Last fall, I was investigated for professional misconduct by my regulatory board.
They took offence at three statements they attributed to me. In brief, the statements basically were:
1. When you have too much training in rehab, you focus on “treating” people and your relaxation skills suffer. It’s like the old cliche: If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
2. Massage is expensive and this prohibits people from using it regularly.
3. The public doesn’t always see massage through the filter of rainbows, lollipops and unicorns. Many look at massage in a negative light. In the minds of many, getting a massage means that they have to go behind closed doors and take their clothes off for a stranger while they get rubbed in greasy oil.
One of the statements appeared on a website of a company I do not own, a fact my board seems to have ignored. But regardless whether I made the statements or not doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that someone took offence to them, or at least took offence to me, and used these statements to start a professional misconduct investigation.
I thought these were all pretty well accepted truths about massage and when they asked me to explain I provided lots of case studies, quotes, and stats to back each one up. (Again, apparently ignored by the regulatory body.)
I’ve always believed that we should always be questioning the way things are and should engage in dialogue around some of the hard issues our profession faces. I always thought that I could talk about my profession in an open and honest way.
But I got a rude awakening and discovered through this process that an individual’s right to freedom of speech does not apply to a regulated health professional. Because I’ve voluntarily become registered by a regulatory college (or “regulatory board” in the US), the regulations of that organization supersedes the Charter of Rights and limits my freedom to express myself.
So when I write critically of the profession, my board can decide that they don’t like what I publish and can take steps to shut me down under this broad protectionist regulation of professional misconduct.
What’s particularly troubling about the college’s actions to limit freedom of speech is that the regulations are often extremely broad and open to a great deal personal interpretation. For example 26(49), which the college accused me of being in violation of, defines professional misconduct as “Engaging in conduct that would reasonably be regarded by members as conduct unbecoming a massage therapist.” (O. Reg 748/94, s.2.)
There is no definition or criteria of “conduct unbecoming a massage therapist.” I certainly can’t believe this phrase was drafted to limit the rights to comment critically on shortcomings in our profession. It’s more likely to apply to massage therapists who wear bikinis for their clients or who are shaking their junk inappropriately on YouTube while wearing their massage therapist ID tag.
I told the disciplinary panel in my rebuttal that because there is no definition of “conduct unbecoming a massage therapist” that the decision to make this judgment should not be taken lightly and that they should exercise extreme caution when using this as a reason to investigate a member.
I was very public about the CMTO’s allegations and rather than getting hate mail, I received dozens, if not hundreds, of supportive comments in my blog, Facebook and by email from massage therapists. None of these massage therapists found my comments “unbecoming a massage therapist”. So obviously the opinions of the members of the discipline committee are not reflective of the profession in general. A regulation that is so open and can be interpreted so broadly certainly seems like a dangerous regulation, especially as it opens up the possibility for abuse.
So what’s the takeaway?
As a regulated massage therapist your right to freedom of speech is not protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the equivalent of the American Constitution) in Canada. I doubt that most governing bodies would take the extreme action my regulatory college did, but you need to be aware that speaking or writing critically of our massage profession could get you in hot water.
This has been another in the series of posts to stimulate discussion on some of the bigger political issues in the massage profession. Feel free to join the conversation. Check out: