Learning is a lifelong process. Those who refrain from engaging their brains tend to stagnate and lose their creative edge. I'm amazed when I hear comments such as, "I don't need to take any more classes after all, the school I attended was 750 [or insert any number greater than 100] hours." or "I've been in practice for many years and am doing just fine, so why should I be required to take a specified number of continuing education units each year?"
I think the reason so many people resist furthering their education is that the process of learning tends to be stressful. Very few people talk about how much they enjoyed going to school. While there may have been some classes that were fun and the instructional methods pleasurable, for most people, school is difficult and they're glad when it's over. Reflect upon your school experiences. How many people did you know who looked forward to doing homework and taking tests? How many opted to take non-required classes? How many came to school each day happy to be there and eager to learn? For most people school is an example of the ends justifying the means: the ultimate goal of learning to be a good massage therapist makes the act of going to school worthwhile. Given the negativity associated with school, it's no wonder people shut down and avoid structured learning situations unless required.
The good news is that the manner in which you continue your learning is not limited to a traditional school environment: you can read books; take distance-learning courses (e.g., correspondence, home-study, online computer); attend workshops; participate in self-exploration classes which benefit you directly as well as assist you in working with clients (e.g., movement, breathwork, communication skills); and go to conferences. Even continuing education courses offered by schools are usually administered quite differently than the diploma program classes.
Continuing education courses range from one hour to hundreds of hours. Recently, several massage therapists were discussing the merits of taking a specialized training. Most could not fathom the requirement of the years involved in taking workshops, practicing, and interning before they could be certified in that technique. One person said, "Why should I spend years at this, when I can take a weekend course and learn the basics." Again, this reflects upon our misunderstanding of the learning process particularly in the massage and bodywork field. You learn the basics in school, but the true integration and honing of your skills comes with practice and years of working with clients.
You keep the learning process active (and thus your professional and personal growth) by taking continuing education courses either a series of short, specific classes or a long-term, advanced training program.
Many people are required to take continuing education to keep their certification or licensure current. Check with your certifying/licensing bodies to find out their parameters: the number of hours required each year; whether all (or a certain percentage) of the classes must be given by approved providers; the scope of topics that can be taken and which topics are not allowed; the minimum or maximum number of hours that can be allotted to certain subjects (e.g., half of the hours must be hands-on, only up to one-third of the hours can be practice management); the method of learning allowed (some certifying bodies allow a limited number of hours for reading books or writing articles, while distance learning courses do not qualify in Texas); and specific course requirements (e.g., 2 hours of ethics every 4 years, CPR recertification every 5 years).
Many individuals, companies, and organizations provide continuing education courses on a wide range of topics. Check out advertisements in trade journals, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters; contact your professional association for a list of providers; request catalogs from massage/bodywork schools as well as local community colleges, universities, and adult education programs; peruse local specialty publications; and surf the Internet (start your search with key terms such as training, continuing education, home-study, correspondence, massage schools, seminars, workshops, or the specific topic you are interested in exploring).
The depth, breadth, and overall quality of continuing education courses varies greatly. Do proper research before enrolling in any course, whether it's a "live" workshop, or a distance-learning class. The key aspect is the credibility of the company and the individual facilitating the course. The following steps will guide you in ascertaining credibility:
The best type of continuing education course to take depends on your preferred learning style. Some people learn best by reading or viewing a videotape and then processing the information on their own. Distance-learning courses can be highly effective for people with this learning style. Others learn better in a classroom or workshop environment. In subsequent issues we will explore how to determine your most appropriate learning environment and how to prepare yourself before attending a class.