Asked to comment on the state of massage and bodywork education in the US today, I would offer the following:
1) I am no longer on the front lines of primary training ...
... as I was in 1974 when I became a massage therapist in California, or in 1992, when I was on the initial National Certification Board. Today I see the results of primary training when they show up in our continuing education offerings. On that basis, I would say the quality of education has substantially improved from when I was trained, and even since those early days of certification—with one exception I will mention later.
But I cannot comment directly on actual massage therapy standards or legislative issues—I’m not in that arena (and thank the Lord) any more.
2) Everyone I meet in massage therapy education is in it for service.
It is a pleasure to be in the business of healing touch, and a pleasure to walk that road with my fellow practitioners and instructors, who are almost always good folk. There was a little while there where it became a fad to train in massage, and we got some people in the schools who were out for an easy buck, but those days are gone. Everyone knows this is actual work, and that you’re either working for someone else for not so much, or you need to mount the challenges of raising a private practice.
So schools need to prepare students for both those eventualities, with business practices and work templates and whatnot, as well as preparing them for the expanding opportunities in our schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, retirement homes, and other existing institutions.
When I was young, “massage” provoked either a quizzical eyebrow or a tittering nervous laugh. Massage is now mainstreamed, like it or not. It’s a real profession. Now we need to integrate it into the fabric of everyday life.
3) Find a mentor.
No matter how good your training is, sooner or later you will need more. Getting advanced training is important (I would say that, wouldn’t I? as an advanced trainer myself), but finding a local mentor can help you with problem cases, interpersonal navigation, and skill-building. Finding a mentor is sometimes not easy, and may work online depending on your needs.
It takes humility to submit yourself to a mentor, but it shows a pride in your work to commit to improvement.
4. There is still room for the individual.
There are lots of massage methods out there, just as there are many forms of yoga. People are making money today combining techniques into something new, or innovating in some way. That is great—keep going! Be careful of combining too many methods in your practice—when you have a lot of short trainings and you try to combine them, it’s easier to make dishwater than it is to make soup—but don’t be afraid to innovate. There is lots of room for the imaginative entrepreneur to move massage therapy forward into the next generation. It was the last generation of dedicated innovators—Brian Uttling, Nancy Dail, Bob King, Benny Vaughn, and many others—who ushered in this renaissance of manual therapy by building schools around their individual talents. Who will be the next generation of “inspirers”?
Especially promising are the trends that combine manual therapy with movement training, like the SMR tools, only with hands—get it?
Steal from the best, steal accurately, work with integrity—and watch yourself build something new!
5) Think about the long haul.
This is both for educators and the students. Too many people drop out of this profession after less than 5 years into it. I mean no insult to any practitioners or schools, but it takes 5 years of practice after you finish training to get good at this. Train students—and make sure you are trained yourself if you are one—for the full career. We need seasoned practitioners, who have 10, 20, or even my 40 years of experience to continue to lift the massage profession into the mainstream. That means you have to get through the first few fumbling years of “press and pray” (press on everything you can find and pray something works). That means mastering all the logistics of how to talk on the phone, your elevator speech, building your practice with social media, getting the laundry done, and actually earning a living from your practice.
This is an immensely rewarding practice. It will support you in your physical body (if you work with good biomechanics), your emotional development for sure, there’s plenty of intellectual stimulation in the field if you want it, not to mention a good financial living to be had from it—and you are part of the solution, not part of the problem. If it’s worth doing—and this is definitely worth doing—it’s worth doing badly at first, building to a solid practice that is an asset to both your community and your own spirit’s growth.
About the author:
Thomas Myers is the author of Anatomy Trains (Elsevier, 2001, 2009, 2014), the co-author of Fascial Release for Structural Balance (North Atlantic, 2010, 2017), and numerous articles for trade magazines and journals that have been collected in the books Body3, The Anatomist’s Corner, Structural Integration: Collected Articles, and BodyReading: Visual Assessment and the Anatomy Trains. He has also produced over 15 DVDs and numerous webinars on visual assessment, Fascial Release Technique, and the applications of fascial research. For more information, visit www.anatomytrains.com.