As a massage therapist, you may have found yourself wondering how to become a massage instructor.

Seasoned educators are often questioned about how one becomes a teacher; and the answer that follows is, “It depends.” Becoming an employed massage instructor depends on your personality, abilities and knowledge; your location; and the subject you want to teach.


Do You Know How to Teach?

Not every phenomenally skilled massage therapist makes a great teacher, just as anyone with a specific degree or training might not make a great teacher. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Given the current changes in learner demographics, Lewis’ quote is a reminder that a teacher cultivates and assists in the growth of a generation of new massage therapists.

The current changes are typical of millennial learners. Examples include an increased demand for technology, increased numbers of dependent students compared to independent students, increased use of simulation and clinical practicums, variety of learning system platforms, delivery methods for students that are less focused, increased number of English Second Language (ESL) students and increased cultural differences.

To become a good teacher, your desire to teach needs to be parallel to your ability to motivate students and adapt your teaching strategies. Teaching is a balance of compassion for the learner and responsibility for the safety of the public. An effective massage therapy instructor must have patience, motivational skills, empathy—and, above all, be approachable. The teacher is the massage therapy professional from which massage students obtain their first impression about appropriate therapist behaviors, including adaptability, honesty, integrity, confidentiality, client-centered care, language, punctuality and quality of work. What the teacher imprints on the student can have lasting effects.

One common misconception is that massage teachers only need an in-depth understanding of massage therapy techniques. On the contrary; teachers need to know about building a lesson plan that both transfers knowledge and engages students. This requires a basic understanding of learner psychology, learning styles, methodologies or delivery methods, objectives, assessments and remediation cycles.


united states map

Are You Qualified to Teach Massage?

Once you have completed a self-assessment to identify your own qualities, identify the requisite credentials for massage therapy teachers. The first question you should answer is, “Where would I like to teach massage?”

Location is a key to investigating instructor requirements. Most states have individualized specifications as to the qualifications of a massage therapy instructor, such as additional required state licensure for entry-level massage therapy educators or continuing educator providers, or Board Certification from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. Experience requirements can range from two to five years of documented teaching experience, depending on the state. It is important that you investigate and find the requirements posted in your chosen state’s massage practice act, department of education standards or licensing entity. Contact your state massage therapy board for complete information.

Next, investigate individual schools’ requirements for their instructors by inquiring with the human resources department at each school. Depending on the standards of the approving state body or accreditation organization, massage therapists may require additional education, training and mentorship to become instructors. Some schools only require a massage therapy certificate, while others may require an advanced degree dependent on content or subject matter, such as anatomy, physiology, business applications, kinesiology or pathology.


Pathways to a Teaching Career

After you have researched all the foundational requirements for teaching, there are three common pathways to gaining access to teaching skills:

  • On-the-job training
  • Professional development courses
  • Formal training via accredited colleges or universities

There is no right or wrong pathway; each should be valued equally. Choose the pathways that best meet the requirements of your desired job.


On-the-Job Training

On-the-job training encompasses an apprenticeship style of learning in which massage therapists learn by observing, assisting and emulating their mentor. This is an informal route from teaching assistant to instructor once the institution has determined you have obtained the desired skill set.


professional development

Professional Development

The next option is obtaining a diverse skill set through professional development courses such as continuing education, seminars, conventions, reading or coursework. As a potential teacher, you should verify credentials or experience of those teaching the professional developmental courses.

Great resources for teachers include social media support groups such as EdNet on Facebook; organizations such as the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), state or national associations, and the Massage Therapy Foundation. The AFMTE has published a set of competencies that outline ideal skill sets and knowledge for massage therapy educators.


Formal Teacher Training

The last, most formal option is enrollment in and completion of an accredited educator-training program. University- or college-based programs range from certificate programs to doctorates in philosophy for a given subject. There are many specialties to choose from, such as curriculum design, post-secondary administration, instructional design and learner psychology. Many other degrees may qualify depending on the content area, such as business, nursing, biology or chemistry.

Whether you are called a teacher, educator, instructor, supervisor, mentor, preceptor or tutor, by choosing this career path you will take on a powerful role in shaping the profession of massage therapy.


About the Author

Brent Jackson, L.M.T., is the academic program manager for massage therapy at Central Carolina Technical College. He is a pioneer in hospital-based, clinical practicum for massage therapy students in South Carolina. In the massage program, he incorporated four acute-care facilities and additional long-term care facilities, which include inpatient and outpatient massage training for students. He is the 2016 Recipient of the South Carolina Technical Education Association Teacher of the Year award.