Friday, January 24, 2014


Look at that grey hair


Most know that I have been a massage therapist and educator for over 30 years. Over that time my career has evolved just as I hope those reading this are experiencing.  I actually started out my career as self-taught since there were no massage schools around me. I searched for additional training and took the courses I could find with each one adding to my skills. I have always been busy as a massage professional so the very best learning experience –working with lots of clients has been the most important aspect of my professional development.  In the beginning (back in the day at the end of the 1970’s) it was a different culture for massage practice. I also know those days of professional development for massage therapist are over and a new generation is looking for their pathway for career advancement.

Just beginning 

What I hope to outline in this blog is what is available right now and potentially in the near future for career advancement.  Until very recently there was no real clear structure for professional development but things are changing.

 I actually wrote the first edition of Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage (1990 ish) before I had a bachelor’s degree. Then I realized that I would not be able to teach from my own book at a community college unless I had an academic degree. I could have gotten an associate’s degree but instead completed a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences from Central Michigan University (1998).  One of the reasons I choose this school was that it awarded credit for prior learning experience. I had to make a career portfolio ( big big job) and then it was evaluated for college level learning.  I received 30 credits in electives toward the degree. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I soon realized that it would take a master’s degree to really secure my credentials as a leader in my field of massage therapy.  I completed a Master’s degree in organizational management and leadership (2001) using blended learning (online and classroom). This educational journey has been expensive, time consuming, frustrating and absolutely
WORTH IT.  One of my professional goals has been to make this process more streamlined and cost effective for others. Here is a general outline of a pathway available for massage therapists now.



Entry level education.

While this foundational education remains in flux, I truly see consensus on the horizon. The job task analysis for the licensing exams ( both from the Federation of State Massage Boards and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork), the core competencies from the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation, the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge and the analysis by the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and the most recent Entry Level Analysis Project indicate strong agreement on what should be included in the foundational training for massage therapy. Whew----------.


I suspect that the content and clock hour requirements will fall into the certificate/diploma level educational structure found in many health professions vocational training.


This is good.  I am supportive of diploma level education defined as taking a year or less to complete the education and vocationally licensed.


An entire career in massage therapy can develop from this beginning platform without any additional certification or academic degrees involved.






Board Certification

Continuing education can cumulate along with work experience to meet eligibility requirement for the next professional achievement- BOARD CERTIFICATION provided by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.  This generalized but advanced credential indicates that a massage professional has voluntarily committed to documentation of massage education and experience beyond entry level. From this launch point specialty certifications can be created in the future.  I believe finally the National Certification Board has got it right. Certification should be voluntary and beyond entry level. Whew--------------.



This can be an end point for a career pathway for the massage therapist. But there can be more. Academic degrees.




Academic degrees.

Why would you want an academic degree?  I can think of lots of reasons such as additional validation for professional development, addition of skills over and above massage application including business and leadership, and maybe most important to me- teacher development.  I think we can agree that the massage educators need access to advanced training in the form of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. AND IT IS AVAILABLE –WOW--------.


Associate’s Degrees


An associate’s degree is typically based on 2 years of college level study

(60 credits).  Some community colleges and technical schools offer a diploma level massage training that can be advanced to an associate’s degree by adding general education courses and other massage related courses. This is really good and becomes a launch pad for the next step--- a bachelor’s degree.


Some community colleges will evaluate prior learning and award credit for the previous massage education and then develop a completion plan for an associate’s degree in general studies or more specifically in a health professions category. I have found associate’s degrees in health and fitness that I thought would be a great fit.


Another option is to find an associate’s degree program that compliments massage diploma education.  Examples include health sciences, general psychology, health and wellness, business, etc.


Yet another option is to complete general education courses at a local community college.


Courses taken to meet general education requirements provide for the following essential outcomes to insure that students are prepared for academic and professional success and for participation as citizens of their communities and the world. Typically the follow categories are used to determine general education.


Critical Thinking

Courses should require and students should demonstrate a range of abilities from tangible problem-solving to higher order processes of analysis, inference, reasoning, synthesis, and judgment. Students should evaluate information, analyze claims and arguments in their own and others’ work, consider multiple perspectives, apply knowledge in new contexts, understand processes of reasoning in various disciplines, and should regularly reflect on their own learning.



Global Awareness

Courses should require and students should demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of culture, race, ethnicity, nations, religions, and political and social systems. This includes an understanding of these concepts themselves and an understanding of their roles in forming identities and values—our own and those of others. Students should be able to identify and explain the influence of historical and cultural factors on past and current events.




Courses should require and students should demonstrate personal and social responsibility through collaboration with others in diverse group settings, and through civic knowledge and participation. A commitment to academic integrity, ethical reasoning and action, and preparation for lifelong learning should be central to all coursework.


This information expands the awareness of massage therapy practice.



In addition to the general education courses I suggest you take as much anatomy and physiology as is available at the college.


What if I already have college level learning?


If you already have college level classes that can transfer, such as an associate’s degree in massage or another discipline, or a bunch of classes that never really added up to completing a degree and/or military training and other prior learning experience you can likely use this educational collection to meet some credit requirements toward a bachelor’s degree.





Once you achieve an associate’s degree or an accumulation of classes and courses and work experience that can be used for college credit transfer or credit for prior learning experience-- now what?


The next step in documentation of achievement is through earning a bachelor’s degree. Why would you want to do this? Again there are lots of reasons including career advancement at many levels but the one most dear to my heart would be if you are now or want to teach massage.


There is a career pathway to a BACHELOR’S OF APPLIED SCIENCE USING BOARD CERTIFICATION. You really need to check this out. Board Certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork is valued at 33 college credits by Sienna Height University. This 33 credits plus 12 credits at the university establish the major (45 credits) in Massage Therapy. Wow-  A bachelor’s degree in Massage Therapy.


For more information on a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Massage Therapy from Siena Heights University, please visit

Since a bachelor’s degree is 120 credits, the other 75 credits are completed as follows:


30 credits need to be completed at the university. Sienna Height University offers some minors such as health care management that are an excellent fit for completing the 30 credits.  


This leaves 45 credits to complete in a variety of ways including transfer credit from associates degrees described above or equivalent college level learning. The most cost effect way to do this is to take advantage of your local community college offerings.  I suggest you contact a Sienna Height Advisor for specific evaluation of your educational history. If you are lacking college level transfer credits, the advisor will recommendation how you can either complete an associate’s degree with Sienna Heights University or use the resources at your local community college which will be more cost effective. They will also explain how credit for prior learning outside of a college is evaluated.



So here are the steps reviewed:


1.  Choose a quality entry level education and become licensed.

2.  Gain experience and additional education in massage to become Board Certified

3.  Consider if an academic degree will be a value to you.


The only step that is legally mandated is licensing. The rest of your career journey is up to you. What I have outlined in this blog is more cost effective and efficient that how I did it. I am thrilled that the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork’s Board Certification and Sienna Heights University’s long history of awarding a Bachelor’s of Applied Science degree are available to smooth the path for you on your career journey.


PS: You can complete your degree ONLINE—how cool is that!


NEW: U.S. News and World Report recognized Siena Heights University in its 2014 Best Online Bachelor's Programs rankings, which was published Jan. 8. SHU's Distance Learning Program was one of only 12 Michigan colleges and universities to make the national list, and one of only four private Michigan institutions ranked. SHU has offered online bachelor's degree programs since 2004. 

Bachelor of Applied Science Degree from Siena Heights University

The Bachelor of Applied Science Degree (BAS) is a career-oriented degree designed for professionals with allied health or technical training, Associate of Applied Science Degrees or graduates of two-year occupational programs. The BAS Degree is structured as an individually designed degree program around the major or certification already completed. For more information on BAS degrees from Siena Heights University, please visit

For any additional information on Siena Heights University, please visit

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