You graduated from massage school with a felt sense of anatomy and physiology, and the ability to help a client relax into a more pain-free experience of life.
In many ways, that was just the start of your massage career.
With options for advanced training expanding all the time, you have the ability — at your fingertips — to achieve a new level of professional satisfaction by completing advanced training. The results of investing in yourself in this way include renewed passion, respect from peers and credibility within the medical community.
MASSAGE Magazine asked 11 massage therapists throughout the U.S. to talk about the advanced training they chose and how it has benefited them personally and professionally. That training ranges from Myoskeletal Therapy to Medicupping, Lymph Drainage to Anatomy Trains Structural Integration to Oncology Massage and more.
Kirk Kimmons, MScAT, LMBT
New Bern Medical Massage; New Bern, NC
Training and Educator: ACE Massage Cupping; Anita Shannon
While some massage therapists struggle to fill their books, Kirk Kimmons, a medical massage therapist in private practice in New Bern, North Carolina, has a 90-day wait time for an appointment — and his sole forms of advertising are his business card and word-of-mouth. Even with no website and no social media, he hasn’t had an issue filling his schedule since his first day in business.
His specialization in Medicupping and clinical approach to massage has raised him to the level of working with medical doctors, orthopedic surgeons and chiropractors.
A couple of years ago he was looking for training that would support his growing medical massage practice. That’s when he heard of Medicupping. He enrolled in Anita Shannon’s course and completed the two levels of training.
“I knew that as soon as I stepped into this that the Medicupping machine was critical to what I was going to do, because I have to be consistent with the vacuum I am using,” Kimmons said, referring to the vacuum-therapy tool. Unlike handheld pumps, which are difficult to maintain and only estimate the amount of suction, a Medicupping machine offers practitioners gauges and settings that are essential when providing clinical care.
“When I start off with two-and-a-half inches of mercury on the dial, I know right where I am at, and every time I apply the vacuum, I know it is going to be consistent,” Kimmons said.
Medicupping is also more comfortable for clients who come in with pain. Rather than the compression that is experienced in massage, the suction of the machine pulls up to four layers of tissue, allowing the muscle fibers to separate more quickly and without the discomfort that can be experienced with deep manipulation of tissue.
Kimmons operates his business at the level of professionalism his physician colleagues run theirs, with a thorough medical history during the intake, and no tips accepted. Despite turning away what many massage therapists consider a significant portion of income, Kimmons’ income has not suffered. On the contrary, he is booked six days a week with up to five clients a day. The success of his practice is rooted in both his hands-on talent and advanced education.
“Higher education builds our confidence and increases our palpation skills — and that’s what drives our field,” he said. “We have to be able to see with our fingers. The more we train them, the more we work with them, the better we can see with our hands.”
Jacqueline Wolf, BSIE, LMT
The Stillpoint Therapeutic Massage Center; Hudson, OH
Specialty: Clinical Rehabilitative Massage
Training and Educator: Academy of Clinical Massage; Whitney Lowe
Jackie Wolf is a massage therapist with an engineering degree. As a self-described left-brain thinker, she thrives when challenged to find the root of a client’s pain complaints and to implement a solution. So, it felt natural to her to invest 162 hours of her time into an orthopedic massage certification with Whitney Lowe.
“The program teaches you to think clinically. It is not a technique. By thinking clinically and knowing what questions to ask and when to ask them, you learn how to give really good assessments,” Wolf said.
The assessment is what makes Wolf’s sessions stand out from a general massage. The thorough intake allows her to pinpoint where pain is stemming from. She can spend 30 to 60 minutes on one area. By knowing where to massage and what muscles are behind a client’s chief complaints, her sessions are more targeted and yield better results, and clients leave knowing more about their bodies.
“They get a better understanding of what is going on with them because I am able to speak through a clinical perspective,” she said.
Wolf’s center is staffed with nine therapists. She makes continuing education a requirement. “It’s fun to see them get excited about it and it’s fun to see their craft improve and grow,” Wolf said.
Clients feel better and don’t need to come as often, making room for new clients seeking relief to find their way to her. About 35 percent of her business is coming through physician referrals, including from neurologists, family practitioners, naturopaths, chiropractors and physical therapists.
“When they see that you’ve done the extensive training, they have more confidence in referring their patients to you,” Wolf said.
Macky Page, BCSI, LMT, E-RYT200, CPT
Macky Page Manual and Movement Therapist; Westbrook, MN
Specialty: Anatomy Trains Structural Integration
Training and Educator: Anatomy Trains Structural Integration; Thomas Myers
Seven years into her private practice, Macky Page was ready to take a leap into higher learning that would spark curiosity and a passion for learning about the human body.
The Anatomy Trains Structural Integration 500-hour certificate program had been on her bucket list since massage school. The training is vigorous and heavy on anatomy. It covers fascia research, meridians, body readings, techniques and how to do a three- and 12-part series using structural integration framework.
“I knew I wanted to do it. I told all my clients about it a year in advanced,” said Page, who has since phased out her massage offerings with the structural integration series. “It completely transformed my practice in a magical way.”
Longtime clients who were seeing her for complaints like hip pain would find short-term relief with general massage and were now experiencing longer periods of time without pain. A structural integration session works in a series, where each session is focused on treating a territory of the body and its patterns. “And my favorite part is how participatory the client is during the session,” Page said.
Thomas Myers’ program has offered her a comprehensive map to work and draw from to make more informed suggestions and treatment decisions for clients. They can tell the difference. She is booked three months out. Her confidence in her practice and skills has also allowed her to forge relationships with Western health care practitioners who now refer clients to her.
“I feel much more informed as a practitioner to talk to my clients, to treat them and have a better idea of what would be the most supportive for them,” Page said. “I also feel more confident in interacting with other practitioners. I am on the top of [a] lot of physical therapists’ referral lists because of my advanced training, because I am able to have those ‘jargony’ conversations with them.”
Tammy Walker, LMT, BCTMB
Swedish American Health Systems; Rockford, IL
Specialty: Oncology Massage
Training and Educator: NCBTMB Specialty Certificate in Oncology Massage; Society for Oncology Massage
Tammy Walker is an oncology massage therapist and part of the integrative medicine team at Regional Cancer Center in Rockford, Illinois. To the cancer patients who receive her care she is a familiar face who brings hope.
She’s been a massage therapist for 18 years and was a volunteer therapist at a hospice before hospitals developed integrative teams. She has over 275 hours in oncology training, which allows her to understand the disease process and treatments her patients are undergoing.
Cancer treatments have come a long way. Patients are living longer and the cancer survivor population is growing. “It is only a matter of time before you run across someone who has a history of cancer,” Walker said. “Whether you’re in private practice or in a hospital setting, I encourage all massage therapists to get the basic oncology training, because you are going to come across these people.”
She completed various trainings in oncology massage over the years, surpassing 275 hours of continuing education, and earned an Oncology Massage Specialty Certificate after passing a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork specialty exam.
“It wasn’t until I got the certificate that leadership took notice. It’s a big deal in the health care setting. It is huge. It is also going to raise the massage profession to a whole new level in health care,” said Walker, who left her private practice to work at the cancer center.
She said she enjoys making a difference when people need it most, the comradery of being on an oncology team and the exciting learning environment of a clinical setting.
“When I started massage therapy, we were considered alternative medicine; then we became complementary and now we are called integrative. Seeing that change within the 18 years I’ve been practicing is huge,” Walker said. “We are in there with the doctors and the nurses. It’s exciting.”
Justin Dean Roberts, LMT, CST-D
A Profound Touch; Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Specialty: CranioSacral Therapy
Training and Educator: CST, Upledger Institute International
You can say that Justin Roberts’s path to CranioSacral Therapy was destiny. He was drawn to the modality in massage school and immediately enrolled in trainings, completing four in his first year.
“I was on a really fast track and I haven’t looked back since,” said Roberts, an advanced craniosacral therapist and instructor at the Upledger Institute International. He later found out that his mother was John E. Upledger, DOO, OMM (1932–2012)’s hospice nurse.
“The universe will align itself to support our path, and that’s what I’ve experienced,” Roberts said.
CranioSacral Therapy is a light-touch, hands-on approach to working with the body. The pressure applied with the hands is no more than the weight of a nickel, and therapists use their hands to listen to the body and support it in releasing restrictions. It is about meeting the body where the body is.
“We are just being there with the body and letting it do what it is ready to do on its terms,” Roberts said. “We hook right into the limbic system. It is the emotional processing part of the brain. We can tap into that and go into the body’s defense mechanism and get more information without stirring things up to cause the body to defend itself in any way.”
About 80 percent of Roberts’s clients come for CranioSacral Therapy. With his growing expertise in the field combined with word-of-mouth, his practice has close to tripled — but he remains grounded and humble.
“If you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life. That is the state I get to be in every day,” he said, paraphrasing Confucius. I feel like I am not working because I love what I do so much.”
There is always something to learn, he added, “so every person who gets on the table is a teacher for me, and it is my job to listen to their body.”
Tammy McCue, PTA, LMT, MMT
Hammock Beach Resort and private practice; Palm Coast, FL; NY
Specialty: Myoskeletal Therapy
Training and Educator: Master Myoskeletal Therapist; Freedom From Pain Institute with Erik Dalton, PhD.
Ask Tammy McCue’s clients, colleagues and children what she does for a living and the answer is simple: She “fixes” people. When clients get off her table, they walk a little taller, straighter and lighter. Their pain is gone or significantly lessened.
Behind the how and why to her healing touch are Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques. This advanced training consists of 210 hours of anatomy, joint mobility, stretching and dynamic movement that help relieve pain, release trapped nerves and correct posture, among other benefits.
Immediately following her first training she started using the techniques on clients who came in with pain and tightness and left amazed at how much better they felt. The effects stuck with them throughout the weeks, too.
Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques are maintenance for the body. In the same way our cars need an alignment, so does our body. “I’m the body mechanic,” McCue said.
McCue recalled implementing the techniques on a client with scoliosis who was facing surgery. “I can’t fix what is structurally changed, but there is a component that I can change by using Erik Dalton’s techniques — and that is the functional part.
“I can work on the functional part of scoliosis and I can change that,” McCue said. “[The client] still has scoliosis, but now she can row and is on a rowing team and she didn’t get the rod [implanted].”
Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques therapists learn proper techniques for clients — that’s a given. What they also learn is body mechanics for themselves. “I’m going to be 60 this year,” said McCue. She is the oldest person at her spa, and while most therapists stick to four-hour shifts she is doing seven to eight massages a day three days a week with no wrist pain or burnout in sight.
“This,” she said of her advanced training, “was the best professional decision I ever made in my life.”
Stephanie Allred, LMT
Private Practice; Baltimore, MD
Specialty: Integrative Health Care
Training and Educator: NCBTMB Specialty Certificate in Massage Therapy for Integrative Healthcare; Community College of Baltimore County
Stephanie Allred was living in chronic pain from a repetitive stress injury and sedentary lifestyle. After six years without a reprieve, she began her journey out of pain. Massage was the game changer.
“My neck hurt for six years straight, and I never imagined having a life where my neck wouldn’t hurt … anymore,” Allred recalled.
“Sometimes I think about it and remember what my life was like” before massage,she added. “I was in my 20s and I felt so old, and now I’m in my 30s and I feel so much younger. It is possible.
Like so many people who enter the massage field after receiving the benefits of healthy touch, Allred changed careers to massage therapy after her experience.
The massage therapy program at Community College of Baltimore County included a specialty certificate in integrative healthcare from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. It involved an 80-hour internship in a clinical setting offering prenatal massage to low-income women and to cancer patients in an oncology ward.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Allred, who opted for the program because it gave her more clinical experience. “I wanted to be able to work in all the places I could work. I didn’t want to just do relaxation massage. I wanted to be able to help more people and have a larger scope set. I was able to do that with that higher-level.”
Allred is a few months shy of completing her first year as a massage therapist, and while fresh out of school she is already ahead of recent graduates of the basic program because of her training in integrative health.
“It is very nice to say I had two years of schooling, that I went to an academic institution to get my degree, that I was in an allied health program, and I worked with patients,” she said. “When I say this to people, their eyes light up.”
Amy Nicholson, LMT, BCTMB
Earth Spirit Healing Arts; Madison, WI
Specialty: Somatic Experiencing
Training and Educator: Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute
Amy Nicholson is a massage therapist whose own trauma experience led her to a three-year advanced training in Somatic Experiencing and then to complete her master’s in mental health counseling.
“I wanted to understand trauma and how trauma gets stuck in the body,” Nicholson said.
Somatic Experiencing is a neurobiological approach to working with trauma. The premise is that when a person experiences shock or trauma and it is not processed through the body the nervous system becomes dysregulated, which can lead to symptoms of mental illness like anxiety and depression, says Nicholson.
Somatic Experiencing is done on a table but it is not a massage. The practitioner helps the client process a particular traumatic memory by tracking their body’s responses to the event.
“Essentially what I am doing is supporting them in building the capacity to experience the memory while noticing sensations in their body until their body settles down and they have a healthy parasympathetic settling experience,” Nicholson said. “It feels very calming and relaxing. It feels good when that happens.”
What Nicholson is drawn to most about this modality are the results. “People really get better,” she said.
As program director at Madison Area Technical College, Nicholson has integrated her knowledge of Somatic Experiencing and trauma into the massage program and through it is teaching students how to be trauma-informed therapists.
Somatic Experiencing can help bodyworkers understand how trauma is processed through the body and how it affects the nervous system and give massage therapists foundational skills on how to work with clients who have experienced trauma.
Nicholson’s training and specialization allow her to work with a specific population and refer to herself as a Somatic Therapist. For her clients and students, somatic experiencing offers transformative healing.
Amelia Mitchell, LMT, LLCC, BCTMB
Alchemy Healing Arts Center; Annapolis, MD
Specialty: Prenatal and Fertility Massage
Training and Educator: Claire Marie Miller Seminars
Some people are born loving children. Some people love them so much they want to help them come into the world in a healthy and peaceful way, and that means taking care of their mothers. That is Amelia Mitchell’s story.
Her caring, nurturing nature and advanced certifications in prenatal and fertility massage established her as an expert in her field — or as one client called her, “Earth Mother.”
“I’ve worked with a lot of moms and a lot of moms in challenging pregnancies, so having the certification made them feel comfortable working with me,” Mitchell said. “I’ve worked with a lot of women who are going through in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive techniques that are looking for all the help they can get.
“But [clients can be] also very discerning about what therapists they work with because there are a lot of risks involved and they want to feel confident,” Mitchell said.
Her fertility massage creates an environment that supports a woman’s health and prepares her to conceive, while her prenatal massages help a mother feel more comfortable in her changing body. She estimates that about 50 percent of women receiving fertility massage at her practice conceive within a year.
In the 14 years she’s been in practice, Mitchell has seen it grow from a sole venture to a business that now employs nine massage therapists. The growth has allowed her to hire other massage therapists to work on the expectant mothers so she can focus on lymphatic drainage, which is in high demand at her center.
“The training brought me great clients and interestingly there are a lot of techniques in prenatal massage that I’ve used on clients outside of the pregnant population to help make them comfortable,” Mitchell said.
Erin Lively, LMT, BCTMB, MMP
Erin’s Healing Hands; Richmond, VA
Specialty: Thriving Therapist Mastermind
Training and Educator: Gael Wood
After 17 years in private practice at the same location in Richmond, Virginia, Erin Lively felt her medical massage business was growing stagnant. It needed to be energized from a marketing perspective.
“I think a lot of times as therapists we are so busy doing our work that we can sometimes get sidetracked and not really focus on who our ideal clients are,” said Lively, who completed Gael Wood’s Thrive Therapist Mastermind training.
She enrolled in Wood’s online program that walked her through creating a marketing and business strategy to attract ideal clients. But before any of this could be implemented, Lively had to know what she was truly passionate about in her massage practice.
“My main passion is helping people live a pain free life. When I see people who are hurting, I want to be able to help them to be out of pain and to be able to do their daily living activities in a more pain-free productive manner,” she said.
While studying with Gael Wood, Lively had to look at aspects of her business that she had not considered before. Her online and social media presence, for instance, She went from posting once in a while to at least once a day. She added her business to Google’s directory, made updates to her website and then began the hard work —networking with medical doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists.
Since taking the training in April 2018, Lively’s business has grown 62 percent, she won best massage therapist in Richmond last year and was nominated for that award again this year. Lively also gained confidence in rebooking clients, offering and selling packages and asking for referrals.
“I am currently in the process of changes my prices now,” Lively said. “I hadn’t done that in several years and I often felt a little nervous about doing so — but with the classes it definitely gave me more confidence and understanding on how I could go about doing that.”
Sharon L. Bryant, LMT, CHMLDT
Harvest Moon Massage Therapy & Reflexology and Alabama Barefoot Massage Training Center; Decatur, AL
Specialty: Holistic Manual Lymph Drainage
Training and Educator: MLD Institute International
Many people enter the field of massage to help people who are suffering. There are some therapists who take that to a whole new level. Sharon Bryant, a certified holistic manual lymph drainage therapist, works with post-chemo patients and cancer survivors who are experiencing lymphedema as a side effect of their treatment.
Bryant has learned techniques to help her clients reduce swelling, help them feel better and support them during a difficult time in their lives. She is doing her part so that cancer isn’t winning.
“I went into massage therapy because I wanted to help people,” said Bryant, who chose lymph drainage as a specialty because of the impact it can have on cancer and post-surgical patients. “Getting up and going to work every day and knowing that I’m going to help someone who is in pain, that is what drives me.”
Manual lymph drainage is a technique that promotes the movement of lymph fluid in the body. Lymph fluid can accumulate in areas of the body after lymph nodes are removed, as in cases of mastectomy. It also affects patients post-surgery, after childbirth or when the immune system is compromised.
Bryant’s treatment includes measuring the affected areas before and after the treatment.
“I know how to work on people who are having issues with their lymphatic system,” she said. “I know when it is safe to work on people, I know when it is not safe to work on people. And I know what to do to help them or try to help them.”
Her training required most of her weekends over the course of several months. It gave her confidence to work on breast cancer patients, patients recovering from different cancers and patients in surgical recovery and taught her how to move lymph around scar tissue.
While there are not a lot of massage therapists offering this service, Bryant says the biggest hurdle has been the cost to clients. Many clients need treatment two to three times a week and it is not covered by insurance.
Despite that, Bryant believes it is worth the investment. “I think that it is a good idea for everyone to be exposed to manual lymphatic drainage,” she said. “I would encourage everyone take at least one continuing education course of it.”
(Editor’s Note: We planned to include a therapist who has trained with James Waslaski in his Integrated Manual Therapy & Orthopedic Massage for this article, but the therapist became ill and was not able to participate. Read the interview with, and technique article from, Waslaski in our August 2019 print issue.)
About the Author:
Aiyana Fraley, LMT, is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 17 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, Reiki, sound healing and essential oils. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Massage Therapy on the Integrative Medical Team” and “Stretching Techniques Expand Your Practice While Increasing Clients’ Flexibility.”