacted, deny the right to work to licensed and certified professionals who stop paying ever-increasing fees to certifying organizations.

It's being voted on by a Senate committee at the time of posting, but this web site recommends that the full Senate kill this bill.

How does this type of requirement work in practice? People who have invested substantial amounts of time and money in acquiring professional skills agree that it'd be cool to be recognized as having those skills, so they set up certification boards. (I know. I've been there. I've been a Certified Geriatric Nursing Assistant and a Certified Massage Therapist for years.) People pay an extra fee to receive certification from these boards.

A few years pass. The cost of maintaining certification rises. Other things happen. People move up the hierarchy in their fields--e.g. going from C.G.N.A., which was good for $18/hour, to C.M.T., which was good for $50/hour (most competitors were charging more). Or they decide not to make their practice a full-time job...for me, as a massage therapist, any sense of pressure or conflict impeded my ability to help clients, so I decided not to compete with those who wanted to make massage a fast-paced business but to continue doing no more than one massage per day, at home; if you're not doing something full-time, then spending more than a thousand dollars to maintain a listing in a directory somewhere starts to seem foolish. Or they need to spend more time with sick relatives or young children. Or they sustain an injury and retire for six months, or two years, or however long it takes to recover depending on the severity of the injury, and while paying medical bills they stop paying certification expenses.

And then the greedheads sneak in and slap a load of outrageous new expenses onto any effort to recover their certification, to protect themselves from competition, because the formerly certified and still competent professionals were probably better at what they did in the first place.

For me, pressure to add more and more local licenses in order to keep doing massage just happened to coincide with my husband's first and final major illness, my best friend's successful but very difficult pregnancy, a relative's large-scale campaign for political office, and two other friends' books. I wasn't actually doing massage, so why not wait until I had the time to do massage again before I started paying for all those new licenses. Famous Last Words. When I did look into the new licensing requirements, they basically required me to go all the way back to trade school, as if I hadn't been doing massage longer than some of the teachers there. One colleague offered me employment under the protection of her local license, and was told the very next day that she couldn't do that. And just by way of support for the paragraph above this one...I was never sued, and had 80% regular repeat clients even when I ran weekly ads. Many of the massage therapists who had invested in the local licenses have been sued.

I turned down invitations to lend my name and client base to new practitioners, some of whom stayed in practice after I left. I financed an "advanced degree" in Neuromuscular Therapy, a highly effective and demanding form of massage, by teaching the basic trade-school type of massage I was later ordered to go back and study. I wasn't the masseuse in the Clinton White House; I was the one to whom she referred people. And without major legislative reforms, I'll never be able to do massage again.

Meanwhile, clients are paying more for massage in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, massage therapists are earning less, and although some good, skilled people are still in practice, a client's chance of dissatisfaction with a massage in the Metropolitan Area is higher than it used to be. I couldn't imagine even trying to offer massage under the conditions greedheads have imposed on the profession.

In order for massage to work, a practitioner has to be completely focussed on picking up very subtle cues from the client. I don't mean anything mystical; I'm talking about the kind of measurable tactile perception that only one out of four or five people have, which then needs to be developed by practice. Anybody can learn to stroke the skin above a muscle in the direction of the heart, but in order to tell whether that's relieving pain, or temporarily increasing discomfort in a way that allows us to relieve pain, you have to have High Sensory Perceptivity and training and this complete focus. It's not about emotionally "feeling your pain," but physically noticing what your nerves and muscles are doing in response to your pain (which is a great way for hypersensitive young girls to learn the difference between feeling emotional about your pain and actually tracking and treating it). And when I'm worried about whether or not I'm earning any return on an investment of money, or complying with someone else's rules or standards, I'm not focussed on finding and relieving someone else's pain. So I say, on the basis having done massage for fifteen years with high success rates and zero lawsuits: certifying and licensing massage therapists has been harmful to massage therapists and their clients.

The need to avoid putting pressure on professionals may be less acute in some other professions--for all I know, plumbers and mechanics may find a good use for angry energy--but the bottom line is the same: when you demand that skilled professionals maintain certification, you're basically forcing them to pay ever-increasing union dues, and you're making profitability more important than competence in determining who stays in practice. And when the cost of staying in practice goes over say a total of $500 per year, profitability is not an accurate indication of competence.

Maybe we need legislation to the effect that, once an individual has been certified competent to practice a profession, s/he can earn "advanced degrees" of certification by taking extra classes to learn new skills, but s/he cannot be obliged to keep paying for the same certification s/he has already earned.