From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Roundtable Discussion: Trends in Massage Education,” by various authors, in the December 2009 issue. Article summary: MASSAGE Magazine spoke with educators, schools administrators, continuing education workshop providers and industry experts from all throughout the U.S. to take the pulse of massage education in America today.

Students are Growing Younger
by Lisa Santoro, L.M.T.

In almost a decade of teaching, I now see the median age of students in the 20s vs. the 30s and older. Frequently massage training was a second or third career for students, with many starting from some aspect of the medical profession. Our younger students are coming into the program right out of high school, or having just finished undergraduate degrees.

Our profession is growing so quickly! The challenge of having younger students is teaching professionalism, if they have not yet been in a corporate setting. How does a professional dress? What kind of training can we provide to our younger students to help them feel comfortable and confident in discussing intimate health details with a 60- or 70-year-old client? Are they well spoken and mature enough to speak to other members of a health-care team? In the spa employment setting, can they present themselves in a professional and therapeutic manner to self-market to spa customers receiving other services?

Prospective students would be wise to investigate a potential massage-school training program for some type of professionalism or business courses to prepare them well in these areas. The fresh ideas of the younger, savvy population are driving forces, such as technology and social networking potential, in doing business.

We are truly attempting to address all the things a student needs to know to be fully prepared and employable upon graduation. It is extremely gratifying to be able to teach subjects like research literacy, pathology of special populations or conditions, and a broader spectrum of business management due to the expansion of our field at large.

There is so much available to massage therapists, and this is only going to grow as graduates make inroads into formerly unchartered territories. I remember gnashing my teeth through learning about the finer aspects of the cell and how it works. “Why do I need to know this?” I wondered. As research backs up our profession, I can now teach very specifically to students on why and how certain massage techniques work or are contraindicated based on what could be happening on the cellular level.

Dissection DVDs, information from the International Fascia Research Congress and the published work of such practitioners as Tom Myers, Erik Dalton and Ben Benjamin have added a degree of specificity to technique and therapeutic outcomes. Articles and books by these practitioners and others add an enlightening aspect to teaching.

—Lisa Santoro is a licensed massage therapist and a Cortiva–Boston instructor.

Education is Better Today
by Lauri Howell

What needs to change or be different regarding massage education? It would be helpful to have more emphasis placed upon integrating massage therapists as bearers of healing modalities in the medical field rather than as spa workers. An additional emphasis upon the history of massage and the wide variety of methods would also be helpful.

Today’s massage education is better than it was five or 10 years ago, because there are more topics in Asian massage available and a better curriculum in Western sciences.

—Lauri Howell is director of public relations/advertising for Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.

We Need to Raise the Bar on Education
by James Waslaski

It bothers me when a student takes a single workshop in medical massage for three to five days and then considers himself an expert in that all-encompassing field.

We need to raise the bar on some of the basic massage-education formats. It bothers me when some instructors, at the basic and advanced levels, teach trigger-point classes by starting the client face down, and treat weak, inhibited muscles, such as the rhomboids, before first lengthening the anterior chest, shoulder and neck muscles.
I think all curriculums of massage could focus more on bringing the body back into balance. We should also expose our students to multiple disciplines to give them better career choices. Our industry should better define medical massage. It seems to be one of the most confusing terms out there.

My greatest concern regarding massage education is that all states should require hands-on continuing education. The evolution of this great work should be enhanced in all areas—visual, kinesthetic and auditory, with emphasis on kinesthetic training.

I think more people are taking advanced training than ever before. We will always need a great, relaxing massage, and I emphasize that we never sacrifice intuition for science. However, today’s students are less likely to specialize in just one modality. Today’s students are learning the importance of assessment, multidisciplinary treatment and client self-care. We are also getting more students with learning challenges, and educators need to be good at catering to various learning styles. It is critical to combine auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning to cater to individual learning styles and challenges.

Great teachers are using incredible multimedia presentations to cater to these various learning styles. We have programs, such as primal pictures, that can be projected onto a large screen, where you actually look inside the human body. We can flash human dissections and three-dimensional functional anatomy onto a large screen to enhance visual learning during hands-on training.

Top educators in specialized areas are telling their students to take other modalities. But the greatest change is top educators are combining multiple modalities in their presentations for better therapeutic outcomes. The use of LCD projectors and incredible computer-animated programs has made learning so much easier and more enjoyable. Magazines and textbooks are using incredible computer graphics to look inside the human body to show the underlying pathology of various soft-tissue conditions. We are stressing the importance of matching the appropriate modality or technique to each specific clinical condition, for optimal results. We are teaching therapist and client self-care programs.

On a personal note, leading massage educators are realizing how important it is to combine specialties. Whether we call our advanced work medical massage, clinical massage or therapeutic massage, the bigger your tool box, the better your results.

Top educators are teaching retreats in other countries and at healing centers throughout the country to encourage students to combine different modalities. Every time I teach with Paul St. John, Aaron Mattes, George Kousaleos or Erik Dalton, I shift my own mindset. I see great teachers teaching with each other not for their own sake, but more for the sake of synergy than anything else.

My final statement is all educators and students need to be focused on the importance of combining science with intuition, compassion and intention, and to always be present during therapy. You cannot separate the physical being from the spiritual and emotional being. Never give up intuition for science.

—James Waslaski is director of The Center for Pain Management.

Advanced Training is Necessary
by Jean Shea

Massage education is certainly more diverse today, as exemplified by such specialties as medical massage therapy. Also, there is more state regulation than before, so there are more requirements for continuing education. The recent announcement from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork about an advanced certification exam will help take the profession to the next level through advanced training.

Students see the value of continuing education and are willing to invest more time and money to attain it. Not only is education more accessible through online courses and home study, but students are taking advantage of the increase in destination seminars, such as yoga in Bali, myoskeletal alignment in Costa Rica and lomi lomi in Hawaii.

—Jean Shea is the founder and CEO of BIOTONE.

Today’s New Massage Therapy is More Marketable and Competent
by Charles Wiltsie, L.M.T.

An emerging trend in massage education is distance learning. While this is not completely new, it has always been challenging because it’s hard to test proficiency from a distance.

Lypossage, a massage modality I developed, is a case in point. The class has lecture, audience participation and a lot of hands-on activity. At the end of class, a written test is taken, then hands-on proficiency is tested. Only recently have we figured out how to do a class like this as a distance learning experience. In a continuing education class of this type, how can proficiency be tested from afar?

The answer is testing sites with those experienced in the technique; in the case of Lypossage, Lypotherapists. For other hands-on style classes, particularly in traditional massage therapy programs, testing can be done at testing sites with people qualified to test. This is done at the university level in such areas a nursing, where proficiency in practical skills is tested at testing locations.

The market now demands distance learning because there is less money to be spent, by continuing education students, on travel and hotels for on-site training. But massage therapy often requires hands-on proficiency testing; therefore, by creating testing sites continuing education providers and massage schools can keep costs down for the student and, at the same time, deliver a quality educational experience.

As the former program director at Branford Hall Career Institute’s 1,100-hour massage-therapy program and advisory board member and former instructor at the same school, I can say with surety that education has improved. Not only have the hours increased (at good massage schools), such classes as kinesiology, assessments and special populations and medical terminology are making students ready to integrate into the health-services market. Because of these improvements, new massage therapy graduates are finding work in hospitals and are getting more doctor-referral business.

Increased hours, state licensing along with increased regulation and continuing education requirements—and in some places, associate’s degree programs in massage therapy and solid science—make the new massage therapist more marketable and competent.

—Charles Wiltsie, L.M.T., is managing partner in Lypossage esthetiques.

Massage is Becoming Part of Mainstream Health Care
by Corrine Mollet

In recent years, there has been a transition of massage therapy from a superfluous treatment to a genuine complementary medical treatment for many conditions. This increasing integration into mainstream health care has created the development of massage therapists working with health-care providers to provide patients with a full spectrum of care.

To meet this need, massage education has emerged into teaching therapists how to address specific conditions with the use of different modalities. Today’s massage students are learning a diverse style of treatments, from trigger-point therapy to prenatal massage. The continuing education courses available today are increasingly more comprehensive than in the past. Massage educators, in schools and who teach continuing education, have to raise the standards of education to ensure massage therapists are qualified to be a part of a patient’s medical team instead of being on the sideline.

Many massage therapists who have been practicing for 10-plus years, as well as those who are just beginning, have been waiting for this emergence of massage and bodywork into mainstream health care. This is exciting for us. The massage therapy profession is continuing to gain credibility, and I only see it improving in the future.

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) does an exceptional job setting standards for initial certification and recertification. I hope, in the future, states will require therapists to keep their national certification current and adopt the NCBTMB’s initial education and continuing education requirements.

—Corrine Mollet founded the Center for Massage Therapy Continuing Education.