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Massage Today
January, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 01

Quality Education Programs Benefit More Than Students

By Gail Frei, LMT, NCTMB Tiffany Field, PhD

I have worked in massage education for nearly 10 years and have always tried to provide professional training in a fun learning environment. Unfortunately, "fun" is often confused with "lax," and the serious aspect of a high-quality training program is lost to the students.

Often, students unwittingly compromise their education with a casual attitude (promoted by the "laid-back" image of massage) and fail to derive the full benefit of their training when they arrive late, leave class early, show up unprepared, or do not show up at all. Many schools have standards that may or may not be enforced, especially since a stricter approach can affect enrollment - and schools are profit-driven. Nonetheless, schools have a responsibility to uphold and enforce higher educational standards.

As massage therapists and educators, we can help potential students find quality massage programs by educating them on what to look for when choosing a school. Serious students who demand quality education will become massage therapists dedicated to upholding standards of integrity within the profession. Offer potential massage students the following suggestions for finding a quality massage program:

  1. Request a catalog, syllabus and calendar of classes. A school that cannot provide these basics is not worth enrolling in. A syllabus should detail each subject taught; a calendar should cover each month's classes and list the respective instructors. These tools indicate an organized approach to teaching for both students and instructors.
  2. Ask about each instructor's teaching experience. Remarkably, no teaching experience is required in Florida. Licensed massage therapists need only to have practiced massage for three years before they are able to teach, but a therapist's level of knowledge and skill does not guarantee that he or she will be able to teach effectively.
  3. Sit in on classes. Ask questions to see how teachers handle students who have difficulty grasping material. Programs should not spoon-feed information to students - this will not help them pass the national certification examination or learn the skills necessary to practice successfully. Are the instructors familiar with teaching to multiple intelligences? Lectures presented in a dry format can leave anyone other than an auditory learner out of the loop.
  4. Do the instructors model the professional traits you want to learn? Is the classroom a safe space for learning? Is there a sense of fun and playfulness integrated into class time? Some of the best lessons are learned through laughter!
  5. Spend a day with other students and ask if they feel their training is preparing them for the profession. Assure them that you will respect the confidentiality of their statements. You should be able to get a feeling for the general satisfaction level with the school.
  6. Ask for a list of graduates you can contact. You should be able to contact graduates at their businesses; if you can't, this may signal a problem. Successful schools have successful graduates! Be prepared to pay for a massage from at least two graduates from different years to assess their skill levels. Ask about how their training prepared them for success.
  7. Do not choose a school based on price or location; remember, you get what you pay for.
  8. Find out how many hours of hands-on practice are included in the program. For example, the Florida Board of Massage Therapy and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) combine the hours for both massage theory and practice, with no breakdown for the hands-on requirement. This allows programs to advertise that they offer 225 hours of massage theory and practice, while the hands-on classroom portion may be as few as 100 hours - or fewer. It's scary, when you consider that your future livelihood depends on the efficacy of your hands-on training!
  9. What are the requirements for make-up work? Some schools allow students to "sign in" to make up hours missed, without ensuring that students actually receive the class content for the missed time. Make-up work should be completed in the presence of a teacher.
  10. How is the student clinic structured? Most schools run a public clinic to help students hone their skills and increase school revenue, but too often, this balance tilts in favor of school coffers. Clinic time does not count as classroom time, since students should have learned the basic techniques and a structured routine in class before starting clinic. Book a massage in the clinic and see if the therapist is under the supervision of a teacher. Does the clinic appear to be a learning environment or only work experience? Ask the school for a breakdown of how many practical hours are devoted to classroom versus clinic training.
  11. Note the physical environment of the facility. Are the classrooms clean? Are there sufficient teaching aids, such as whiteboards, a TV/VCR, overhead projector, and music? Are there a variety of massage table choices from different manufacturers, so students can get a feel for the various models? Are tables clean and in good repair?
  12. What is the maximum teacher-to-student ratio? This is critical for hands-on training; in my opinion, a teacher can only effectively supervise five students (10 total, working in pairs) at a time. Bigger classes require assistant instructors.
  13. An entry-level training program should prepare you to work in a variety of settings. You should expect to graduate with a solid Swedish routine, some clinical approaches, an introduction to spa treatments, and an understanding of contraindications, common pathologies, and business marketing strategies.

Once a massage program has been selected, students should expect to:

  1. Keep a daily log - Include whether the syllabus was followed; positive and negative experiences; late starts; and early dismissals. Programs should adhere to a strict clock-hour standard.
  2. Have regular progress reports - These should detail academic performance, attendance, punctuality, attitude, dress, and hands-on skills. Areas rated "below satisfactory" should be corrected immediately.
  3. Complete instructor evaluations - Make honest suggestions for improvement; however, do not wait to notify school administrators if there is a problem. Teachers should come to class prepared to work with each student to ensure that techniques are performed correctly.
  4. Learn a structured routine - Too often, students are taught the basic strokes and sequencing, then left to develop their own routine. Teachers claim this allows students to find their own creative "flow." Nonsense! A solid foundation gives students the confidence and skill necessary to become more intuitive and creative. Without a form, "flow" simply becomes "ooze.
  5. Address problems proactively - No complaining in the break room with classmates! Every school has a complaint procedure; you may also report problems anonymously to the school or state and federal approval agencies. Not reporting problems cheats students out of an optimal learning experience and perpetuates more problems.

"Education" means "to bring forth the potential within." A student's desire to study massage shows that he or she has the potential for success; educational programs must support students in developing that potential.

Massage professionals know how rewarding this profession can be. To ensure continued success in this growing field, we can start by helping potential students know how to find the best massage programs available.

Gail Frei has 20 years of experience as an educator and has specialized in massage education since 1994, working as an instructor and program supervisor. She offers consulting services for schools desiring to set standards of excellence, and is currently working on a book for massage teachers.


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