Educating Massage Instructors: Part I, MASSAGE Magazine

The massage industry has grown so rapidly over the last 10 years and schools have been popping up everywhere. Years ago, you used to travel more than an hour to get to a school; now, you can find four or more in one city. This is amazing, and it shows us how our profession is booming.

The issue I see, however, is the quality of the instructor may be in question. I have taught in schools across the nation, been a program director, school owner and curriculum writer, and I can personally attest that many of these schools are facing the challenge of finding qualified instructors.

Do you think you can teach? Well, you may have a passion for sharing your knowledge and you may know how to give a great massage, but it takes many skills to effectively communicate and provide students with the tools necessary to learn the material to pass their exams.

Recently, I conducted a national survey to massage therapists and one of the questions asked was: Do you think individuals need training to teach in a massage program?

Eighty-seven percent said “yes.” Many of the individual comments stated they felt their instructors were nice and caring, but did not have the necessary skills to present the material. They felt that potential massage or anatomy instructors should take formal training and learn creative styles for teaching the information. The remaining respondents felt if someone had a background in teaching, it might not be necessary to take an additional course. While this may be true, I have also seen experienced teachers from the traditional school system find it challenging to engage with the issues that present itself while teaching massage therapy.

Massage has a way of opening individuals up so that they go through a healing process. Often, the school owners and administrators are not even aware that this is part of the process.

In one school, I was asked to take over a “problem class.” The class was large in my opinion, and many students were exhibiting angry and frustrated behaviors. When I asked them to come to circle and gave them an hour to voice their concerns, problems or suggestions, they poured out a huge amount of emotions. The school was not equipped nor did it address many of the issues and topics these students were dealing with at the time. Once they were heard, they were able to focus on their training—and periodically I would check in to make sure more concerns were not festering.

Due to the lack of qualified instructors, many schools hire individuals right out of massage school and put them in a classroom by themselves. Often, the new instructor only reads from a book or fumbles through the lesson plan. I have heard hundreds of students express their concerns and complaints. They pay a substantial amount of money for their training and expect to have a qualified person teaching them.

How do I know this? Because I was asked to teach a topic for a class at a massage school that I felt I was not qualified to instruct. Even though I had been teaching for 18 years, I only taught bodywork-related classes. I received several phone calls to accept the position to take over an anatomy-and-physiology class. Finally, I agreed to fill in as a substitute while they searched for another candidate.

Since I happen to be very conscientious and wanted to provide a quality education for my students, I spent hours every day studying and creating PowerPoint presentations, finding interactive websites, creating fun games, making clay models to learn the muscles, etc. I was honest with the class about my inadequate experience and hoped that I could do my best. Fortunately, we got through it together successfully.

Obviously, the school never found another replacement. These cases don’t always work out this way. When I was no longer at this school, the next anatomy-and-physiology instructor only read from the book. I had students call me and complain. Unfortunately, I was not the one who could do anything about this situation and they needed to address it with the staff. Sadly, they did not get anywhere.

So if you are a massage instructor or want to be one, I highly suggest you get receive formal training. It is not quite as easy as it may appear to hold a space for students that are also processing their own emotional issues and concerns. There are many factors to consider when preparing for your class, managing it and dealing with impromptu situations.

I hope you will join me for a series of articles that might help you understand how to be an effective massage instructor.

Gloria Coppola, MASSAGE MagazineGloria Coppola, L.M.B.T., owner of Massage Pro C.E., is a former massage school owner and curriculum developer. Coppola and her colleague Robin Fann created two programs for individuals interested in teaching massage. You can reach them at massageproce@gmail.com or visit www.MassageProCE.com.

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