By Pamela Ellen Ferguson, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA® and GSD-CI, LMT (TX)
The American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia's Earth-themed convention, held in July, opted for the golf course and fragrant wildflower meadow setting of the Olympia Resort at Oconomowoc, Wis., instead of the usual big city.
As a result, there was a tighter sense of bonding and, true to the Earth theme, a deeper sense of regrouping and centering among delegates than ever experienced at prior conventions. New friendships developed and some sensitive old scores were settled.
Keynote speaker Alex Tiberi, LAc, brought the theme into practice when he told everyone his old mentor said, "Treat the Earth first ... If you can digest and assimilate, if you can transform, you can do anything." He added, "Tonify Spleen, move damp. If a patient has a weak Earth, it's hard to treat anything else. We need to bring Spleen back to society."
President Debra Howard's address during the welcome breakfast and membership meeting set the pace on a wry personal note, because of the disrupted Earth in her own, raw, New Orleans experience of the "Feng Shui of Katrina," shared by convention coordinator Teresa Patterson and work study coordinator Dana Sutterfield. Their combined abilities to continue serving AOBTA and the demands of the upcoming convention, in spite of Katrina's devastation, touched us all deeply. AOBTA Treasurer Stuart Watts described the way members rallied to donate proceeds of ABT sessions to the AOBTA Katrina Fund, which the AOBTA matched. "The immediate distribution of $9,000 in emergency aid reached our [Louisiana] members," said Dana Sutterfield, "before checks came through from FEMA or the Red Cross."
President Howard directed her address away from the issue of Katrina into a serious request for more activism from the grassroots. Describing the AOBTA board of directors as the "hub" of the organization, she said, "We need more input and activity from the membership ... and yes ... I'll complain about it ... I don't like begging, but the need is still there. We are trying to make sure that we are able to promote ourselves as a profession, and not be subsumed by another group or absorbed by someone else. We can choose to be a skilled trade and not a profession. But I would prefer to be a profession. So, do what you can to rally the troops. Even if you just have an attitude problem, I want to hear about it." She then raised the hot topic of the day as to who is actually certified as a professional ABT. "To be really certified," she emphasized, "you have to be a Diplomate in ABT through the NCCAOM exam."
Her words prompted a lively town-hall-type meeting directed by Maria Spuller, director of membership, who discussed the misunderstanding among those members who believed they were certified by AOBTA and didn't feel they required the NCCAOM ABT exam. "The AOBTA is a membership organization and not a certifying agency," emphasized President Howard. But the confusion dates back to the "early days of the organization," added former AOBTA Director of Education Barbra Esher, a point emphasized by Ruth Dalphin, one of the AOBTA's "Founding Mothers" and currently the ABT member on the NCCAOM board.
After the meeting, Membership Director Maria Spuller said, "We've listened to our members and instructors, and we seem to have a directive. Our Education Committee will move forward into establishing what will be needed for our members to call themselves officially certified." Her words, and those of President Howard and other board members, certainly spurred a steady stream of enquiries on the ABT exam, for NCCAOM Director of Certification Anne McChrystal, who spoke at the meeting and soon became a popular figure at the NCCAOM booth.
Debbie Overholt, director of the AOBTA Council of Schools and Programs (COSP), summed up the sharpened focus with these words, "Let's raise our level and do it with dignity and be proud of it." Legislative Director Yolanda Asher added, "We have our own autonomy. Our educational standards, curriculum and exam define us as a separate profession, not to be subsumed under massage or acupuncture. We stand alone."
Workshops to Suit All
Beyond the sparky town-hall and committee meetings, members took advantage of the richest possible array of workshops, adding new dimensions to various forms of ABT, innovative diagnostic and treatment procedures, corrective exercise, healing through sound, and variations on the theme of qigong. Pamela Ellen Ferguson, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA & GSD Certified Instructor, RMT (TX), presented a workshop titled, "Boost Those Teaching Skills." Other presenters included (alphabetically): Ruth Dalphin, MM, CA, Dipl. Ac & ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA CI ("Five Element Flow Exercises"); Jeffrey Dann, PhD, LAc, AOBTA CI ("Balancing the Koshi and Sotai Ho"); Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI, Dipl. ABT & Ac, LAc, ("NCCAOM Exam Prep"); Lindy Ferrigno, AOBTA CI, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), LMT ("ABT for Fertility"); Bill Helm, AOBTA CI ("Energy Sensitivity Exercises From Dr Xie Pei Q's i-Yin Fu Ba Gua," and "Tuina for Cancer Therapy Side Effects"); Debra Howard, AOBTA CI, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), LMT ("ABT for the Earth Phase"); Dan Lobash, PhD ("Korean Hand Therapy"); Debra Persinger, PhD ("Ethics"); John Pirog, MSOM, Dipl. Ac & CH (NCCAOM) ("Acutone - Healing With Sound"); Matthew Sweigart, AOBTA CI, ("Flying Heart-Mind Shiatsu"); Alex Tiberi, LAc ("Pediatric Tuina"); and Xiping Zhou, MDCM, LAc, AOBTA CI, CMT ("AcuStone Therapy").
Debra Persinger, PhD, a beloved figure among AOBTA directors and members because of her solid dedication to the ABT community during the many years she loyally served the NCCAOM, most recently as executive director of testing, gave the four-hour ethics session required by the NCCAOM for PDA points for renewal of diplomate status. Using a deft combination of integrity, tact, and wit, Dr. Persinger threw challenging real-life scenarios at us for some vigorous brainstorming, on topics surrounding sensitive boundary issues like: Is it ethical to treat a couple of friends going through a rough patch, and to become a confidante to one of them, or should the practitioner refer one, or both, to a colleague? We also brainstormed the ethics of privacy for clinic records during a murder investigation involving a fertility clinic, and the ethics of refusing (over family objections) to give guasha to a patient because it caused excessive pain. Dr. Persinger also challenged us to imagine how we would address the alleged case of an exceptional ABT instructor who had lied about a PhD when, in fact, her education included only some doctoral-level courses.
Jeffrey Dann, PhD, LAc, AOBTA CI, gave two practical workshops on corrective exercises (koshi and sotai ho) based on his years of dojo training in Japan. Before pacing us through a series of koshi techniques for structural alignment, he reminded us of the idiomatic use of the term koshi in a number of Japanese expressions, such as koshinuke (withdrawn koshi, to describe someone who has no backbone), and koshi ga suwaru (to be grounded). Using terminology from architecture and structural engineering, Dr. Dann heightened our awareness of structural integrity and the need to restore koshi by addressing patterns of distortion as a complex series of problems swiveling from hip to opposite knee to opposite ankle in diagonal patterns. He stressed the importance of the Gall Bladder meridian for treating such distortions, not just because of GB's location and responsibility over connective tissue, but because of the key roles played by many GB points to correct associated problems ranging from whiplash to pelvic imbalances. "GB 28, Five Pivots," he reminded us, "enables the lumbar area to be free in all movements."
Matthew Sweigart, AOBTA CI, had us working in pairs in his highly imaginative balancing and stretching exercises that lifted his Flying Heart-Mind Shiatsu creations into the realm of statuesque dance forms. His elegant and compassionate qigong preparation techniques not only set the pace, but created an immediate sense of bonding. Ruth Dalphin, CA, AOBTA CI, shared a very different range of paired exercises in her early-morning "Five Element Flow Creations." Bill Helm, AOBTA CI, shared imaginative qi sensitivity exercises that inspired curiosity among resort guests around the swimming pool before breakfast.
Dan Lobashm, PhD, drew several members to his "Korean Hand Therapy" workshop, where he shared a detailed map of the hand as a microcosm of the whole body, with associated zones that could treat any pain in the body, chronic or acute.
In the closing circle on the last day, President Debra Howard summed up the intensity of the convention with two words: "I'm full." We shared thoughts on the value of the convention as a way of bringing us together for some special sharing for both new and long-term members. We also honored and thanked Debra for her fabulously dedicated term. This was her wrap-up convention as president, and she had a way of bringing us all close to tears with her expressive body language. It was a poignant note of farewell, but a fitting way to move into the Metal Phase of the next convention. Onwards to Boston (Aug. 28 - Sept. 5, 2007).
Click here for more information about Pamela Ellen Ferguson, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA® and GSD-CI, LMT (TX).