A recent MASSAGE Magazine reader survey identified several common concerns regarding the massage therapy profession.
These concerns include a perception of substandard education in massage schools—resulting in poorly trained, unqualified massage therapists in practice; low wages paid to massage therapy and bodywork professionals; and the proliferation of cut-rate spas. Readers also cited concern regarding the lack of knowledge of the benefits of massage on the part of the general public.
The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE) was founded eight years ago with a goal of raising educational standards in massage therapy and bodywork by better educating our educators—a solution that the organization’s leaders believe is central to addressing concerns such as these.
U.S. massage schools have traditionally relied on skilled massage therapists to guide their classrooms. Missing from this approach have been fundamental tenets of adult education, as well as other skills related to being an educator.
“I first taught at Desert Institute of the Healing Arts in 1988, a time before industry-specific textbooks or other materials,” recalled Julie Goodwin, 2016 AFMTE Teacher of the Year. “Faculties were composed of skilled, dedicated massage therapists who had no background or training in basic concepts of adult education, creating lesson plans, utilizing different formats for presenting content, and test question writing or other evaluation methods.
“In years since, I have taught at four other massage schools and an acupuncture school, and have found that evolving administrative efforts to provide teacher-training workshops have resulted in only sporadic improvement in that situation,” added Goodwin, who is currently a massage continuing education provider and author of Touch & Movement: Palpation and Kinesiology for Massage Therapists.
“Mastery of technique and layered knowledge of a subject do not create the capability to teach it effectively,” she added.
Heightened massage therapy education and training standards will include highly qualified and well-prepared teachers. Such teachers will be more effective, and massage programs will graduate well-educated massage and bodywork practitioners who will perform better-quality massages—and who could therefore command higher pay.
With regulations pertaining to adult education qualifications inconsistent or lacking, it is time for the massage field to implement standards for our educators.
“Some states don’t have regulations or requirements about faculty qualifications, which can open the door to inexperienced instructors coming in,” explained Dawn Hogue, C.M.T., who is director and an instructor at Cayce/Reilly School of Massotherapy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and chairperson of the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation.
“Sometimes administrators have an immediate need, so they select someone based on availability rather than skill or experience,” Hogue added.
Advocate for Massage Therapy Education & Training
AFMTE was formed in August 2009 by a group of massage educators who decided to create an independent association for the education sector.
AFMTE supports schools, teachers, and continuing education providers by offering education resources, massage continuing education listings and announcements, networking opportunities, job listings, marketing support, and other services that support the professional development and financial well-being of our members.
Government relations and lobbying, centralized registration, and relationships with other organizations help us advocate on behalf of massage educators and practitioners.
AFMTE is active with the Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations (AFMTE, American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, Massage Therapy Foundation and Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation) and the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health to advocate on behalf of massage therapy and bodywork educators. AFMTE has also been diligently working to support increased collaboration between the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards.
AFMTE’s work on the National Teacher Education Standards Project, a teacher certification process, and its Educational Congress are aimed directly at the goal of elevating education standards.
Standards & Certification
AFMTE published the National Teacher Education Standards Project Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teachers in 2013. This document identifies 10 standards, each of which describes the knowledge, skills and attitudes that form the basis for effective and successful teaching.
The National Teacher Training Curriculum Development Committee, a committee within AFMTE, is designing a template for a model teacher-training curriculum, which is intended to be used in the evaluation of existing and future massage educator training courses to determine if all Core Competencies are covered in the training course.
The objectives for each course will be mapped to the Core Competencies, and this document, which is in its final stages of completion, will be forthcoming early in 2017.
“The Core Competencies give guidelines and criteria about what expectations and standards are required to teach adult education—and, specifically, hands-on and somatic education, so they support instructors in knowing what they need to know—how adults learn and integrate information, how attitude influences the delivery of information, and how to engage students in experiential learning,” Hogue explained.
“Without a roadmap such as what the competencies provide, instructors are lost in how to teach their information, not just knowing their information,” Hogue added. “The competencies also provide levels of growth and development to further enhance and build on instructional skills, so they provide a guide for improvement.”
AFMTE has been refining its National Teacher Education Standards Project, which guides and informs effective teaching of students and professionals. This work has led to current efforts to establish a process for credentialing massage therapy and bodywork teachers in entry-level programs and post-graduate studies.
As part of the National Teacher Education Standards Project, the National Teacher Training Curriculum Development Committee completed an Assessment Table for Standard One and is designing an Assessment Handbook that explores different types of assessment.
That committee is also finalizing AFMTE’s Teacher Training Program Curriculum Template, which all individuals and institutions that train teachers can use to verify their programs are covering all of the Core Competencies.
“I see the Core Competencies project as a pivotal step toward meeting the tremendous need for development and adoption of industry-wide standards for teacher training, certification and evaluation,” said Goodwin. “Comprehensive guidelines such as the Core Competencies ensure consistency in curriculum and teaching standards, and adherence to industry-wide standards that can lift the profession as a whole.” The Certification Process Committee is also a part of the National Teacher Education Standards Project. It was established as a subcommittee to the Professional Standards Committee with a mandate of creating a teacher certification program.
This committee is responsible for the design and implementation of Phase IV of the National Teacher Educational Standards Project. This committee is also creating a portfolio review process to enable seasoned teachers and massage continuing education providers to attain teacher certification based on their current experience. A pathway to certification for entry-level educators and massage continuing education providers is also being designed.
Honoring excellence in massage therapy education and training is part of raising education standards. AFMTE, Biofreeze and Bon Vital’ established the Educator of the Year Awards; one for a teacher in a school setting and one for a continuing education provider. These awards foster a culture that supports raising the standards of excellence in massage and bodywork education.
The recipients are chosen based on their experience, teacher training taken, and how well they meet the Core Competency Standards.
“As an instructor in a community college-based massage therapy program, I cross-check my slide presentations, lectures, handouts, and written and experiential testing methods with the Core Competencies to ensure that our graduates are fully qualified to pass any credentialing exam and to become licensed in any jurisdiction,” Goodwin said.
AFMTE’s leadership believes professional networking among various sectors of the massage industry is imperative for the advanced professionalization of massage. The mission for the biennial Educational Congress is to foster dialogue, inquiry and creative problem-solving between and among organizations and individuals involved in massage therapy and bodywork education.
AFMTE’s Educational Congress provides opportunities to become informed about critical issues affecting the massage therapy industry, fostering information sharing and networking. These also feature educational sessions designed to enhance participants’ teaching skills.
Organizations are encouraged to hold board meetings, report to the Congress on their current status and projects, and receive public comment and feedback.
The theme of the 2017 Educational Congress, which will be held in Tucson, Arizona, July 26–30, is “Elevating Standards of Excellence.” The intention is to gather a critical mass of educators and facilitate co-location of meeting space for various organizations to gather and collaborate. Leaders in this industry are encouraged to distinguish themselves and their organizations by supporting educational excellence within the profession.
AFMTE is also working to improve the educational standards of the massage therapy field by providing educational opportunities and resources to support member schools, teachers and continuing education providers in their implementation of teaching standards.
The Teacher Resource Development Committee has assembled and continually updates a list of resources—articles, books, websites and training courses—for educators to learn more about how to improve their teaching skills and to assist those who wish to design teacher training programs that would qualify graduates to sit for the teacher certification exam.
Educator resources include both live and online teacher-certification courses, descriptions and links for educational support products posted on our website, and information about the National Teacher Education Standards Project Core Competencies and Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge projects.
AFMTE strives to strengthen and improve massage therapy and bodywork education by providing information and educational opportunities to institutions, administrators, teachers and continuing education providers and improving access to high-quality continuing education opportunities.
The number of continuing education listings continues to grow as AFMTE’s membership does, and these educational opportunities are announced in the monthly newsletter, as well as on the website.
AFMTE is still a fairly new organization. Just two years from its inception, AFMTE was recognized as a major industry stakeholder, alongside the other member organizations of the Coalition of National Massage Therapy Organizations.
AFMTE is a forum for fellowship, fun, support and networking among its members, as well as among the members of the massage therapy and bodywork community more generally. Many people are interested in getting involved in creating a culture of excellence in massage therapy and bodywork education and are looking for the best ways to donate their time and energy.
AFMTE offers five main ways for you to take an active part in re-shaping massage and bodywork education: become a member; apply to volunteer on a board or committee, or as a committee chair; attend the 2017 Educational Congress; become a sponsor of the Educational Congress or a global corporate sponsor; or apply for a 2017 Educator of the Year Award.
United, we can all make a difference. United, we have a strong voice. United, we will create a culture of excellence in massage therapy and bodywork education.
About the Author
Naomi Oliviae, Ph.D., is the virtual assistant for AFMTE, as well as an independent marketing consultant and website designer for massage therapists. She has been working with massage therapists and bodyworkers since 2012, including in the past as CTO with Massamio, as well as presently with Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy Inc. She also has a background as an educator teaching political science and gender studies courses at the University of Arizona.