Being a massage therapist means being a lifelong learner.
You’ve chosen a profession that involves the pursuit of knowledge—about technique, business, customer service and any other topic that will serve your practice and its clients—for the duration of your career.
Many massage therapists are required to complete a certain number of continuing education hours per year.
Here, massage educators Thomas Myers, Julie Goodwin and Taya Countryman share insight into getting the most from your continuing education.
This part of MASSAGE Magazine’s special Education coverage, presented in our May 2018 print issue and online.
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—like 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 is an author, educator and developer of Anatomy Trains Structural Integration.
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.
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, is an author and educator, and the developer of txplanner.org.
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, is an educator and developer of Structural Relief Therapy.
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