by Pat Mayrhofer

How do you receive your continuing education credits? When was the last time you attended a hands-on seminar? Have you fallen into the trap of taking the easy way out with online courses?

In this troubled economy, we are all turning our dollar around twice before we spend it. But is being frugal the answer?

There are times when we don’t look at the whole picture. What are we missing when we take an online course? We are missing the most important ingredient: personal contact with experienced professionals. We are in a tactile profession, which requires us to touch people, and in doing so we need to learn the proper touch and placement of our hands on the body. We have a responsibility to our clients to offer them the safest and highest quality session possible.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I perform massage?
  • Is this a profession for me or simply something to do for some extra money?

As professionals, we want to be treated as such. Imagine a doctor taking an online course on how to properly give an injection or perform surgery, or a dentist learning online how to do a root canal. That is not the doctor for me! As a patient or client, I want to feel safe and secure in the hands of a professional.

Massage therapy is a fairly new profession. We are blessed to have groundbreaking icons still teaching. Instructors like Carole Osborne, Ralph Stephens, Aaron Mattes, Judith Delaney, Erik Dalton and John Barnes have so much to offer, valuable techniques you could never receive online. But taking a seminar from a seasoned therapist offers more than technique; it offers experience, passion and enthusiasm, which can never be portrayed online or on a DVD. I have attended seminars instructed by several of these incredible individuals and walked away in awe with a renewed inspiration for my craft.

Who was your inspiration? Was it an instructor like Charlie Watson from Advanced Therapeutic Massage in Louisville, Kentucky? Or Peter DiOreo at Massage Arts Center of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? My inspirations were Dr. Joseph Maio, chiropractor, of Southampton, Pennsylvania, and Elke Wlodarczyk, massage therapist and physical therapist, from Tucson, Arizona. Most of us can look back on our career and select at least one person who gave us the desire to be the best we could be.

All of these instructors have stories of their own about clients they worked on and incredible results they achieved. What a shame for them not to be able to share those experiences. Online courses and DVDs can only offer part of the picture. They cannot correct improper hand placement or accurately convey the appropriate pressure to use. Online courses are not interactive; they cannot answer questions you may have. You are also missing the camaraderie of your peers and the experiences and issues they bring to a seminar. Some of the most important things I have learned at a seminar were outside the scope and sequence of the subject offered.

Online courses are a result of the demand by therapists wanting to learn by the most inexpensive and easy way. The old adage is true: “You get what you pay for.” If we, as massage therapists, want to be considered viable professionals, then we have to act accordantly. We need to continue to properly educate ourselves and not become complacent. The more we learn, the more valuable we become to our clients, our employers and ourselves. I hear from therapists that their finances are low, and they cannot afford to take a seminar. The truth is they can’t afford not to take a seminar. What you spend on a seminar will come back to you many times over.

I recently took a two-hour course online for hot-stone therapy to see what was being offered. As an experienced teacher of stone massage, I was extremely dismayed with my experience. Some of the information offered was incorrect. Stone massage has the most claims for insurance companies, and the information offered did not correctly address safety issues. I am appalled when therapists call me and want to order stones because they were recently certified online for stone therapy and have never had stones in their hands. How can they receive a certification without full exposure to a technique? These online courses offer enough knowledge to make the therapist dangerous. More than any other modality, learning stone massage should be done in a seminar with an experienced teacher who can demonstrate proper pressure and handling of the stones.

If online courses continue to replace hands-on seminars for tactile education, the quality of our profession will decline. We have struggled for many years to be recognized as an acceptable force in the health-care industry. If the quality of our education diminishes, then the quality of our work will diminish as well. As massage therapists, do we want to take a step backward? Or do we want to continue to grow as a profession? We cannot fall into the trap of the easy way out when it comes to something as important as our education.

We all need to accumulate our continuing education credits to demonstrate our continued learning. But if the credits we receive are not for quality education, then what good are they? The accreditation process for a continuing education provider is quite complicated. Do the online courses go through the same scrutiny?

What kind of therapist are you? Will your next seminar be online or will it be hands-on? We should never lose site of what is really important: how much we can learn to help our clients feel their best, and help them through physical and emotional traumas. Are you a professional? Decide how you will make a difference.

Pat Mayrhofer is president and founder of Nature’s Stones Inc., an international massage-stone, education and supply company. She is a massage therapist with more than 15 years of experience, having taught for 13 of those years in Italy, Austria, Caribbean and the U.S. Mayrhofer and her staff have created a comprehensive series of live, hands-on training programs, as well as a full line of associated stone and textile products. For more information, visit

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