In this age of the internet, we have so many great opportunities to learn new things. It is a tremendous resource that I rely on constantly for personal and professional knowledge, networking, and coaching. I love that I can purchase a book or a training program and have access to it 24-7-365. The internet is really a wonderful tool when used responsibly.
The down side is that many 'professionals' are relying on getting 100% of their education and training through the internet. This may be entirely practical, efficient, and effective for some topics and skill development. But I believe it poses a danger that every consumer and responsible animal owner should be aware of.
There are several programs currently being offered on the internet that allow students to 'become certified' in animal massage, cranio-sacral therapy, and a variety of other hands-on modalities without ever having a live teacher personally review and inspect their work.
Would you go to a dentist, chiropractor or massage therapist if you knew their only training was online, and they had never been professionally supervised in person by a knowledgeable instructor? No! Of course not. There are just some things that must be taught and learned through live, in person education!
The problem with learning a hands-on modality through the internet is there is no one present to verify that the technique is being executed correctly. There is no instructor observing the response of the tissue and the response of the animal. There is no immediate feedback for the student. The student is basically working in an feedback vacuum, and cannot appreciate the subtleties that a live instructor can impart.
Hand-on work requires great attention, awareness, and sensitivity. These skills cannot be taught or learned through a computer. They must be taught in the traditional way - with an instructor who can observe the student and the client and can provide feedback and corrections where necessary.
When I am teaching massage students equine massage I often have them demonstrate on my body the amount of pressure they are using on the horse. This helps me know whether they understand the techniques and whether they have adequately sensitive palpation skills. None of this can be conveyed meaningfully through a computer terminal.
If an animal owner wants to purchase an online course to learn techniques for their personal use with their own animals, that is their prerogative and choice. In my opinion it still poses some risk, but it is not a risk to the public since the individual is applying this training for personal use only.
The danger of working with an equine massage therapist with limited education or experience is that they don't know what they don't know. When I am working live with students, I have the opportunity to verify their comprehension by asking questions. I watch their skill levels and understanding develop and deepen with practice. They have the opportunity to ask questions based on in-the-moment observations and experiences. None of this is possible through distance learning. This means that a therapist trained through the internet cannot possibly have the same depth of training, understanding and skill as one who has received live, in-person training and all of the feedback that happens within that relationship.
Next let's talk about 'certification'. There is a lot of confusion out there. A school can grant students a diploma or a certificate of completion. A certificate of completion IS NOT A CERTIFICATION. Certification usually comes from an independent, third party agency or national board that has a strict standard of educational and technical excellence. In the human massage profession for instance, there is a national certification board and there are professional industry associations, none of which are directly affiliated with any school. These independent third party organizations require qualified applicants to submit to a level of professional scrutiny before bestowing the moniker of 'certified'. The certification process usually requires the following from the applicant: proof of graduation from a licensed school, transcripts, proof of license, proof of insurance, a personal background check, passing grades on standardized industry tests, proof of continuing education, and so forth.
In rare cases there are some educational providers who offer certification which goes well beyond merely attending a seminar or course. Certification always requires the applicant to demonstrate a high standard of knowledge in a range of related topics and to demonstrate technical competency through a practical (hands-on) examination as well as written examinations. These schools that offer certifications are frequently post-graduate programs where the students begin the curriculum as licensed health care professionals.
Laws regarding animal / equine massage vary from state to state. It is a good idea to investigate your state's laws on animal / equine massage and other complementary or alternative care modalities. The most important thing you can do however, is thoroughly research your prospective care provider. Ask specifically whether their training was live, in person training or whether they purchased a course online and submitted a video to 'graduate'.
Please see my other article entitled Choosing the Right Horse Massage Professional - Ask the Right Questions! to learn more about this important topic.
It is your right to ask and to know what your are paying for!