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August 2005

Your Massage Therapy Career: Choosing a Massage School

By Gregory T. Lawton D.N., D.C., M.Ac. (Diplomat)

Massage schools come in many shapes and sizes, from the small owner operated school, community college massage programs, large massage schools with impressive facilities and multiple locations, and distance learning, eLearning, and/or video massage training programs. Choosing the right massage school that will begin your career as a professional massage therapist is the first and most important decision that you will make.

When considering a massage school to attend you need to answer the question, 'what is the best kind of massage school and learning environment for me?' For example, some students simply do not do well in large institutions or large classroom environments and therefore college based massage programs on a college campus may not work well for that student, but what may work well is a private massage school with limited class sizes and a more "friendly" learning environment and educational culture.  

However, some students like the broader curriculum and transferable college credits of a community college program where they can get a massage certificate or diploma along with an associates or bachelors degree. Other students just want to cut to the chase and don't want to have to complete courses in Freshman English or math in order to become a massage therapist. All of this just boils down to a personal or career choice, and is not necessarily a difference in quality of education.   

Regardless of the location or size of a massage program, the most important consideration that you can make is based on the quality and experience of the massage instructor that will be teaching you, and in a larger sense, the additional teaching staff that supports that instructor.

Massage schools also teach many different kinds of massage or bodywork therapies and you need to think about and decide what kind of massage you want to train in and then later practice. One important adage to consider is, 'you cannot teach what you don't know,' so the instructors at the school that you are considering need to be well versed in the modes of massage therapy that they purport to teach. Would you select a surgeon to teach you surgery who has never actually performed surgery?

If you want to work in a salon or spa setting you will need to learn how to perform relaxation massage and other forms of common spa massage procedures. One way to gather this information is to visit salon and spa facilities and to get a copy of their client brochure. Once you have this information then match the services that they are offering with the courses and curriculum of massage schools in your area. Are these schools teaching the skills that you need to know?   If a school is not, then you either have to select a school that does, or attend the school that is available to you and then figure out how you are going to get the additional training that you need, keeping in mind that that training is probably available through continuing education program, eLearning, on video or DVD, or it may even be provided by the salon or spa that will hire you once you have earned your massage certificate or diploma.

Massage covers a very broad array of massage specialty practice areas including sports, orthopedic, clinical, medical, geriatric, pediatric massage therapy, and many more. As you can imagine these massage areas are routinely more academically and clinically demanding than relaxation massage programs, although some current training in medical spa and cosmetic massage is every bit as difficult as these other clinical areas.   

Once again you will have to consider what you want to do with your training. Do you want to work in a medical or chiropractic office? Do you want to work with an aging population treating degenerative musculo skeletal diseases and disorders, or do you want to treat athletes or get a job with a sports team? The knowledge and the skills needed to work effectively treating patients with injuries or diseases is greater than that required to provide a standard relaxation massage.   

You will have to interview and to evaluate the teachers that will be training you in these areas. Whereas relaxation massage training is commonplace, teachers with demonstrable skills and experience in clinical and/or medical massage is relatively uncommon.   

Unfortunately, your investigation and the questions that you ask here will put the burden of really getting the correct answers to your questions on you. For example, where did your teacher actually get their medical massage training? Many instructors simply call themselves medical massage therapists or picked up a few hours of medical massage instruction at a weekend seminar. What kind of actual experience does the instructor have in clinical or medical massage therapy? Have they worked in a medical or chiropractors office where their daily clinical work actually required assessing and treating patients with orthopedic conditions? This is important to know because even though many massage therapists do work in a hospital, medical or chiropractic office, their duties often only include providing relaxation massages.

Are you getting the message? There are many excellent massage schools and teachers available to you, but the responsibility of investigating and choosing the best school for your learning style, your personal educational needs and goals, finding the best teacher, and choosing the best general and/or specialty massage training program that meets your professional massage career needs, is up to you.   

Dr. Gregory T. Lawton is the owner and founder of the Blue Heron Academy of Healing Arts and Sciences. He is the author of over 30 books on healthcare. 1-616-285-9999; www.blueheronacademy.com


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