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Massage Today
April, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 04 >> Philosophy

Massage Therapy Education

The Industry Responds

By Gloria Coppola, LMBT

There isn't a week that goes by that someone does not mention to me their concerns or suggestions about massage programs in the United States. Across the U.S., massage students, therapists, instructors and school owners have shared their joys and frustrations regarding the massage schools of today.

As a former school owner, curriculum developer and instructor, I have seen this profession change in many ways (both good and bad) over the last 20 years. Education about the therapeutic benefits of massage has increased among the public sector. And while this is a great step in the right direction for our profession, there is a much more immediate need that waits to be addressed: massage therapy education. Through a recent survey1 along with several individual interviews, I sought to find out what those in this industry are saying about the state of our education. This article is a compilation of their feedback.

Hours of Education and Curriculum

Many individuals I communicated with agreed that the length of time for a massage program is the most significant change needing attention. In the survey of more than 1,000 massage therapists, over 69 percent responded that massage programs should be 700-1,000 hours in length.

books - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Some individuals I interviewed from schools across the U.S. felt that if the programs were longer (or more spaced out) it would allow time for students to develop as a therapist before they are sent on their own. They would have time to integrate their lives, work, and the healing process that comes with being a therapist. In contrast, faster, more condensed six-month programs seem to be rushing students through training for the sole purpose of making money, while inadequately preparing them for business, and likely setting them up for failure or burnout.

Rick Rosen, founder and co-owner of the Body Therapy Institute in North Carolina and executive director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education stated that the goal of the organization is to strengthen and improve massage therapy education overall. However, speaking of student curriculum specifically, he highlighted two key areas that schools need to focus on:

  • Increase training in ethics and boundary issues, since approximately 90 percent of complaints registered within state boards relate to these issues.
  • Ensure that students develop optimal body mechanics so they have a longer career span.

His belief, shared with many others, is that some massage programs offer too many modalities with not enough time devoted to the foundational skills that build confidence, knowledge and awareness.


Many in the survey believed that researching the school prior to attendance was highly important as well. The reason being: the standards of education are simply not the same at every school. Why? For a variety of reasons. Do you know some instructors have never taught anything prior to teaching massage? Often, I have walked in a classroom to evaluate an instructor, only to find them sitting behind a desk learning from the very book that they are teaching. Are there natural-born teachers? Yes, we do exist. However, we all need some basic guidance, teaching skills and training to be effective.

Did you know instructors might get hired for a position they don't have the credentials for? Believe me, I know this firsthand after I was offered this scenario at a very popular massage school. Desperation often leads the administration to hire anyone to cover a class. This is mostly due to a lack of quality instructors and often the pay is inadequate for an experienced instructor.

While compiling this article, I had numerous complaints from students about the instructors of today, many complaining that they have two, three or four instructors for one topic. Feelings of frustration build up and eventually they give up on the whole program.

Massage School Programs

With more and more massage programs popping up across the nation, there is a shortage of well-trained and experienced instructors available. In one of my interviews, an owner of a large school in Kansas City, Mo. expressed that he has seen a shift in the industry over the last eight years. He now sees younger students, many of them entering the programs through promotional venues that promise a high-paying salary for minimal education.

In my findings, instructors across the nation expressed their frustration with the lack of maturity in some of these students. They state that there needs to be a level of commitment. However, many students never realize how much work is involved in the study of massage as admissions offices are not informing them of the intensity. Other instructors shared with me that some school administrations do not support their needs for tools and resources and significantly lack understanding of the emotional component that is involved during these trainings.

Another major concern expressed from colleagues was the offering of title IV funding which may allow individuals who are not qualified to pursue a career in massage or have felony records to enter the program. Although they feel these funding programs might help a less fortunate person explore a career in the healing arts, they also recognize the need to screen those with criminal records. It is my understanding that most, if not all states do not allow someone with a felony record to become licensed. However, from personal experience at a school, I found this situation did exist to my dismay.

Renate Novak, former school owner of Health Choices in New Jersey, has been in the massage industry for 40 years. She feels very few educational centers are doing justice for the profession. She states, "Massage can be a life-changing experience." She explains that most therapists don't receive an education that even comes close to the skills that are possible. Her concerns are that the industry has lowered its standards of respect for massage therapists. As an instructor, her biggest challenges were students with difficult personalities and determining how she would facilitate their integration into the group-learning environment. Several other instructors have shared this same view with me as it continues to be one of the major current challenges across the board.

I was speaking with an instructor who teaches at a community college program and she believes that the slower programs enable the students to foster "body memory" in the movements, which allows for greater understanding of palpation skills. While her original training back in the 90s was a shorter program, she expresses her trepidation in being able to keep up with the demands of the program that she attended.

Hence, the associate's degree program she teaches allows students the time to integrate it all, preparing them with more confidence. Another advantage they have is the resources and funding for equipment and supplies that some school budgets just don't have available. However, because they are a college they are limited in presenting material, very often that a private school can address in the healing arts.

Ariana Vincent, a continuing education provider in Texas, says her program prepared her for Swedish massage, but not deep tissue. She feels a thorough core curriculum should be at least 1,000 hours and that instructors need to be more focused and responsive. Her concerns include clinics that are not well supervised, which was another common complaint from students across the nation.

The individuals who were satisfied with their programs came mostly from private schools or schools that employed "experienced" and "inspirational" instructors. Eighty-two percent of the individuals surveyed said instructors should have a minimum of three years experience as a therapist along with instructor training to deal with a variety of situations and difficulties that might arise in a classroom setting.

So why aren't some schools providing these basics? That will have to be another article, and possibly another survey. But perhaps the influx of ill-equipped educational facilities does not understand the depth of this healing modality and therefore, do not focus on these fundamentals. Perhaps they feel giving a back rub is easy to do and there is nothing else involved. Perhaps they are clueless that this profession requires a profound and professional connection with the client. Or perhaps they only care about making money?

Reflection Of My Findings

Too many students come out of the current massage programs ill-prepared and unable to find the employment that had been promised. I am saddened when I hear employers tell me that potential candidates don't even know how to touch with intention. And I am frustrated when I hear instructors tell me they don't feel they can provide a proper education because there isn't enough time written into their curriculum.

My basic education, over 20 years ago, was a program based in the healing and spiritual approach to massage that took nine months to complete. While I may not have understood it all at that time, I feel it provided me with a knowledge and wisdom of this art that allowed me to explore the boundaries of the body, mind and spirit. I gained a deep respect for the human body and the privilege we have to touch another person. Our training was mostly hands-on, which provided me with a level of confidence I rarely see in programs that offer limited hands-on hours. Although, at the time, the anatomy and physiology was limited and required me to take additional training post-graduation, the foundational hands-on skills excelled.

Many colleagues expressed a need for an associate's degree for massage therapists if we want to be recognized as a health care professional. Perhaps, we need different levels of practice from entry level to clinical therapist levels, as I don't believe personally that every individual requires a degree to be an amazing massage therapist.

However, I do feel that every massage therapist should continue their education with quality classes to further their knowledge after they get their license. It is unfortunate that many states do not have any minimum requirement for licensing renewal. As a result, many never pursue their education beyond their basic foundation. I actually had a woman in my class who had not taken a CE class in 15 years because she was in a state that did not require any further training after the massage certification program.

There is so much to pursue and understand in this growing field. Students need to be prepared to be successful and confident. Business courses that are geared toward our industry are a necessity. What good is the education without the knowledge and skills to successfully practice? I receive numerous e-mails from new therapists stating they can't find work, or can't get their private practice going. They are frustrated and disillusioned because they were not prepared for what is really happening in the field.

We have so much to offer as massage therapists! We are caring, compassionate beings here to serve and provide a healing modality and profound touch to some who may never receive it. We need quality education and supportive environments to learn and grow. We need more instructors who care and who are properly trained. We need employment that supports us on this amazing journey to help others.

Thank you to everyone who shared their views and assisted in the compilation of this article. There was a delightfully overwhelming response received. It should be said that there are many fabulous instructors, therapists and schools out there. What I have experienced, through this research and frequent conversations with colleagues, is that there is an overwhelming concern of what is not happening in the advancement of massage education.

We are passionate individuals about this profession and we feel honored that we get to touch the world!

I would love to hear more about what you think of the state of our education. Contact me at and tell me what's on your mind.


  1. 2009, LLC Palo Alto, Calif., USA.

Gloria Coppola has been in the healing arts for 25 years. The former owner of a massage school and curriculum writer for several massage schools across the nation, she is now a continuing education provider. Gloria has also contributed articles to several massage publications over the course of her career. Thanks to Ryan's encour-agement you can also enjoy some video clips on massage at Contact her at or email her at .


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