Graphic of a man's head with a brain inside of it.

One key characteristic that separates successful massage practitioners from the rest is their desire to continually expand their knowledge and experience — including in massage therapy business education. Learning is a lifelong process.

Those who refrain from engaging their brains tend to stagnate and lose their creative edge. I’m amazed when I hear comments such as, “I don’t need to take any more classes, after all, the school I attended was great!” or “I’ve been in practice for many years and am doing just fine.”

Education doesn’t stop when you graduate; actually, that is just the beginning. You learn the basics in school, but the true integration and honing of your skills come with practice and years of working with clients.

[Read: “From Zero Biz Books to a $15 Billion Industry: The Evolution of Massage Business,” by Cherie Sohnen-Moe.]

Your clients educate you directly and indirectly. You are continuing your education every time you do research to find information about a client’s condition, the medications they take, or specific techniques to support them in addressing their concerns. Often what you learn from one client can impact what you do for other clients.

Scope of Massage Therapy Business Education

Education is not limited to learning new techniques. Working on the business of your practice is just as important — and, perhaps maybe more so.

Invest time to enhance your written and verbal communication skills. Most people have little training in listening skills, and being able to really hear what a client is conveying to you can greatly impact the therapeutic outcomes.

I have always enjoyed the communication classes I’ve taken, particularly those that involve practicing listening and speaking in new ways. The same with business classes on planning, organization, ethics and marketing. Practice management, and marketing in particular, is one of the weakest areas for massage therapists.

There are always exceptions — therapists who are comfortable with promoting themselves and actually enjoy marketing. As with massage, you don’t just arrive one day at being a business expert as there is always more to learn and ways to improve.

Education Formats

Education comes in many formats, not all of it formal; you can read books, magazines and online articles; subscribe to blogs; listen to podcasts; engage in peer supervision; work with a coach; do research; take webinars and online interactive courses; attend live workshops; participate in self-exploration classes — movement, breathwork, communication skills — that benefit you directly as well as assist you in working with clients; be a mentor or get a mentor; and go to conferences.

Even just being in nature and observing your surroundings can be educational and inspirational!

Some of the topics that can always be reviewed include treatment planning, documentation, pathology, contraindications, specific techniques for specific client conditions, practice management, new technology, current research, resolving dilemmas, communication skills and marketing. If you’ve been in practice a long time, you might want a refresher on vocabulary — particularly if you interact with physicians or plan to give community presentations.

Book Reviews

Review your school textbooks. Perhaps you only covered some of the information in school, and now that you’ve been in practice, you can delve into more depth on the topics you studied and explore some of the other topics that weren’t addressed.

Many textbooks aren’t written to just cover what the average school teaches, particularly topics like business and ethics, where some schools only teach 20 hours for both topics and others teach over 100 hours. These books are meant to be used as resources throughout your career. They are written with lifelong learning in mind — not just for the entry-level classroom. 

While we’re on the topic of books, I recommend that you have more than one book on topics that are important to your success as well as your interests. Authors have different points of view and you may resonate better with one than another. You get a better understanding of the profession as a whole if you are exposed to different points of view.

I have at least 75 books on marketing and practice management, 20 on ethics, 20 on communication skills, 20 on teaching, and 100 on personal growth and general well-being — and I’m not even going to say how many thousands of fiction books I have (soon to be donated to the local library).

You might read two books on the same topic that essentially cover the same information, but you enjoy reading one more. Also, you might find information in a book that wasn’t in another one (or it was described in a way that you could easily understand) and that information could end up being a linchpin for your practice. 

Seek Out Ideas

It’s helpful to gather information from other areas, not just massage therapy business education. Look to allied industries, other types of practices, and other businesses that serve the same target markets as you. You might be surprised at what you discover and can adapt for use in your practice. Ideas are everywhere.

Education is not just learning new things; it’s about expanding your awareness, challenging your preconceived notions, and refining and integrating the things you’ve learned.

I recommend doing at least one new thing each week and doing one thing differently each week. Change your routine. It can be as simple as switching the order in which you dry off after taking a shower. I also encourage you to engage in conversations with people of various ages, backgrounds, education, career paths, cultures and ethnicities. Some of my most profound learning has come from listening to others’ experiences and philosophies.

Client Education

Passing on education to clients is one of the keys to your own continuing education. Physicist Frank Oppenheimer is famous for stating, “The best way to learn is to teach.”

When you educate your clients about the work you do, the kinesiology that affects their bodies and home self-care (if within your scope of practice), as well as answer their questions and provide them with resources, it helps you deepen the clarity and integration of that information as well as improve your communication skills, enhance your confidence and build rapport with your clients.

Much of client education is via verbal interactions, although you provide education in a variety of visual formats: informational brochures and handouts (printed or digital), client forms, websites, posters, charts, marketing materials and social media.

Part of best practices has always been to educate clients on what they can expect from a massage session. This is even more critical now given the COVID-19 pandemic.

As more massage therapists reopen their practices, client education now needs to include information on how clients are scheduled, enhanced sanitation procedures, and policies on such updated practice procedures as client pre-screening and required personal protective equipment.

Stay Enthused

Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Expanding your knowledge keeps you vibrant and enthused. Something will always come up that you haven’t planned for — so you always need new information.

Even if you only get one new idea or you become inspired to take action, then the investment in the cost of your massage therapy business education and your time are well worth it. One new idea can change your world.

About the Author:

Cherie Sohnen-Moe is a recognized expert in the area of massage, business and marketing. She has worked in the massage field since 1978 and is the author of the textbook “Business Mastery” and co-author of “The Ethics of Touch” and “Retail Mastery,” among other titles. Cherie offers continuing education, practice-building tools, consulting services, and more through the company she founded, Sohnen-Moe Associates. Cherie is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star, one of a group of innovative therapists and teachers who are educating the magazine’s community of massage therapists in our print magazine, on our social media channels and on