We begin our journey as massage therapists with basic training and then establish ourselves as we find our special interests and talents.
These interests can stem from personal history, begin with an inspiring workshop, or evolve through a series of similar cases presenting themselves in our practice.
The desire to become more proficient and effective with our techniques and tools becomes a driving force to learn more, and we are incredibly fortunate to have amazing resources available to us.
The internet provides a wealth of information in the form of websites and videos, along with online courses to begin our education. Live workshops provide the best instruction and experience, and new techniques will be perfected with time and practice.
Specializing helps drive referrals from related health care professionals.
While networking with a chiropractor is basic for many massage therapists, medical massage therapists often get referrals from orthopedic surgeons; massage therapists with training in mind-body work often team up with psychotherapists, and so on. Forming a good referral network is a very enriching experience as you watch clients significantly improve with synergistic treatments from their health care team.
A large number of referrals will come from happy clients. People talk about their physical issues with peers and may even belong to a support group for a particular disorder. As we learn from each client we gain more expertise, and clients will experience even better results.
A massage therapist who acquired special training in geriatric massage, for example, now works with a retirement community. He experienced a huge increase in referrals once he took even more training on gentle release techniques and helped one man continue using his walker after he was told he should go into a wheelchair.
Specialization need not mean limitation. Oncology massage covers a large number of potential clients, and while a specialization in “breast health and post-surgical recovery” may reduce that number, the sum of people who could benefit from this work is still enormous.
Education and experience are the keys to any successful practice, and finding a special interest can help us focus our energy to produce rewarding results for clients and an even deeper commitment to our work.
–Anita Shannon, LMT, Founder, ACE Massage Cupping & Medicupping
Learn the Language of Science
It has been my great privilege to see 20-plus clients a week for more than 40 years. Given the number of people I have seen, it is still amazing to me that every week, if not every day, I see clients who present with something I have never previously encountered.
In those cases, I go to the massage therapy research literature to see if I might understand clients’ conditions more deeply or see them in a different light.
In many ways, research is simply learning from the experiences of others. While I do this for one purpose, to better serve my clients, I also benefit. Time spent diving into the literature becomes part of a deep background knowledge that may help a future client.
The best therapeutic tool we therapists can develop is the depth of our understanding.
The massage therapy profession must also learn and understand the language of our colleagues in health care. Communication can only happen with a shared language, and in the case of health care that language is science.
When I speak at the medical school at the University of Illinois, I am impressed by the openness of these future doctors to see the power and promise of massage therapy. I share the research data with them, show them clinical applications and speak about gaps in the research that need to be explored in the future.
To communicate effectively, we must speak a language they understand. They will listen.
One last but very important note: Massage research is seldom prescriptive. Research studies will not tell you what to do with a client, but they can give you a deeper insight into understanding how to approach the client from a different perspective.
The creative aspect, the clinical application, is still up to us. Embracing the science does not mean abandoning the art. Moreover, it gives us an ever-deepening sense of wonder about this amazing field we are privileged to call our own.
–Douglas Nelson, LMT, BCTMB, Owner, BodyWork Associates
Ethics is Necessary Education
As an approved continuing education provider, I can’t seem to give away an ethics class. I’ve tried, and I’ll keep on trying, but each of the last two ethics classes I presented had just three registered participants. Other classes were cancelled after only one practitioner registered.
Color me discouraged, but never dissuaded.
Why such low interest? Most often, I’ve been told, “Ethics is boring,” “I had it in school” and “I’d rather take it online.” I’m addressing each of these attitudes from my viewpoint of over 30 years as a massage therapist and more than 20 years as a massage educator.
I’ve had my breath taken away by the raw honesty and deep passion shared in ethics classes I’ve taught in entry-level programs, and howled when one group of students composed a rap opening with the line, “Tom, I see you have an erection.”
I’ve witnessed tears, laughter, anger, frustration, empathy, joy, curiosity, wonder and bewilderment in my ethics classrooms, but never boredom. Folks, you’re missing out on some great stuff.
Every credible massage training program includes classroom hours devoted to ethics. The student in entry-level training, however, has yet to encounter real-life ethical challenges faced by professionals: The client who casually drops the “N” word during every appointment; the supervisor whose lewd jokes turn the stomach; the temptation to pad an insurance bill or keep the earrings left behind in a treatment room.
To end ethics training at graduation is like giving a pilot’s license to someone who has only flown a simulator.
Accessibility to online continuing education is crucial for many practitioners, especially where distance to live classes is a burden. Ethics study, however, is and must be dynamic and provocative. It’s the examination and challenge to one’s ideas by colleagues that brings them to life and light, allowing for change and growth.
is crucial for many practitioners, especially where distance to live classes is a burden. Ethics study, however, is and must be dynamic and provocative. It’s the examination and challenge to one’s ideas by colleagues that brings them to life and light, allowing for change and growth.
The face-to-face synergy of younger and older, newly licensed and veteran, multi-gender and multi-ethnic together in one room cannot be duplicated online.
In a listing of states requiring continuing education for massage therapy license renewal, I found no requirement for ethics hours. To me, this is both a shame and a challenge. My colleagues, where do we start?
–Julie Goodwin, LMT, Author & Educator, JuliegoodwinLMT.com
Maximize CE Requirements
For many massage therapists, continuing education can be viewed as almost a necessary evil — a requirement they feel is a waste of their time and money. I propose we think of continuing education as an amazing opportunity instead. Hear me out!
The majority of continuing education providers offer classes that allow for interesting dives into specializations, such as fascial massage, sports massage and others. Especially with online continuing education providers, there is truly a menu of choices for you to choose from to develop and deepen your skills.
As an educator, I have seen the results that this shift in mindset creates. Students can integrate lessons better when they are in control of their own learning.
How can therapists best maximize continuing education? Here are my favorite tips:
1. Research your options: local vs. online, and various providers. The multitude of choices can be overwhelming, and practitioners will often just pick the easiest selection. The truth is, there is a best-fit continuing education provider for every therapist. It pays to find one who helps you advance your training and business while fitting into your schedule. Most online classes are flexible by design, so you can learn when it’s most convenient for you.
2. Follow your interests. Continuing education does not have to be boring. You can find class offerings that allow you to explore specialties you’ve always wanted to learn. Certain classes go beyond the important ethics training, so if you’re looking to improve your business knowledge or marketing, look for classes that include those subjects.
3. Find out what the accredited agencies are. If you travel, or have considered moving, or even if there are multiple accrediting agencies in your area, this is vital. If you want continuing education that will follow you wherever you go, make sure you’re searching for providers who are approved for accreditation in the areas and countries that you need them to be.
Remember, continuing education isn’t just something you have to do to keep your license active; you can meet requirements while learning topics that expand both your skills and practice.
–Bob Hanley, President, Integra College
Step Outside Your Bubble
You are comfortable performing your massages and are very happy that the early days of struggling to remember what move you are going to make next are in the past. Although you wish you had more clients, you seem to be able to help the clients you have now feel better — and that was your goal in the first place, right? Why bother with continuing education?
There are many good reasons for making yourself more knowledgeable, but I’m going to focus on only one: expanding your mind and passion for your profession.
You know what Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know”? This is true of every class I’ve ever taken. I’m pretty sure if I took a year off massaging to expand my knowledge I would feel even more ignorant than I do right now.
With each class completed, I feel new excitement and passion for our profession. I become even more awe-stuck by the human body and its capabilities. This passion (and knowledge) spreads effortlessly to clients.
People love to employ people who have passion and a thirst for knowledge.
Expanding your outlook with a course you may not think involves a beneficial modality or technique can be very interesting and useful. Don’t roll your eyes! There are many modalities in our industry, and it’s not uncommon to hear of therapists mocking certain ones. I challenge you to actually take one course in something you think is silly just for the experience. At best you will learn a few things, and at worst you will have an appropriate education to back up your mockery.
Our industry has therapists with a vast range of education levels. Some therapists have a great knowledge of the human body while others have surprisingly little. Stepping up your education will enable you to help your clients more effectively and will also bring passion back into your workday.
Education may give you new skills that open a door to referrals, it might provide knowledge that keeps you from harming a client, it could show you a new specialty that people need, or it could offer new techniques that save your body from the wear and tear of doing many massages a day.
You may be surprised at what you’ll learn.
–Heather Karr, CMTOwner, GBM Health,
Attend Tradeshows for Quality Education
Members of every profession across the globe —f rom teachers to doctors to mechanics to massage therapists — require continuing education. The requirement of continuing education may vary from state to state and field to field, but the reality is that as technology and research get better, so should our practices.
Granted, there are hundreds of ways that you can fulfill your required continuing education hours; however, tradeshows add just a little bit more:
• Networking. Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are wildly successful because it’s human nature to want to connect with others. Tradeshows offer the opportunity to build your business network with like-minded individuals who may experience the same successes and struggles you have. These connections become priceless as you continue to grow your career.
• Try before you buy. With many of the major manufacturers usually in attendance, you get unique opportunity to try products and talk directly with company representatives, and many exhibitors at tradeshows tend to have sales on the products you use every day in your business.
• Earn your continuing education hours. Some shows offer the opportunity to take classes that have been approved by a state board or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.
education hours. High-quality shows offer a diversified program of topics each year, so even if you may have earned your hours for the renewal period, there is still likely a class on a topic you’re genuinely interested in.
• Attend business growth education: Business classes might provide you with continuing education hours, but will provide you with additional knowledge to help you grow your business. Look for a show that offers such class topics as social media marketing, client membership and loyalty programs, retail and tax deductions.
–Jill Acosta, Marketing & Operations Coordinator, Premier Show Group
The Importance of Continuing Education
Knowledge is a critical source of value in today’s ultra-competitive world. One’s dedication and commitment to lifelong learning is one of the keys to breaking down barriers to future success.
In today’s work environment, massage therapists who are constantly learning through continuous education and expanding their knowledge are better prepared and are more likely to retain their jobs or advance to a lead position.
With new research and changes in trends, it is not reasonable to rely solely on what was learned years ago in massage therapy school. As in any profession, the foundations acquired in school are the basis on which a lifetime of continuing education and career enhancement are built. As massage therapy is constantly evolving, so should its therapists.
Competence leads to confidence. Not having certain advanced skills can lead a therapist to lack the confidence to explore new opportunities to advance their career.
For example, when one is searching for a massage therapy position and realizes they are missing a critical skill set that is listed on the job description, that can be a problem. They are not likely to apply for that position as they may fear possible rejection or consider it a waste of time, as they would not get the position anyway.
Alternatively, what would happen if that therapist took an advanced course in a sought-after technique? It is very likely that their attitude and confidence would change and their qualifications would not be an issue. The massage therapist would enter the interview with the certainty that they have the requisite skills to give them the best opportunity to win the position.
No one can possibly learn everything there is to know about massage therapy. The key is to find the skill set that will most benefit clientele and the therapist’s style at the same time.
Whether it is focused on rehab or relaxation, continuous learning will keep you motivated and excited about being a massage therapist. Learn all you can. Learn a little about a lot or a lot about a few things. One can only benefit from continuous learning.
–Linda Hoppe, BKin, TRP, CMT, Co-Founder & CEO, Seminars for Health
Knowledge is Power — and So Much More
We all know the phrase, “knowledge is power.” And, when it comes to your career, nothing could be more accurate. The more skills you acquire, the more you can do to help your clients.
When you elevate your career with advanced training, it’s a safe bet that your extended knowledge base will directly impact your clients’ experience and expand your practice. That means that your business will grow.
But, where do you begin?
There are many providers of continuing education for massage therapists and many techniques to learn. When making provider choices, it’s important to know the credentials, reputation and history of the person teaching the class and the organization behind it. You want to be sure they are board-certified. This will have a significant impact on the quality of the training you receive.
Getting trained in a specialty is one way to advance your professional credentials and broaden your practice. One of my specialties, CranioSacral Therapy, for example, is a gentle, noninvasive therapy that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction, and improve whole-body health and performance while enhancing the body’s own healing processes, allowing other systems in the body to relax and self-correct. It works with the body’s rhythmic pulse to produce results. It’s an effective manual therapy that you may want to consider learning.
Important questions to ask when continuing your education include:
Course title and program description: Is the program content adequately described? Is the target audience clearly identified? Ask yourself, “Do I fit within the target audience?” Is there a limit to the number of participants who may attend? What is the student-instructor ratio? Are there teaching assistants in the class available for manual therapy demonstrations?
Learning outcomes: Are they stated? Do they indicate specifically what you will be trained in and what you will be able to do? Is the number of learning outcomes reasonable for the length of the program?
Faculty credentials: What are the credentials of the instructor? How long have they been teaching, and how long for this particular course? Is the instructor presenting within their area of expertise?
Continuing your education can only add value to your practice and client outcomes. If you’re interested in not only adding credentials to your name but advancing your practice, enhancing your skills and techniques, and building your client base, then finding a reputable provider is the first step. Once you do this, you are on your way to your knowledge becoming power.
–Mable Sharp, PT, LMT, CST-D, Diplomate Certified in CranioSacral Therapy, Upledger Institute International
Be True to Yourself
How many of you reading this article knew exactly what you wanted to accomplish when you registered for massage school? Did you have a clear image in your mind about your desired work environment, ideal income, clientele and the new lifestyle that would create?
Most massage therapists, me included, knew that massage school was where they wanted to be but not where their massage career will take them. As I approach my 25th year as a veteran therapist, I look back at what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Since I didn’t have children, I wasn’t drawn to work with pregnant women or infants. Not being particularly athletic, I wasn’t interested in sports massage training. But during a visiting professionals day at school I fell in love with seated chair massage and knew I wanted to learn more.
After 10 years in the field I made a life change to home-care my father who was stricken with Alzheimer’s, then provided care for my mother’s terminal cancer. After modifying chair massage techniques, I was able to provide massage for my parents in their wheelchairs, armchairs and hospital beds.
My father loved to lean back in his lounger while I did basic skin care on his face. My mother had her own paraffin bath for her arthritis, and I had a collection of essential oils and moist heat packs. Basically, I turned their home into a day spa!
In 2004 a continuing care retirement community was looking for a geriatric massage therapist to work with their residents in all levels of care. They offered me a contract position. I have a treatment room in their wellness clinic for residents in independent living and provide in-room services for residents in the assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care units.
Continuing education needs to be part of your operating budget, as most U.S. states have licensing requirements. And since you have to spend your valuable resources—time, money and energy, it just makes sense to be a specialist.
Why take classes just because they’re inexpensive or offer the hours you require? Figure out where your interest lies, like I did, and pursue a path that brings you joy and professional satisfaction.
–Sheila Alexander, Educator, SeniorSpa
Advanced Certification Pays Off In The Long Run
Do you want to stand out? Do you want your practice to have a specialty recognition to set you apart from other massage therapists in your area? If you answered yes, then earning an advanced credential as a massage therapist can have tremendous benefits.
There is a high amount of trust that new and potential clients put into your practice once you can promote your advanced credentialing. What it says is that you have taken the time and invested the money in your own skills to take your practice of massage therapy to the next level.
With an advanced credentialing, the massage therapist also gets an affiliation with a national group that tells potential clients they are aligned with a group that has high values and high standards.
There are many advanced certifications and credentialing education programs that a massage therapist can enroll in.
Specialty areas like oncology massage, infant and prenatal massage, trigger point therapy for pain relief and geriatric massage all require specialty training and continuing education to be sure that the massage therapist is qualified to treat these populations. Once earned, a specialty certificate or endorsement can be placed on the wall as a source of pride and accomplishment as well as an indication of the practitioner’s skills.
A specialty certificate also can garner the massage therapist a higher earning wage, as I have certainly found. With my board certification and continuing education specialty training, my practice is set apart, and I promote my business as a specialty clinic and pain-relief center.
All certifying and credentialing boards should be stand-alone, independent certifying bodies that monitor and create a national exam specific to an area of study or to a particular population.
With advanced credentialing, the massage therapist can use target marketing, as well as certain keywords and phrases for their marketing materials that highlight their special credential and show potential clients that they are an expert in that field.
–Mary Biancalana, CMTPT, LMT, Founder & Educator, Muscle Health LLC
What’s the Difference Between Home Study and E-Learning?
I was a skeptic for years at the thought of learning in-depth massage techniques on-line, let alone a gravity-based barefoot massage technique. However, times have changed since I created my modality over 25 years ago. We live in a much faster, digital world where online learning is now the norm.
Reluctantly, it was time for me to seek out professional e-learning experts to improve my understanding of what true online education should be and give my skeptic-perception meter a rest.
When do we as continuing education providers embrace the statistics that show e-learning is quality education in today’s world? I say when that education is produced correctly.
Stanford and Harvard medical schools offer intensive continuing education programs. A whopping 90 percent of their doctors and nurses seek out continuing education commitments for license upkeep from online courses that pertain to their interests, over tradeshows and live classes in their field.
It was time for me and my company to be educated by true e-experts in the digital educational field. While it was a daunting task and investment, it was worth the effort to learn how to create award-winning e-learning experiences for our students.
During our coaching, we learned that the term home study should not be confused with e-learning. A typical home-study course usually involves a written manual followed by a DVD or digital link with pre-recorded instruction or voice over. Students are not always challenged nor held accountable for learning the content they are studying.
What we learned about e-learning is that it should involve an online platform where students log in and follow a course outline that covers content in a digital fashion verses a written fashion. Students are also tested throughout each lesson and cannot view the next lesson until they have an understanding of the one they just studied.
The takeaway from our research was that this is a way to share course content with students effectively, in a fashion that is engaging and challenging, and most importantly holds students accountable for learning and retaining the content so they can practice it safely.
–Ruthie Hardee, Founder & Educator, Ashiatsu DeepFeet Bar Therapy
Massage Inspires Us to Keep Learning
Massage as a career was my opportunity to help people. My first clients, from my church, came to me with pain. My basic training in Swedish massage and reflexology helped them decrease their tension, which decreased their pain.
But once off the massage table, their symptoms returned. I needed to learn more.
Finding continuing education back in the 1970s and 1980s was difficult, especially with no Internet. In 1980 I started volunteering in the physical therapy department at Everett Providence Hospital. I was trained as a physical therapy assistant and could attend hospital in-services.
I went to my first state massage conference in 1983 and met 24 therapists who introduced me to a variety of therapies. Finally, I went to an association-sponsored class taught by an osteopath. The material presented was way beyond my skills, but it made me hungry to learn more.
Basic massage schooling is just that, basic. It is designed to do no harm and to refer clients back to their physicians. We may be required to take continuing education by our state or associations, but it is our internal desire to help our clients that keeps us interested in learning more.
In my first visceral class we heard that French osteopath and physical therapist Jean-Pierre Barral studies anatomy every week. “Wow,” I thought, “I should do that.”
Now, I use an app called Essential Anatomy and look at an area of the body for one of my client’s symptoms. It makes me look at anatomy differently, as a practical application rather than as an abstract concept.
Learn and grow or be stagnant and become a zombie. Learning should be a lifelong friend on your journey. Curiosity should be your tour guide. Watch documentaries, go to exhibits, listen to Ted Talks, and read our trade journals. Let art inspire you through music, dance, opera, paintings, sculpture, movies and literature.
Ask questions and more questions. Meet every moment with wonder and interest.
–Taya Countryman, LMT, Educator, Structural Relief Therapy
Pursue Personal Development Through Continuing Education
No professional starts their career perfectly equipped for every opportunity. A good massage therapist recognizes the areas they need to grow in and seeks educational opportunities to serve their clients, tap into new markets, and keep up with changing practices and demographics.
Knowing your current clients and their needs is key to being able to focus on the type of training that you should pursue. This is an opportunity to invest time and training in a particular modality that will help your clients achieve the results they want from massage. They will respect you for developing your skill, which will pay dividends for your practice.
Alternatively, be aware of underserved markets in your area. There may be few options for an active community to receive sports massage or a high demand from the rapidly growing senior communities, from robust to frail. Pursuing additional education is certainly a worthwhile investment; it will pay off with new clients who become loyal.
Changing trends and demographics are another compelling reason to seek out specialized training. As the demand for integrative health care grows, massage therapists are poised to serve a vital role in the holistic care of those who are looking beyond traditional medical treatment. However, additional training is necessary to effectively — and legally — serve those who are looking for an integrative approach to their health.
Also, as our population ages, many seniors who have become accustomed to both active lifestyles and the idea of massage as a treatment option rather than a luxury are turning to geriatric massage therapists to ensure they can continue the quality of life they expect.
However, they require unique care.
Geriatric massage therapy is a junction of understanding someone’s medical history and adapting learned techniques, through appropriate continuing education classes, to clients who may have limited mobility and longer recovery times than the younger client who may have less aging and or health challenges.
Our bodies, particularly as we age, need maintenance, and as massage therapists we should know the correct maintenance for our clients. We owe it to them to ensure we are offering the best service we possibly can — and investing in our education is crucial to that.
–Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT, Owner & Educator, Day-Break Geriatric Massage Institute
The Top Success Tool for Your Practice
What is the one thing I could teach another massage therapist that could improve their practice? The answer is simple: live as if.
What does live as if stand for? It means that we create the life, the business and the customers we dream of having.
Live as if your goals are already met — whether that means you are the most compassionate massage therapist offering care to those who can’t afford it, the most financially successful massage therapist with other therapists working for you, or the most educated massage therapist in your community.
Whatever your personal and professional goals are, live as if they have already come true.
We hear people say, “I don’t have time to get a massage” or “I don’t have time to take another class.” Yet, too often these are health industry professionals who want to attract the kind of person, client or patient who sees the value of self-care.
Make a choice to be the person you want to attract to your life, personal or professional. Surround yourself with a community of people who do the same.
For example, I receive a weekly massage from a therapist who also receives massage and in other ways takes care of themself. They believe as I do that it is the most important thing they can do, in addition to other self-care therapies and healthy living regimens. So, I attract customers who also believe in self-care practices.
When I look back on my success, I can attribute it to learning one simple tool: live as if.
I have had my own wellness center, working with other healthy lifestyle professionals who believe as I do about quality of care for themselves, their family and their community. I attract clients who are seeking a healthy lifestyle and who also give back to their community through donations, gift cards or reduced rates for the elderly.
My massage career started at 42. I now have two adult children, grandchildren, a loving partner, a perfect home, a successful business and I practice self-care daily.
My key to a happy, healthy and abundant lifestyle? I live as if!
–Michelle Lally, LMBT, CA, Bowen Therapist & Educator, Bowsage Therapy
You’ll Never be Finished
The origin of the word perfect in Latin is finished. With more than 40 years given to the practice of massage, I certainly do not want to be finished, so let me not be perfect.
If you think massage is perfected in that sense, I have news for you: Massage is a very young profession. “What do you mean? Massage has been around forever, stretching back into the mists of pre-history.”
Yes, agreed —l ike martial arts and yoga, massage has a long and deep tradition in many cultures. But the proliferation of what we now call massage therapy — all the research, the multiple methods, the formation of the professional organizations and even this magazine and all it represents— has happened over the last couple of generations.
Massage as the power of touch to heal has been around for a long time. It’s massage as an organized profession that is very young and still developing.
No matter where you went to school or how long you went to school, no matter how successful your current practice, you are not finished in the sense that your profession is developing and progressing around you.
Really new and innovative methods of offering nourishing touch to the public — cranial, visceral, myofascial release, neurokinetic therapy and a host of three-letter acronyms—have blossomed during this time.
The way to keep up with it all is through continuing education — through renewing your touch by getting touched and exposing yourself to new approaches. Even if you choose not to practice what you learn, the new knowledge, the new perspective, will creep into your practice in other ways.
In fact, your continuing education does not even need to be in massage. I mean, it does to keep up your certifications—but learning anything new will emerge somehow into your practice if you let it in and see what it does.
Over the years, people have at various times told me that learning to knit, do origami and pet-walking have all contributed to their practice of massage. I find sailing really feeds my practice in subtle but essential ways.
Keep learning! You owe it to your clients, but mostly you owe it to yourself.
–Thomas Myers, Author, Educator, Anatomy Trains Structural Integration