After 20 years of offering oncology massage therapy education, I should be able to answer that question. In 25 words, tops.
It is a Larger Question — “What do I Call Myself?”
This relates to your professional identity. It is part of who you are, and what you do.
The terms certify and certification are used unevenly–not only in massage therapy, but in many professions. MTs typically use them to indicate a past accomplishment–successful training in an area.
But certification also implies maintenance in the present day. There’s a re-certification built into certification. You “keep up” your certification by meeting periodic CE requirements, retesting, or other activities. At specified time points, you report to a certifying body or organization. Among their oversight functions, they track and hold you to those requirements.
I know of no oncology massage therapy training–in the US at least–that actually certifies anyone in this way. There is no upkeep or oversight. No single educator, instructor, school, or CE provider can actually certify you or issue certification after a CE course.*
In fact, aside from Board Certification, there are few actual certification programs in the massage therapy field in general.
Yet the term certification is baked into our language on business cards, websites, job applications, and classrooms. Our confusion is evident, but it is not unique to massage therapy. It happens across many fields.
The Good News
1. After you attend and participate in a course, most oncology massage therapy educators provide a certificate of completion. There’s something to hang on a wall, and report on a resume, and use to meet various CE requirements.
2. Most consumers don’t care whether you’re certified or you hold a certificate of completion. Nor do most employers. In this climate of confusion about massage credentials, most people hiring are not paying close attention to how you finish off the word: -ied, -icate, or -ication.
They Care about Preparation
A client requesting oncology massage therapy wants an MT who is prepared to deliver it. They are searching for signs that they can trust the therapist to provide safe, effective relief of symptoms and side effects. From the first interview question to the last touch, they need to feel seen, heard, and served.
Credentials encourage that trust. Letters and certificates suggest a degree of preparation and readiness to serve.
So it’s important to report credentials accurately. It is time to drop the terms certified and certification and use more truthful, verifiable terms. Even when no one is paying close attention, it’s the right thing to do. Ethics being all about what we do when no one’s watching, right?
If you received a certificate of completion, which most of us did, then the best thing to indicate is that you received a certificate of completion.
Those words don’t work for all environments, like a business card or a title. You might wonder then, “What do I call myself? What’s on my website? My business card?”
You Have Options.
I have little jurisdiction over what MTs call themselves. I am not the decider. To me, a more interesting question is: What do you do? For people? How do you serve? Oncology massage therapy works for me. I think the therapy part is important. I try to include it.
And here is my favorite language to squeeze onto a business card:
“Massage therapy for oncology support.”
“Massage therapy for cancer care.”
I like this language because it’s accurate. It describes what we do, and it hints at a proud, yet humble professional identity. It’s truer than “certified,” and it’s clear. Pair it with oncology massage therapy, and boom. Done.
Well, maybe not quite done.
Credentials in Oncology Massage Therapy
I put together a short set of guidelines and ideas for what to call ourselves. Please visit it. It’s more than 25 words, but it lays out levels of credentials. Find yourself there.
There, I describe how the world of oncology massage therapy credentials just got more interesting. The NCBTMB has added a Specialty Certificate in oncology massage. (Spoiler alert: even if you qualify and pass the test, you won’t be “certified,” and you still won’t have a “certification.”)
The page describes a pathway of coursework to the new credential. Of note, our online OMT Advanced Mentorship Course is one of the options along the way. Paired with our foundational course, it gets you 70% of the way through the coursework.
But please don’t skip to the exciting certificate part. Read the whole page. I labored over it.
So does service.
In my years in massage therapy, we’ve gotten our language wrong and we’ve gotten our language right. We’ve gotten other things wrong and right, too.
At this point in our story arc, massage therapy is growing in popularity. We see an uptick in requests for massage in cancer care. There’s the opioid crisis, and a new requirement that hospitals offer non-pharmacologic pain relief. People need us. That tap on the shoulder could come tomorrow.
If you don’t already have oncology massage therapy training, consider getting a solid, foundational course behind you. If you already have done so, now revisit how you describe that accomplishment.
This is a good time in history to polish up our language along with our skills.
Then we’re ready to step up and serve.
(*Thanks to Sandy Fritz and Whitney Lowe, who have already moved this large, awkward certificate ball down the field.)
Jennifer Prosser says
I have been thinking so much about the language I use when speaking of this work. I have finally settled on “Massage Therapy for those Living with Cancer”. A mouthful, but seems the most accurate, truly. And I say I have had specialized training through your highly respected course. I am doing volunteer hospice work so I can learn how to work with people and be comfortable in these situations. I have moved into this work slowly, and will continue to proceed slowly as I learn.
Tracy Walton says
Accuracy is worth a mouthful, for sure! Good luck in your work!
Lauren Cates says
It is, indeed, time to stop being inaccurate…and unethical. Bravo, my friend. Let’s just be enough and do good work.
Tracy Walton says