The Value of Continuing Education

Get More Bang for Your Buck

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

Continuing education (CE) is one of those topics that divides our profession. Some therapists view it as a financial burden and an infringement on their time. Others can’t wait to take the newest class. I’m part of the latter group; I always wind up with more hours than I need. Most states require 12–24 CE hours for each license renewal; a few don’t require any hours at all. Some states allow home study and distance learning, even for hands-on credit, while others don’t. It can be a confusing state of affairs to the average massage therapist. 

One thing is certain: CE is an expense, albeit a tax-deductible one. In most states, there are plenty of CE providers and opportunities to take classes. For those therapists who live and work in more remote areas of the country, it may be more of a challenge to find a class that interests you. Interests is the key word there. As a CE provider myself, I frequently get calls from therapists along these lines: “Do you have any classes that are five hours? I only need five hours.” It’s distressing to me that they don’t even care what the subject is, or whether they’re interested in it or not. They are just looking for something with the exact number of hours they need to complete their requirements, or the cheapest thing, or the closest and most convenient thing. I’ve had people who practice sports massage come to my spa class and say, “I’m not going to use any of these techniques. I just needed the hours.” That’s not getting any bang for the buck (or making me, the teacher, feel warm and fuzzy). While I’m all for saving time and money, I’d be bored stiff if the only reason I took a class was to get five hours—and likely, so would you. Seek out classes that you actually have an interest in, and classes that can give you a return on investment.

Your return on investment may be in money, time saved, or career longevity. Happily, some of those sports massage therapists attending the spa class usually decide that adding a few spa treatments to their menu of services can break up the monotony of the day and save their hands to boot. Doing deep-tissue massage for hours, day after day, comes with wear and tear on the therapist’s body. Diversifying your offerings can be a good thing for you, physically. 

Unless you have all the clientele you’ll ever want and need, marketing classes are always good for getting a return on investment, assuming you follow the advice you receive. I attend them myself, even though I’ve authored a book on the subject. I like to hear ideas from other therapists who are entrepreneurs, and my personal attitude is that the day I think I know it all is the day I need to quit. 

Many times, massage schools only teach a few hours of business to their entry-level students—not nearly enough to prepare them for the real word. This fact alone is probably why many therapists exit the field after only a couple of years. Attending business classes can be the difference in making it or breaking it, especially if you’re self-employed. One of the most valuable classes I ever attended was specifically about taxes. You, too, can become a tax-deduction ninja by attending the right class. If you’re thinking of becoming self-employed, there’s no substitute for getting as much education as possible before taking the plunge. CE on bookkeeping, creating databases, market research, taxes, writing business plans, and many other subjects that may have been lacking when you were in massage school are available. 

Increase Marketability with Research Classes

If you’re not research literate, there’s no time like the present to rectify that situation. You don’t have to conduct a study; you just need to know where to find research and what to do with it—which is, share it. Cultivating relationships with other health-care providers is a great way to get referrals, and that’s definitely a return on your investment. Send a well-written letter of introduction to the physicians in your area. Enclose a copy of a current research article that has something to do with the doctor’s practice of medicine and your ability to help her patients. The Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) actually has a new toolbar you can download at to keep abreast of the latest research. The MTF, in conjunction with ABMP, offers an online class on the Basics of Research Literacy at

Keep in mind that physicians are more apt to refer to therapists who are presenting themselves as medically oriented in their practice. If you give a physician your business card with your website on it, and the only thing that jumps out at her when she visits are your chakra balancing sessions, that’s not likely to get her business. 

Speaking of the Internet

What, you don’t have a website? Then, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. People expect virtually every business to have one. There are numerous user-friendly options these days, including the free website builder and website hosting available to ABMP members. Many community colleges offer classes in computer use and applications. I’ve been taking a self-paced online course in how to write HTML, which will ultimately allow me to be more creative with my own websites and save money. 

Online courses abound in all kinds of Internet applications: effective email marketing and social media use, for example. In fact, no matter what kind of CE you’re looking for, the chances are you’ll find it online, saving you time and money. Many online courses can be completed in your own time frame, relieving you of the need to schedule time away from your practice and saving you money on travel expenses. The ABMP online CE calendar reveals an abundance of distance learning classes in anatomy and physiology, pathology, ethics, marketing, and many other topics directed at massage therapists. While online classes are good for some things, I wouldn’t let them replace a classroom experience for most hands-on modalities. There’s still a lot to be said for a personal experience in a classroom with your peers and instructor. 

New Tools, More Clients

Learning new modalities or techniques—and then spreading the word that you’ve done so—is another way to get a return on your investment. Don’t overlook the power of the press release, or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, for getting out the word about your new offerings. Be sure to post the news on all your social networking sites, and send your local media outlets a short blurb about what you’ve learned.

Nita Johnson has just returned from Hawaii, where she studied lomilomi with Gloria Coppola. Lomilomi is a type of massage grounded in ancient tradition and is known as “the sacred dance around the table.” Johnson is now offering lomilomi sessions at Mountain Bodyworks in Grove City.

We must remember that the average member of the public, other than the already-savvy massage consumer, doesn’t know the difference between lomilomi, neuromuscular therapy, and Swedish massage. Client education is key to the successful marketing of new techniques. Including good descriptions in your brochures and on your website and having an explanation ready for clients who call with questions are crucial keys to selling your new services. 

If you’ve been thinking about learning a new modality, you may want to gauge the competition in your area to see what’s already being offered and what seems to be lacking. For example, if you live in a small town and there are already six practitioners offering lymphatic drainage, you might want to go in a different direction for your CE. If you plan to specialize in a certain modality, look around first and see what isn’t available. There was a demand for lymphatic drainage in my clinic and no one was trained in it, so I contracted with a therapist who lives almost two hours away to travel here once a week to provide it. When she became so saturated that people had to wait weeks for an appointment, I persuaded one of my staff members to take a class. It’s been a good return on investment. 

The Bottom Line

How will you know you’re recouping the money you spend for CE? Track the return on your investment. Currently, the four courses required to become certified in the Vodder Techniques of Manual Lymph Drainage and Combined Decongestive Therapy, for example, total approximately $4,000. If we add on another $2,000 for travel to the course site, lodging, and meals, that’s $6,000. At my facility, a lymph drainage session is $90, meaning it takes 67 sessions to recoup that cost. With an average of three sessions a day, five days a week, that money can be earned back in slightly more than a month. 

As mentioned earlier, money may not be the only return on your investment, although it’s certainly a good one. Learning to do your own taxes, creating your own graphic designs, or building your own website can save you hundreds of dollars in professional fees. Time is something most people wish they had more of, so learning how to save time by streamlining office duties is a great thing—and time, ultimately, is money. 


  Laura Allen is the author of A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011), Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009), and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). Allen is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, a continuing education facility and alternative wellness clinic with more than a dozen practitioners. Contact her at