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Do Certifications Really Mean Anything in the Massage Industry

Let’s talk certifications in the massage industry.

So there seems to be some confusion among a lot of therapists, especially newer therapists about certifications and what they really mean. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but they don’t mean much. Now before you jump all over me and start sending me hate mail, let me explain.

So a lot of therapists attend a one-day, weekend, or maybe even a week-long event, and then come out claiming to be certified to practice a whole new modality or massage technique. But does that little certificate you get at the end really mean anything? Not really, other than the fact that you stayed for the full hours and showed at least a basic understanding of the concepts covered in the class. Now am I saying you should throw all those certificates out and all those add-ons and extra modalities you’ve learned over the years don’t mean anything at all? Absolutely not! But please, look at the reality of your knowledge and capabilities after leaving a program or a class.

So here’s three things to consider…

#1  You need to look objectively at who is handing out this certification

Because here’s the thing, for the vast majority of modalities, there is no unbiased third party regulating the curriculum, testing processes, and expertise of the therapists who complete a CE class, a workshop, or a program. And you may be saying, but the class and the instructor are approved by my state or they’re approved by NCBTMB, but that doesn’t really mean much. That means they may meet some basic standard to know how to teach in a general sense. They wrote out a class, a schedule, and some objectives and submitted it for approval. Do you think NCBTMB or your state is governing the capabilities of the instructor, the accuracy of what they teach, the methodology of the technique, or how they know that you’re truly capable at the end of it all? They’re not. Most of these “certification” programs are just developed by private individual instructors. Now please, I’m not saying they’re all worthless or that you don’t learn anything or that they’re all bad by any means. Some of these programs are great and offer you some amazing skillsets. What I am saying is that you need to be objective and look at this as a whole. Who is saying you’re certified in something and why? What does that mean by their standards? And more importantly, what does it mean by your standards and your clients’ standards?

#2  You need to be honest with yourself about what you are really capable of

You have got to be able to look at your skills when you leave that class objectively. Are you really capable of performing that modality at a high level? Are you going to need to take more advanced class in it? Or are you going to have to practice for 100, 200, or even more hours to really develop your skills further and know without a doubt that you’re providing the best care you can to your clients? Let me give you a little example here. Years ago I signed up for a home study cupping class. My intention was just to learn the basic concepts and to see if it was something I wanted to invest in taking as a hands-on class, because there weren’t any offered locally and I was going to have to travel quite a ways to even take an introductory course. So I get this book in the mail and my test to fill out for this home study. It wasn’t just cupping, it was fire cupping. So I read the whole book, took some notes, practiced a little on myself and my husband, submitted my test, and got a certificate emailed to me stating that I am now officially certified in fire cupping. Uh, no! No, no, just so many no’s! They were deciding I was certified because I passed a basic test over the concepts of fire cupping? Seriously? That’s just crazy. But that’s the kind of thing we have to be honest with ourselves about. What are we really capable of? I sure as heck was not capable of doing a proper fire cupping session. After a few hands-on classes and a whole heck of a lot of practice, I finally felt comfortable performing general cupping on family and friends, and then finally clients. But I still always had to check in with making sure my ego wasn’t deciding what I was capable of, but rather my real skills and results were.

#3  Just because you have a certificate of completion does not mean you are “certified” to do something, nor does it mean you are even really qualified to do something

It only means you completed a class. A certificate of completion or a certificate of achievement; those are handed out at the end of CE classes, right? But they’re just to show that you finished the class, passed whatever that particular instructor’s standards of testing were, and you have something to submit to your board for CE compliance. It does not mean you are qualified to practice some new modality. Taking a weekend course in Thai massage does not make you an expert and now you should completely change your practice and offer exclusively Thai massage because you’ve learned all there is to learn about it and you are fantastic at it now. Can you, legally speaking? Of course. You can do just about whatever you want in that capacity, because again, for the most part, we don’t have any unbiased third party regulating certifications or our capabilities once we’re out. Think about it this way…were you happy when you left massage school with the quality of the education you received? Did you feel like an expert? Like you really knew your stuff and could give an incredible massage and knew what to do to help people with this or that issue at the drop of a hat? Probably not…at least most of us were woefully unprepared by our schools. Now the discussion of what’s lacking in the core education of our industry is for another day, but it’s along those same lines. It took probably a while for you to find what worked for you. It took those first couple of years in practice to get your hands on enough people to really feel comfortable that you knew what you were doing, right? Why would we think any new technique or modality would be any different? We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to realize that those classes may have taught us a lot, that we may have developed all kinds of awesome new skills, but that does not make us experts. And to hold a certificate up as some sort of qualification to do something, in our industry, just doesn’t mean much to anybody but you.

So you have to determine what it really means, what you’re really capable of, and what’s the right thing to do with those skills.

Savanna Bell LMT

Hey there! I'm a massage therapist, educator, writer, and business pro helping massage therapists around the world build successful businesses. My goal is to give you everything you need to start, run, and grow a profitable massage practice that supports a life you love, all without the headaches I went through learning how to do it myself.

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