Michele Renee of AFMTE
Michele Renee of AFMTE

A Conversation with Michele Renee of AFMTE

By Massage Today , Editorial Staff
2020-11-18

A Conversation with Michele Renee of AFMTE

By Massage Today , Editorial Staff
2020-11-18

Michele Renee entered the massage therapy profession in 1998. Living and working in Minneapolis, she reveled in the entrepreneurial opportunities a career in massage therapy provided her. Fast-forward 23 years and Renee is the new President of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE)—a member-based non-profit organization within the massage therapy profession focusing on education. 

Her work throughout her career has provided many helpful tools and insights, especially in times like we’re experiencing now with COVID-19. “Massage therapists and educators alike have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. I think the best work we can do [at AFMTE] in this moment is to listen to our community and provide support to our educators,” Renee explains.But the impacts of COVID-19 are only one part of her role at AFMTE, and she’s drawing on all of her past experiences as she steps into her new leadership position. 

Finding Inspiration to Lead

At the beginning of her career, Renee was inspired by people like Joanie Holst, a Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) educator and champion for both the massage profession and high-quality education. Holst encouraged Renee to be a lifelong learner while also maintaining passion for the profession. “Her passion for where massage belongs in health care is contagious,” says Renee. This same passion is deeply rooted in Renee’s love of teaching the next generation of massage therapists. 

Renee also finds inspiration in working with her clients, which she still does today and credits for ultimately leading her to her calling in integrative care environments. As she discusses the role of the therapeutic relationship, it’s clear that being an active listener and being fully present mean the most to not only her clients, but to her, too. “Every person I see has a rich story that serves as a backdrop for why they are in my office,” she explains. “If I listen carefully enough, they almost always tell me what is happening and what approach might be the best fit to address it.”

Her background, leadership style and continued commitment to the profession have all led her to education and the support of educators: the primary focus of AFMTE. Renee knows first-hand the importance of creating a “learning environment for both student and teacher within the classroom.” She not only acknowledges the need for more conversation within the classroom walls, but understands that without difficult conversations, very little can be done in the way of progress: “In the case of educators, we must create supportive learning environments that move beyond simply providing the facts and techniques students need to know in order to be excellent massage therapists,” Renee notes. “We also need to create the space for difficult conversations, vulnerability, and room to work through all of the other aspects of providing care for another human being.”

On the Horizon: What's Ahead for AFMTE

Renee is excited about the future of AFMTE, but knows there is a lot of work ahead. “We need connection and community now more than ever,” she explains, and that is how she plans to start her term as AFMTE’s president. She is focused on expanding and constantly evaluating how to best serve the community of massage therapy educators, using webinars and other resources. 

Renee is busy helping develop and inform educators around the country. The AFMTE’s educator credential program allowing teachers to earn the designation Certified Massage and Bodywork Educator, a recently launched initiative, is a voluntary portfolio review process that helps educators showcase their individual competency areas. Renee explains that this new tool is helping seasoned educators find gaps in their skills they didn’t know they had, as well as ways they can fill those gaps.

Another cause close to Renee’s heart is that of equity, diversity and inclusion within the massage therapy community. She’s proud that AFMTE is currently working on these initiatives. “We are beginning a process to better understand why disparities exist, how we might address those gaps, and how to support educators in issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion in their schools and classes,” Renee explains.

New and Welcomed Challenges

In addition to her new role at AFMTE, she also serves as the Director of Integrative Care at NWHSU—where she still enjoys teaching students and being a part of the educational process from the ground up. “We are all in massage therapy because we value connection,” she says.

And that value of connection hasn’t stopped even in the wake of COVID-19. AFMTE is helping massage educators who might be struggling or finding what a “new normal” means to them get a better grasp in the months ahead. Renee is at the forefront of that work. “I think that many educators have discovered new ideas that they will bring with them into the future, long beyond these COVID times,” she explains. “For the foreseeable future, we will need to remain flexible, adaptable and ready to reset as needed." Renee invites massage educators to get involved with AFMTE. “We exist to serve YOU!” she explains. “You don’t have to do this alone. We have tons of resources to share with you to make your life easier.”

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