If one were to create a recipe for high-quality massage education, dedication, heart and passion would surely be key ingredients—but they alone will not result in a concoction that will fully feed the hands and minds of today’s massage students—who are, after all, the massage therapists of the future.
Other ingredients that must be added to the mix, according to experienced massage educators, include principles that, together, create competence in the classroom.
Core Competencies in Massage Education
The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), a group founded in 2009 by massage schools, educators and industry partners, charged the members of its Professional Standards Committee with creating a document outlining 10 core competencies for massage therapy teachers, as one component of its National Teacher Education Standards Project. That document was released to the public in early 2013.
The AFMTE’s core competencies are: learner development and well-being; learning differences and integrative approaches; learning environments; content knowledge; application of content; planning for instruction; instructional strategies and delivery; observation and assessment; professional development and ethical conduct; and collaboration.
Few massage schools or instructors have implemented any of the standards yet, AFMTE President Pete Whitridge, L.M.T., told MASSAGE Magazine, and Whitridge estimated it will take another five years, at least, before teacher training and a voluntary massage-educator certification program, which the core competencies will be baked into, will begin.
Yet, the AFMTE and affiliates are not waiting to acknowledge massage instructors who embody at least some of the core competencies in their teaching. Each year, the Educator of the Year Award, sponsored by the AFMTE, Biofreeze and Bon Vital’, honors two instructors—one teacher who instructs students at a massage school and one provider of continuing education. Past award recipients were David Lauterstein and Elaine Stillerman, L.M.T., in 2013; and Cate Miller, L.M.T., and Whitney Lowe, L.M.T., in 2014.
The 2015 Educators of the Year are Juliebeth Mezzy, C.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., N.B.C.R., A.A.E.D., in the category of teacher; and Ariana Vincent, L.M.T., M.T.I., B.C.T.M.B., in the category of continuing education provider.
“[Mezzy’s] teaching skills and commitment to education are outstanding,” Whitridge told MASSAGE Magazine, and “[Vincent] has really worked to provide excellence in continuing education modules and correspondence courses and live courses.”
According to a statement from the AFMTE, the Educator of the Year award “honors excellence in massage and bodywork education and serves to 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.”
In 1991, Mezzy entered the massage field to learn a stress-relieving leisure activity. She was working as a professional photographer, a career she described as rife with deadlines and complaints from clients and coworkers. When she began learning massage, she said, she was struck by the feeling of peace and nurturance it created within her, and how it dovetailed with interests she had already developed.
“I was always very interested in the human body, lines and movement, and I was also interested in fitness and training—so I thought massage would be a fun hobby,” Mezzy said. “I never in a million years thought about doing it as a full-time career or living.”
Since she took her first massage class, Mezzy has earned certification as a massage therapist and reflexologist; national certification as a reflexologist; and educator accreditation through the American Commission for Accreditation of Reflexology and Training. She maintains a private practice and taught reflexology for 14 years. She also serves on the AFMTE’s Professional Standards Committee. (Educator of the Year applications were judged blindly.)
Mezzy has taught reflexology, palpation lab and chair massage at the Cayce/Reilly School of Massage in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she has been an instructor since 2000.
To Mezzy, being an educator feels like an extension of her work as a therapist. “Providing massage therapy is about teaching the client, it’s all about educating them [about] their bodies,” she said. “Being an educator is kind of the same thing, in that it inspires students to be the best they can be.”
Growing up in a family that included doctors, nurses and teachers, choosing a health care profession such as massage therapy seemed like “a natural flow,” said Vincent, who entered the massage field in 1981. “I felt drawn to the healing arts from a very young age,” she added.
Vincent is CEO and founder of the Ariana Institute, in Austin, Texas, which offers in-person and online continuing education courses. Vincent began offering massage therapy continuing education in 1999. A unique component of Vincent’s education is a 30-hour course focused on training massage therapy instructors, rooted in learning strategies and theories, understanding how to present classroom activities, lesson planning, mindfulness, assessments and classroom technology, among other topics.
“I feel that education is of tantamount importance, and specialized training is optimal in order to increase the quality of education in the massage profession,” Vincent told MASSAGE Magazine. “I wish I had a massage therapy instructor’s course when I first began teaching 16 years ago.”
To Vincent, the most rewarding aspect of being a massage educator comes when she hears from former students who are doing well in their chosen career path of massage therapy.
“I love receiving testimonials about the value of their massage therapy education,” Vincent said. “It expands my heart when I hear that my students are happy and successful.”
What’s Cooking for Massage Education
The AFMTE’s Professional Standards Committee is now working toward creation of a model teacher-training curriculum. Whitridge said the committee has created standards that it will present at the AFMTE’s 2015 Educational Congress, to be held July 21–28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“We’ll get feedback from folks at the conference on how it all reads to them, and the team will go back and flesh out the standards,” Whitridge said. “The team will work for the next six months and then probably in January 2016 they’ll provide a call for comment.”
The congress, which was last held in 2013, is being co-sponsored this year by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, which accredits massage educational institutions and programs, and which Whitridge said will begin using the core competencies for massage therapy teachers as a component of its school accreditation standards in two to three years.
Even while all these plans are stirring, across the nation dedicated instructors continue to stand in front of the classroom and create educational materials, as they engage in the challenging work of teaching the massage therapists of the future.
Vincent and Mezzy both said they remain excited and inspired by their work.
Vincent said the most exciting aspect of the massage profession today compared with when she began is the evolution of technology—particularly the Internet and the professional connectivity it provides.
“The access to knowledge that contemporary therapists have is astounding, [and] I love being part of a high-tech, high-touch community focused on doing what is best for the world around them,” Vincent said.
For Mezzy, being a massage instructor brings priceless reward. “If I had to pick right now, I would choose teaching over seeing clients, because I like inspiring students more,” Mezzy said. “I make more money seeing clients, and you’d think you might go where the money goes—but I really, really enjoy sharing my knowledge with the students.”
When creating a high-quality massage education, dedication, heart and passion are surely key ingredients—and when they are combined with core educational competencies, the result is a recipe for the massage field’s future success.
About the Author
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. She has edited and written for additional publications and organizations, including Imagine Magazine, the Sacramento Bee newspaper and the LIVESTRONG Foundation.