Are you ready to grow as a professional massage therapist, by attending a live conference and soaking in the networking and educational opportunities?
Several professional massage conferences are coming up, including the Massage Therapy Foundation’s International Massage Therapy Research Conference, to be held May 12–15 in Seattle, Washington; and the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE) & Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation’s Education Conference, to be held next year in Tucson, Arizona.
With so much information and education readily available online, a massage therapist might be tempted to refrain from traveling to a professional conference. Attending a conference entails spending—on a hotel room, conference fees, meals and travel—not to mention the time spent away from one’s practice.
However, the benefits to a therapist’s personal and professional development, as well as to the success of his or her business, gained by conference attendance outweigh drawbacks.
When massage therapists attend a conference, we are met with opportunities to connect with our community, learn more about our trade and meet new people. What we may not be aware of are eye-opening opportunities in that “ready to grow orbit”—to understand our business, expand career growth opportunities, and elevate the experience of our work.
When I recently asked massage therapists about the benefits of attending a professional conference, several of them commented on the educational, social and purchasing-opportunity benefits. Additional advantages are developing a career direction and expanding an understanding of the massage profession.
Attending a conference “really expands your horizons, to get a sense of who is involved in the industry,” said Cherie Sohnen-Moe, president of the AFMTE. “It can be eye-opening … it helps people understand the business of massage.
“You might attend a class on myofascial release [at a conference], but afterwards, you might find out how people avoid burnout, or keep their jobs or practice,” Sohnen-Moe added. “It is a great way to get feedback from people on all aspects of the industry from around the country, and all around the world.”
Meeting and talking with colleagues, mentors and researchers is an intangible benefit that makes conferences valuable to a massage professional’s career. Networking takes place before and after continuing education classes, in the exhibit hall, and at social events folded into conferences by their producers.
“Imagine a workplace full of interesting massage therapists where you can collaborate, problem-solve, talk shop and have fun,” said massage therapist Kelly Bowers, who works at Freed Bodyworks in Washington, D.C. “Multiply that by 10—or 100—and you’ve [got] a massage conference.”
A conference is basically “a building full of people who know things I don’t know, who are excited to hear about what I do know, who understand the intricacies of our work better than even the most empathetic friend or partner,” Bowers added, “and who are jazzed to be there.”
Networking and interaction with peers, role models and hiring professionals helps therapists develop their career paths. The fresh ideas, people, vendors or products encountered could change a therapist’s practice.
Learning to innovate with a technique or business software can assist therapists in growing their business. We may be inspired by research or mentors, or an inspiring teacher may ignite a desire to become a massage instructor.
Learning the latest techniques assists in preventing one of the biggest challenges to a massage career: burnout. When massage therapists practice the same techniques repeatedly, we may experience physical damage to our joints and tissues via repetitive strain.
The educational offerings at a conference are like a “smorgasbord,” Bowers said.
“Conferences are an excellent place to sample a subject,” she added. “That four-hour class may be all I need, [but] if it really grabs me, I’ll take a full-on continuing ed class later. If it doesn’t grab me, I’ve learned that without a major outlay of time and money.”
We, and our clients, may also experience boredom, which reduces motivation not only to give or receive massage, but to engage in the activities necessary to run a successful massage business.
When a therapist informs his clients that he will be attending a conference to learn an additional technique, it underscores his value as an expert. The news may even be implemented as a marketing tool in social media or email marketing to stimulate client bookings by communicating that a different service will be offered.
Discerning clients are excited that their massage professionals consistently gain tools, which may lead them to book additional appointments and refer other clients.
Specialized conferences, such as that presented by the AFMTE on massage education, or the triennial conference presented by the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) on massage therapy research, offer more streamlined educational offerings.
Attendees of the 2016 International Massage Therapy Research Conference, for example, “will have the chance to attend a variety of presentations spotlighting the latest cutting-edge massage therapy scientific research,” said MTF President Jerrilyn Cambron, Ph.D., D.C., L.M.T.
“Attendees will also return home with helpful resources, new connections and continuing education units,” she added, “[and] the conference is an incredible opportunity for massage therapists and health care providers to learn about new research findings that contribute to the massage therapy profession.”
When addressing the future of the profession, some of the best ways to learn about what is happening with regulations, techniques and research is to learn from people who are addressing them, creating them and discovering results of massage firsthand.
Ongoing trends, regulatory issues and concerns for the industry are all processed, contemplated, argued and discussed at conferences. Being physically present inspires people to participate in organizations or take actions that they might not otherwise without direct exposure to what is happening now.
“When more than one person works on something, there is a synergistic effect,” said Sohnen-Moe. “So many people have decided to do projects, or [find] ways to serve an underserved population or [join] forces to help change or impact regulations … to respond to community needs.
“There is power in numbers,” she added. “You might find some cohorts who get together to spearhead projects that might positively affect the whole profession.”
Conferences help massage therapists put our work into context, because we are truly not solitary in our work. Sharing results, insights and approaches helps alleviate the loneliness massage therapists often feel in our profession.
Working alone tends to give massage therapists a myopic vision of their profession, which can be corrected when we interact with other therapists by asking, “What is it like for you to work in this profession?”
“It is always fascinating for people to discover what the scope of practice is and how it varies,” Sohnen-Moe said. “It also makes people more humble, because they get to see that they are not the only ones doing certain things, and [more] thankful for what [they] have, because [they] hear of other people’s challenges and struggles.”
The realization that the profession is part of the overall health care system nationally and internationally becomes quite real when you are surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of colleagues.
“By [attending conferences], you see that you are not alone,” Sohnen-Moe said. “There is the individual experience, and then there is the outward result by having people getting together, talking, relating—it changes the whole industry.”
Attending conferences helps massage therapists ask the questions, “What is the future of massage as a profession?” and “What is my future in massage?” As we engage with others, we can make decisions about where we are headed.
“Conferences are also a reality check,” Bowers said. “I can get myopic about what it means to be a massage therapist based on the limits of my life. Conferences show me the broader picture of what our entire profession is about.
“I always meet someone with a completely different understanding of what it means to be a massage therapist and is as correct about that as I am,” she added. “It opens my eyes and resets my worldview.”
Attending conferences gives us the context to see possibilities for ourselves, for our practices, and for how we would like to participate in the future of our profession.
Ariel F. Hubbard, L.M.P., is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork as a continuing education provider. She provides in-person and online classes and private treatments, and has worked in the holistic health field since 1994.