Sunday, March 30, 2014



The foundation of the future of massage therapy is the quality of our education today. I wonder how many would agree that the educational structure for future massage therapists is, well, a mess. One definition of a “mess” is a chaotic and confused situation. Chaotic and confused describes massage education right now. I am confident that this mess is actually an opportunity because we can’t ignore it anymore.  There are three components that all work together for a quality education: a solid curriculum, skilled teachers and committed students.

As a textbook author, I have had the opportunity to communicate with many massage therapy program directors and teachers. I rarely find a teacher or school/program director that wants to deliver inadequate massage education. More commonly, school/program directors are confused about what to teach and have a difficult time finding qualified teachers.

The curriculum is the easy part. Schools do not differentiate themselves by curriculum. All massage therapy instructional programs should be teaching a very similar curriculum. Schools display excellence through effective teaching of the curriculum. What to present in a massage curriculum is clearer now than ever before. Check it out yourself:


Another shift in the education of massage therapists in the U.S. is a change from information-based education to competency-based education. An information-based curriculum is limited since it focuses on factual content. Professional competencies are the measurable skills and abilities that identify successful massage practice. Curriculum should be competency based. Unfortunately, the tests that are used for licensing in the U.S. are based on a factual knowledge model, which then forces a school to educate in a fact-based way, since schools are measured both by accrediting bodies and state regulators on the percentage of students who pass licensing exams.

Competencies are the demonstration of application from the information received. Competencies are actually very concrete. Either the students can do what is required or they cannot. The idea of competency is not new and it is time for the U.S. massage community to adopt this method to determine the student’s ability to practice massage

However, here is a messy part: changing the curriculum. It is not as simple as it seems. If a school is accredited, a curriculum change can be considered a substantive change requiring both a time and financial commitment to the accrediting body. There currently are schools that want to make the updates but are waiting until their next accreditation cycle to avoid the hassle and cost. There are similar requirements for the school’s state licensing process.

Changing curriculum requires changing lesson plans, changing exams, retraining of teachers, changing program schedules, and the list goes on. This is hard enough for a single program massage school. I know since I have owned a massage school for 28 years. Can you imagine the mess in a multi-campus educational structure?  Regardless of the mess, we have to make these changes. It is hard, but those that manage massage therapy educational programs have to make the hard decisions and deal with the conflict and frustration of change. I have done this multiple time and it is not fun. However, we as educators owe a quality education to those who seek us out to learn.  An effective competency based curriculum can be built using professionally created textbooks, lesson plans, presentation material and online support.

Once you have the curriculum in place, then you need the teacher. As previously stated, all educational programs for massage therapy should be teaching the same foundational curriculum. The way a school differentiates itself is how well the teachers are able to teach the information and that requires committed quality teachers. The availability of massage teachers that are aware of the most current information about massage and can effectively deliver that information in the classroom is limited. Those that commit to teaching massage therapists have little support right now and that adds to the mess. Fortunately the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education is committed to addressing these issues.

What makes a skilled massage therapy teacher? They have to know the material. They need to be able to pass the same texts the student will pass. Anatomy teachers need to understand massage and massages teacher need to understand anatomy and physiology. Teachers need to remain current. It is inexcusable for educator to present dated and inaccurate information. Teacher have to confidentiality teach the school curriculum –not what they think is correct and very likely different than the way they learned. Schools and program directors must not allow inaccurate information in the classroom and they also need to provide ongoing educational opportunities for teachers. Finally, school management must provide support for the teachers in the form of supplies, equipment, textbooks and reference material, and now electronic based learning systems.

Competency is based on experience. Experienced massage therapists should be the foundation of the instructor pool. However, these same experienced individuals must not allow their personal opinions to bias their teaching. One of the biggest problems school directors face is a teacher who will not support the curriculum. Yes, part of massage practice is an art but that art is based on the science. I listen over and over to program directors as they describe how a teacher creates confused and frustrated student because they will not present the curriculum as developed, or they disagree in the classroom with information presented by other teachers.

Just like business is business—teaching is teaching. There are skills needed to be a teacher. If we are going to rely on experienced massage therapists to be the foundation of the instructor pool, then we also need to teach them how to teach and how to use the resources available to them. Schools owners, program directors and the corporate executives must be committed to teacher training.

Teacher turnover at many schools is a huge problem. Schools invest in training teachers and then they quit. There are excuses for quitting. The most common I hear is low pay. Committed and quality teacher will always be underpaid because they go beyond the “job description”. Poor teachers are always overpaid. Teaching is path of service. However, teachers need to be compensated enough so they can continue to teach. The other reason that teacher quit teaching is inability to manage the student dynamics. Screening of potential students for the necessary motivation and commitment to learning can go contrary to the push for enrollment numbers by administration. The teacher in the trenches gets put in the middle and this is disheartening. My hope is the tightening of financial aid requirements will pressure school administrators to better screen potential students.  I am not against financial aid programs however, there is definitely abuse of the system and I support the federal government’s attempt to prevent schools from allowing student to accumulate unrealistic debt loads.

I also support those schools that commit to student self-pay and do not participate in federal financial aid.  I have been able to maintain tuition costs at my school at a level where students can pay out of pocket and graduate debt free owning their education.   Financial aid using government programs can be a trap for both the school and the student.  I believe that self-pay for education supports self-selection of committed students.   I also believe that students that are paying out of pocket for education have the right to demand quality education resulting in the potential for increased proficiency of the school administration and teaching staff. 

I also encourage students to demand a quality education regardless of the massage therapy school they attend, whether they use financial aid or pay out of pocket.  Do not settle for mediocre. Your future as a successful massage therapist depends on the foundation of your entry level education.