massage educators and coping with covid-19
massage educators and coping with covid-19

Massage Educators and Coping with COVID-19

By Shelly Johnson , CEO

Massage Educators and Coping with COVID-19

By Shelly Johnson , CEO

This article was co-authored by Donna Sarvello.

Since last year, the national certification board for therapeutic massage and bodywork, inc (NCBTMB) has been reaching out to its approved providers to stay in contact and better understand how COVID-19 is affecting massage education. In partnership with Massage Today’s editorial staff, we also asked what they thought the long-term impact would be on massage education.  Scores of approved providers weighed in with their comments.  Here’s what they had to say:

The Current Climate: Massage Educators Talk COVID Challenges 

When asked about some of the more challenging aspects of being an educator during COVID-19, Dr. Theresa A. Schmidt, DPT, OCS, LMT, of Educise PC Health Education & Wellness in Dartmouth-Sunapee, New Hampshire, admitted the biggest challenge for her was having live seminars cancelled. “I had a full year of travel booked to multiple states to present one-and two-day seminars in hospitals and conferences that got cancelled,” she explains. “I knew I had to place renewed focus on my website and online education.” 

The cancellation of events was probably one of the first and most notable things to immediately change as COVID-19 started to require state’s implement stay-at-home orders to prevent spread. Erik Dalton, Ph.D., president of Freedom from Pain Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, agrees with Schmidt: “This was the first year since I began teaching Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques in 1994 that I’ve had to cancel seminars.” Additionally, some massage therapy educators found transitioning from an office environment and keeping up with state requirements difficult. Corrine Rubida, BS, LMT, owner of the Center for Massage Therapy Continuing Education in South Dakota, recounts how, “transitioning to a home office, staying safe and keeping others safe by changing protocols, and keeping up with states’ changing requirements became a priority in order to meet the continuing education needs of therapists in such a hard time.”

Frustrations around having just become an approved provider as the pandemic started to shut states down, too, was at the top of the list for some educators. “I just got approved when the pandemic was gaining momentum,” says Jessica Waddell of Rock Hill, South Carolina. “So, I haven’t been able to teach any classes yet.”

Chula Linda Gemignani of Healing River Massage, Nevada City, California, believes, “It’s challenging but people are adapting.” 

Digital Opportunities in Education: Taking Massage Continuing Education Virtual

With so much of our lives dominated by the digital space, it was no wonder the bulk of work pivoted to maximizing digital opportunities. This was no different for CE providers as they looked to expand their offerings and keep students focused. 

“I converted my private practice to virtual sessions, but have not yet converted my workshops/classes to an online format due to the updates necessary on my computer and lack of technical skill,” said Karen Gabler of Gabler Sustainable Body in Melrose, Massachusetts.  “I hired an online media specialist in September to help convert my in-person programs to online.”

Along with technology challenges, reformatting classroom materials has added work to some massage therapy educators’ schedules. Miriam Ikle-Khalsa of Takoma Park, Maryland, shifted all of her in-person classes to online classes, which required she create all new slide decks and divide classroom material into smaller chunks of information so students would stay more engaged. “There will still need to be in-person practicing done once we can do that,” she adds. “But, for now, being online has helped keep us on track for a 2020 graduation, which means a lot to my students.” Others feel more positive about virtual learning. Ariela Grodner of the Florida School of Massage, Gainesville, Florida, has so far had a great experience working from home. “It is so much easier for me to broadcast from home,” she says. “I’ve sent all my students free videos and a PDF of my book.”

But some massage educators, like Nephyr Jacobsen of The Naga Center in Gresham, Oregon, caution against depending too much on technology because of the difficulty in translating in-depth content virtually. “Students need interaction with their teachers,” Jacobsen says. “If we create passive content where we don’t participate in our student’s learning experience, we amplify the negatives of online learning instead of nurturing the advantages.”

Self-Care and Coping In A Crisis 

Change, even when positive in some ways, can be very stressful. Self-care is essential for massage therapists, including massage therapy educators. When you’re dealing with crisis, like a global pandemic, sometimes self-care takes a back seat. But for the massage therapy educators we talked to, coping with COVID-19 requires both physical and emotional self-care stay top of mind.

Michael J. Salveson, advanced instructor, Dr. Ida Rolf Institute, describes how self-care contributes to a person’s overall success. “Aside from continuing study to increase our skill and understanding, I think self-care is fundamental to a successful practice,” he says. “We bring to our clients our own level of development—psychologically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  It is impossible to preserve and develop these aspects of ourselves without extensive self-care. I always advise new students to find a practice that will strengthen and develop them in all these domains.” 

For Dalton, self-care also includes re-evaluating how he teaches and using the time away from in-person teaching to catch up on the latest research in the profession so he can bring his best back to the classroom when it’s safe. “Most educators I’ve spoken with are optimistic about 2021 and eager to bring all our new material to the teaching venues as soon as it is deemed safe,” he adds. “It’s really difficult to manage work, family, bills, and hobbies when most things are shut down,” explains Rubida. “I have had to adapt just like everyone else and implement new and different things I never thought I would have to do. Self-care is important in times like these.”

Long-Term Effects on Massage Education

Massage therapy educators thinking about the future of the massage therapy profession had wide ranging and varied thoughts, from face masks to questions about changes to hands-on education requirements to who is considered essential during health care crises. 

The hard thing about novel viruses like COVID-19 is there is very little known about the long-term effects, both on those individuals who were infected as well as the professions and businesses that necessarily adjusted as the world worked hard to contain and control the pandemic.

Massage therapy educators wonder about the ongoing use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a more nuanced and in-depth understanding of infections. “Well, of course there will be more awareness of contagion, and hopefully therapists will be taught to wear masks when they suspect they may have a minor cold or such. I’m hoping to see a sea of change in how we approach this,” says Lori-Ann Gallant-Heilborn of Ultimate Sports Massage Inc. in Jacksonville, North Carolina. “Having lived in China, I’ve been accustomed to the idea of wearing masks to protect others for a long time, and I hope to see this become the norm in the U.S.”

Thinking broader in scope, Gretchen Porier of Warren, Pennsylvania, hopes that the massage therapy profession will be seen as essential, like health care, in the future. “I think these past months have been instructional for all of us,” she explains. “Dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19 really shines the light on certain aspects of society and government. I would like to see massage in the same group as chiropractors instead of other businesses as far as who is essential and allowed to stay open.”

Johnnette du Rand of Greet the Day in Newport Beach, California, is focusing on the positive.  “Opening education up online has been a tremendous challenge, but very rewarding,” she says. “I think that for therapists who do stay with the profession, their scope of work will be positively enhanced by being able to do classes online.”

Other approved providers have taught classes outside while wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, and have produced safety protocols they share with others. In this trying time, massage therapists continue to think creatively to teach their courses in safe and healthy ways. 

NCBTMB Approved Provider Program

NCBTMB has several action plans in place focused on helping approved providers who are looking for ways to serve the profession, as well as those who are considering applying for approved provider status.

Current approved provider—If you are up for renewal and unable to meet requirements at this time, contact NCBTMB within 30 days of your expiration date to discuss possible extension options. 

Many NCBTMB approved providers have requested the flexibility of turning live courses into live webinars. NCBTMB supports these efforts, and those interested can find information on next steps for this approach on NCBTMB’s website.

Prospective approved provider—Applications for approved provider status remain open and will continue to be processed.  

For more information, visit NCBTMB’s website.

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