The question of the value of certification in advanced techniques has been debated for decades. Some people might ask, isn’t massage therapy base education enough to prepare all practitioners for a thriving career?
Once massage school is finished and boards are passed, shouldn’t every therapist have the training needed to step into any job opportunity and perform at a skilled level? Is certification in an advanced technique really worth the time and effort required? More recently these have become pressing issues as the emerging field of massage therapy has grown in use by the general population and has been integrated into many health care settings.
While it is true that massage therapists all use the same basic techniques—effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, vibration and friction—deciding how those are applied, when to incorporate which, and which clinical strategies most benefit a particular condition are strategic thought processes that are unique to each therapist.
Clinical reasoning skills are not acquired overnight; they are built over time and augmented by practical experience. They are individual and continuously evolve due to influences from a multitude of factors, such as seminars and workshops, books and articles, experiences in treatment sessions, self-care and injuries, Internet browsing, conversations with other practitioners, and even the movies and TV shows we watch.
In other words, our daily choices very much influence our thought processes and the way we integrate data within our brains. In fact, these critical factors significantly template treatment outcomes, professional communication skills and future career opportunities.
This development can be allowed to be haphazard and random, or can intentionally be guided through advanced study habits and educational choices.
In the introduction to the book, On the Shoulders of Giants, Stephen Hawking, Ph.D., cites Isaac Newton’s famous quote: “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Indeed, we have all benefitted from the insights of scientists, authors, teachers, parents, friends and even strangers who have walked a similar path to ours.
This adage is particularly true in our development as practitioners, since the degree of success we achieve is vastly influenced by the giants who lift us. My own giants include Janet Travell, M.D.; David Simons, M.D.; Aaron Mattes, L.M.T.; Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O.; Shannon Goossen, A.P., L.M.T.; Paul St. John, L.M.T.; Nick Hall, Ph.D.—and a long list of others whose seminars, books, articles and conversations have built the foundations on which I practice, write and teach.
My clients and students benefit not only from what I learned from these teachers, but also from what I disagreed about and debated with them. Debate often sent me on my own course of discovery and excavation, allowing me to develop new insights that added to and expanded what they had taught.
Advanced certification in a particular method or modality allows a practitioner to benefit from the clinical strategies developed by someone else. “Someone else” usually holds a great degree of clinical or classroom experience and has developed a teaching style and delivery method that will help accelerate the participant’s skills on multiple levels—palpation, assessment, technique choices, clinical strategies and more.
Certification trainings usually incorporate teaching assistants who have spent years developing their skills in order to become part of the training staff. They often have significant treatment or classroom experience, vast knowledge and well-honed expertise, and may be willing to mentor outside of the classroom.
The treatment protocols taught in certification trainings are usually time-tested and have a practical, effective approach. While these methods usually produce a high degree of success, they do not replace the practitioner’s own skills. They are added to them, often with a synergistic effect.
Why stretch oneself for certification? Once we leave the school environment, much of our educational time is spent searching the Internet, reading articles and books, and looking for clues to solve cases. While all of that is important and mind-expansive, it often has no checkpoint or way to know if we are on the right track.
The basic techniques were learned when there were no clients on which to apply them; and now, when there are clients, there is no one to answer the questions. There is no exam at the end of the week or instructor looking over the shoulder. This may result in a lot of hit-or-miss applications that do not point to what we did right or what we missed.
Advanced certification incorporates checkpoints, exams and other methods of verifying our understanding of the principles and applications. It involves validation of strengths and points to areas that need fortifying. It may even connect us with a mentor to quickly move to a new level of understanding. There are like-minded classmates who are also striving to understand and expand their foundations, which may provide networking opportunities, study groups and partners to practice with outside of class.
Making a commitment to actively expand one’s knowledge and skill on an accountable, advanced level results in increased self-confidence, a precise and thorough approach, and a higher level of overall competency. This ultimately benefits the clients, builds the practice and increases community awareness of massage therapy and your own personal brand.
What Lies Ahead in Advanced Certification?
I am certain that advanced certification benefits practitioners, clients and the profession. However, as the massage therapy profession evolves, there are many imposing questions that deserve serious discussion and debate:
- Who can certify a practitioner and who will certify that certifying group?
- Who will set standards for what defines a modality or the criteria for passing the certification process?
- How can we standardize trainers who certify in the same subjects yet still provide room for individual creativity and expansion?
- Will individuals and companies that have already set standards, developed exams, and certified people for decades in a particular approach be willing or allowed to contribute to this process?
- Will those who propose to develop criteria for certification have actually practiced or taught the methods for which they are responsible?
- Can staff of an independent company—not trained and not certified in the modality or method—competently determine the certification process?
I am sure there are many answers and opinions to these questions and to scores of other questions I have not asked. May we grow, individually and as a profession, from the debates and discussions that lie ahead.
About the Author
Judith DeLany, L.M.T., is owner and director of NMT Center, which focuses on neuromuscular therapy training, American version, in seminar and massage school programs.