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Massage Today
September, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 09

The Ethics of Learning

By Elaine Stillerman, LMT

I got an e-mail the other day from a massage practitioner interested in my MotherMassage home study program. She also wanted the name of a practitioner in her area who had taken my three-day workshop so my student could teach her the hands-on techniques.

Or, she asked, could she just learn prenatal massage from the videos on You Tube?

I subsequently logged on to the prenatal massage videos posted there and was horrified. After viewing many of them, I can see how the misinformation by these self-appointed "experts" can be confusing and misleading for practitioners and outright dangerous for expectant mothers. There was only one clip (shown on CW11-TV) that demonstrated accurate and appropriate massage techniques.

I am not shocked at this anymore. I have become inured to these cheap shots. I get this all too frequently in my classroom when massage practice managers send one or two employees to take my class for the sole purpose of teaching the rest of the staff the prenatal protocol when they return. I hear this same scenario from other presenters as well. For any facility to offer specialized treatments by unqualified practitioners is unethical and irresponsible. I ask you: Would you want to receive a medical procedure from a doctor who was shown the procedure once from someone who just learned it themselves? Or perhaps from a doctor who watched the procedure on a video or read about it in a book? I don't think so.

While one certainly is more extreme and potentially life threatening than the other, the same conceit remains: The only way to learn a technique and receive the on-site supervision of a trained professional is to attend a workshop in the preferred modality offered by a qualified practitioner.

I am confounded that massage professionals who mostly go into this proud profession because they want to help people and believe in natural healing processes, would cheat the very people whom they claim to care about. What does this say about the state of our profession? Are a few rotten eggs going to spoil it for the rest of us who do take the time, expense and care to come to a class?

I recognize the majority of massage practitioners are conscientious and eager to learn new modalities to enhance their professional and personal growth. But there still are too many out there who think buying and watching a video or reading a book qualifies them to practice a new technique and charge their clients a premium for their new skills.

Home study courses or textbooks alone can't teach hands-on training even if a video is part of the package. Those practitioners who take the easy way out and avoid attending workshops and pursuing continuing education courses, do themselves and (worse) their clients a great disservice.

Approved programs are offered all over the country by qualified professionals. Determined and interested massage practitioners have numerous opportunities to enjoy these stimulating workshops. Motivated practitioners might have to travel far distances (and incur steep expenses) in order to receive the training they seek, but the education and experience are well worth the trouble. I have had students from Europe, America and the Caribbean, and even students with young children attend my classes. So these difficulties don't have to become road blocks.

Hopefully, advanced education courses are taken because of interest in the subject matter, not simply to fulfill statutory or national continuing education requirements. Regardless of the impetus, attending hands-on classes still remains the only effective way to learn hands-on modalities.

Massage videos or reading a book can serve useful purposes. They can reiterate and reinforce techniques that already have been learned in the classroom and they can remind practitioners of body-saving and hand-saving mechanics. But they should not serve as the primary source of training. You can't ask a video/book questions and the video/book cannot provide feedback as to whether or not you are doing the techniques correctly.

Home study courses also fill a void. They provide fundamental information about a modality to offer an overview of a specific technique. From that, students can determine if they want to pursue the subject further and attend a class. These home study courses don't - or shouldn't - qualify anyone as a specialist in a specific modality. Nor should anyone assume proficiency in a technique because they passed a home study program. To call yourself an "expert" in a modality after a home study program or video presentation is dishonest at the very least and borders on consumer fraud.

Massage practitioners and bodyworkers must embody high standards of training and professionalism. Watching a video (whose sources are sometimes questionable) or reading a book (also sometimes questionable) and considering oneself adept and competent are not the ways to set and uphold these standards.

Click here for previous articles by Elaine Stillerman, LMT.


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