In this article we discuss the past vs present of massage therapy schools vs future speculation in terms of materials covered in school, the types of massage schools today and tomorrow, the settings in the classroom, the learning materials, approach of instructors toward massage education, the size of schools and classes as well as the overall philosophy and focus of massage schools.
Massage therapy as a form of wellness and healing has been widely used by practitioners all over the world. However, until 1943, when the American Massage Therapy Association or AMTA was formed, it was not recognized as a credible form of healing in the US.
At the time, there were no schools or institutes to impart training to prospective massage therapists. And, AMTA served as a forum where massage therapists committed to ethical practices in the profession. It also helped its members advance their careers and released a regular newsletter.
Early Day Massage Therapy Schools
Before the first official massage therapy school was set up, this form of healing was passed down from one practitioner to another in informal environments without an in-depth study of the techniques and the science behind it. And, therapists practiced without the need for licensing or certification.
In 1962, the Esalen Institute was established in California by Dick Price and Michael Murphy. It held regular workshops for aspiring students to train in not just massage therapy, but also other alternative healing methods. The next school to open was the Heartwood Institute in 1968 in Gaberville, California.
Massage Schools in the 1970s and 1980s
Prior to 1970, massage therapy schools were self-credentialed and not governed by any outside authority.
However, in the 1970s, they were following a preset curriculum and newer techniques were being developed many of which were an amalgamation of massage therapy with methods such as osteopathy, water therapy, acupuncture, and soft tissue treating.
By the 1980s, many states were making licensing mandatory. As a result, in 1987, agencies were set up to accredit the schools.
The NCBTMB and Rise in Number of Accredited Schools
The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork or NCBTMB was established in 1987 and held the national exams all massage therapists had to take after graduating from accredited massage therapy schools.
In this way, the NCBTMB laid down certain standards of excellence and ethics that students in the field of massage therapy would have to comply with. Since then, the number of schools rose phenomenally. In 1991, there were only 190 schools in the USA, but within the next 10 years or so, by 2002, there were 875 massage therapy schools in the country.
Massage Therapy Schools in Modern Times
In today’s times, if you decide to take up massage therapy as a profession, you need to first look for schools that are accredited or have the approval of the state where you live and intend to practice. Most massage therapy schools provide the curriculum and required number of training hours along with the mandatory practical hands-on programs that students need.
Further, they also prepare you for the national tests you’ll have to take before you can begin practicing. Many schools also provide the continuing education credits you need to maintain your license.
Different Types of Massage Therapy Schools
You can take training as a massage therapist in different types of schools. And, the school you choose will in turn depend on the number of study and practical training hours you need to put in as mandated by the state of your residence and practice. You can study at:
- Local massage therapy school
- Community college
- Online massage therapy school
- University for massage therapy
- Large national multi-campus schools
The institution where you study will issue a diploma or certification according to the short-term or long-term courses you have taken.
How to Choose a Good Massage Therapy School
If you’re looking to practice as a massage healer, one of your options is to look for a school that has the NCBTMB Assigned School Code. There are more than 800 Assigned Schools all over the US. You will be allowed to take the NCBTMB Board Certification exam only if you have trained in an Assigned School. Getting this certification after completing the necessary requirements proves that you have attained an exemplary standard of excellence in the field of massage therapy.
An accredited massage therapy school begins with the providing of theoretical information to students. To truly learn how to heal patients, you need to learn about human anatomy, healthcare nuances, physical makeup of the body and international massage techniques. The initial courses should lay down a solid foundation and develop an in-depth understanding of the concepts so you can understand and grasp the ensuing courses better.
On the flip side, if you’re looking to build a managing career in the massage therapy business, you’ll have to train accordingly. Thus, you’ll be taking courses in accounts, advertising and marketing, hiring and training employees, legal nuances of running a massage therapy business and many more. These courses will also help you if you’re considering starting and running your own private practice.
Courses Offered by Massage Therapy Schools Today
Accredited massage therapy schools can offer you a range of specialized courses in particular fields of massage therapy such as therapy for sports patients, working with animals, therapy for prenatal care and many others.
In all, there are more than 80 specialties in the field of massage therapy and during the course of your career, you will need to become proficient in a minimum of 5 and up to 10 modalities. Most schools offer 4 to 10 specialties and you can continue to develop your skills by way of continuing education courses as you progress in your career.
Programs Offered by Accredited Massage Therapy Schools
Different massage therapy schools train you to receive a degree, diploma, certification or associate’s degree and offer programs accordingly.
- Degree Programs: Almost every state has a minimum education requirement for massage therapists along the requirement for certification. Should you choose a degree program, you will be learning practical, hands-on techniques, the ethics and principles of the practice in addition to anatomy and physiology, reflexology and kinesiology. You can opt for either full-time or part-time courses.
- Diploma Programs: These programs provide you with the training you need to get your certification in the exams held by the state where you live. You will be taking 500 to 1,000 hours of training in the classroom and this duration is typically covered in 6 months to 2 years depending on how often you take the classes. Among the courses covered, there is bodywork, massage approaches, traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology and hot stone massages.
- Certificate Programs: These programs are typically completed in a year’s time and include 500 to 750 hours of classroom training. At the end of this program, you can take the certification exam and earn your license. This license allows you to work in nursing homes, resorts and other such institutes.
- Associate’s Degree Programs: These programs last for about two years and qualify you to sit for the certification exams when you complete them. You will learn about the technical and mechanical side of massage therapy including courses like English, Math, writing and interacting with patients and other personnel.
Requirements for Certification Provided by a Good Massage School
Your school should prepare you with these mandatory requirements so that you are able to graduate and receive your certification.
- Train for a minimum of 750 hours with an NCBTMB accredited school or educational institution. These hours can include the duration of the program you have chosen, and the continuing education hours you have put in, is any. Any other kind of training that you have taken with any accredited college or university also counts
- Train for a minimum of 250 hours in a practical, hands-on program. However, this training must be completed within 6 months of completing your other training.
Financial Aid for Massage Therapy School
Having studied about the different massage therapy schools out there, you now need to work out the most important aspect of training. And, that is, raising the necessary finance to get into the school of your choice. There are both accredited and non-accredited schools and typically, the tuition for an accredited school could work out to be more expensive (not always the case).
You could apply for Federal Financial Aid and if you can qualify for it, it is easy to put in your application and obtain. Not only is the application procedure free of cost, but you need not pay back many of the sections of the loans. There are five categories of loans you can look for:
- Grants: You need not pay them back.
- Subsidized Loans: If you meet the criteria, you can apply for up to $3,500 per year.
- Unsubsidized Loans: Dependent students can get up to $2,000 and independent students can get up to $6,000 in loans.
- Parent Plus Loans: Your parents will need to co-sign for these loans.
- Work-Study Loans: If you can work for the school or university where you’re studying, the government pays a portion of the wages.
Schools for massage therapy have come a long way within the past 50 years or so. They have evolved from casual training to being recognized and accredited. They now also offer an amazing range of specialties and modalities that aspiring therapists can excel in. Students can choose the modalities that interest them and build a viable, promising career.