A man at the front of a classroom faces the camera. Also seen are the backs of four adult students.

High-quality massage therapy continuing education is vital to every massage therapist’s career.

When Jennifer Harmon began her massage therapy career two decades ago, she had a career trajectory in mind. She knew that doing massage work full-time would take a toll on her body so she planned on transitioning into a role of being a mentor and trainer. She knew to achieve her career goals she’d need to find a role with a massage company dedicated to the professional development of its employees.

After more than five years doing medical massage working alongside internal medicine doctors and chiropractors, she began homing in on a company. Harmon chose Massage Heights, a family-owned therapeutic massage and facial services franchise company based in San Antonio, Texas, which has more than 140 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

During her interview with the company, Harmon expressed how important it was for her to be able to grow with the company. She started taking advantage of the franchise’s training opportunities immediately.

Six months after she was hired as a massage therapist, Harmon was promoted to assistant retreat director, and six months after that, she was promoted again, this time to retreat director of the franchise’s Independence, Missouri, location.

“The number one thing that really stood out to me was the quality over quantity and the way that Massage Heights was taking care of their massage therapists,” Harmon said.

Develop Your Career

According to the Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report, lack of career development opportunities is the leading cause of employee turnover in the U.S.

The Work Institute is an employee retention and engagement strategy company based in Franklin, Tennessee, which releases its snapshot of employee retention and engagement annually. The 2019 report marks the ninth consecutive year that poor career development leads the reasons why employees quit.

Per the 2019 report, which is based on more than 250,000 employee interviews nationwide, since 2010, the number of employees reporting they have left their jobs because of a lack of growth and development opportunities has increased by 170%. “Employees are looking to their organization for opportunities to learn and grow,” the report concluded.

As a company, Massage Heights understands their employees’ desire to learn and grow in their profession, and makes career development a priority, said Brooke Riley, a licensed massage therapist who is an operations specialist for Massage Heights.

Trainings are offered via video and through group and one-on-one workshops and is paid, she noted, and many of the trainings qualify for continuing education credits, too. Some locations have trainers on staff who can provide CE trainings, while others will bring in CE instructors.

Besides the basic training modules every massage therapist gets, the trainings offered vary depending on location and are driven by the needs and interests of the massage therapists, Riley said.

“All training is  ongoing,” she said. “We are always checking with therapists to make sure they’re doing proper body mechanics or doing a technique the proper way or how we can develop them in another technique or modality that they don’t know.”

Choose a Direction

For Angela McGuire, a massage therapist and retreat director at Massage Heights’ Lee’s Summit, Missouri, location, the opportunity to gain skills and grow professionally changed the direction of her career, she said.

Just after McGuire graduated from massage therapy school, she was determined to run her own massage practice, but as a newly-minted massage therapist, she found it hard to get her business off the ground. She just couldn’t get her hands around the marketing aspect of it.

McGuire started working at Massage Heights part-time to supplement her income as she continued to work to get her business off the ground. She thought it would be a short-term situation, but instead found herself a professional home with the franchise.

“Coming out of school, I had very little hands-on experience, so being able to get around like-minded people and have everybody be able to jump in on these trainings and show their tips and tricks, I was able to learn from everyone around me,” she said. “With those trainings, that opened a pretty big door knowledge-wise.”

Besides being able to broaden her skill set with new modalities and techniques such as hot stone therapy and cupping, McGuire expanded her professional network when she interacted with massage therapists in training sessions, and sometimes was able to make connections with seasoned massage therapists who could provide her with even more education.

“Training never sounds like fun until you’re there and you’re learning and then you realize how much you have grown or your knowledge base has grown by attending these trainings,” McGuire said.

Learn Self-Care

One area of particular importance to McGuire and Jennifer Harmon is self-care training, an area Massage Heights takes seriously. “We want our therapists to use good body mechanics and work the right way so they can prolong their career,” said Riley, who grew her career from massage therapist to operations specialist at Massage Heights.

The franchise’s self-care trainings taught Harmon to “work smarter not harder,” she said. For example, learning to use hot stones to complement her manual massage work means that she can reduce the wear and tear on her body yet still achieve the wellness goals of her clients.

And working one-on-one with her mentor – the owner of the retreat at which she works – has taught Harmon how to be more objective in her interactions. “That has really helped me not only in my business profession, but it actually helps me in my personal relationships, as well,” she said.

It is easy to forgo self-care, to brush it off as not as important as serving your clients, but the self-care trainings show you how important it is to take care of yourself, said McGuire.

“When you do the self-care training, it’s really to help longevity for you,” she said. “You start to look at (self-care) differently. (Rather) than just taking care of yourself, you look at it as taking care of your career.”

About the author: Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine.