You’ve decided to go to massage therapy school, so you begin researching and find there are more than 300 accredited massage schools and programs in the United States. With so many options, you need a game plan for choosing the right massage therapy college for you.
Begin by learning about the massage therapy profession in general and the different methods of massage therapy. The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics provides an in-depth overview of the occupation of Massage Therapist. Here you can find out about the nature of the work, training and other qualifications, employment, job outlook, projections Data, Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data, related occupations, and sources of additional information. Another good source for obtaining information about the massage therapy industry is the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). The National Center for Complementary And Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) also provides an overview of the vocation, including the history of massage.
Next you will want to learn more about the different methods of massage therapy. There are more than eighty different recognized massage modalities, according to the NCCAM. Some examples of the most common modalities include Swedish massage, sports massage, shiatsu bodywork, deep tissue massage and reflexology. You can find a glossary of types of massage and bodywork on the Massage Therapy website provided by the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP).
Research the requirements to practice massage therapy in your state or where you plan to practice. As of October 2009, 44 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia regulate the practice of massage therapy. According to the 2009 AMTA industry fact sheet, massage therapists have an average of 633 hours of initial training. For a complete listing of state practice laws, education requirements, contact names and other useful information, go to the AMTA website and click on Legislation/Regulations or call 800-458-2267.
Consider your career intentions and determine your goal. Do you see yourself managing a private practice? Do you want to work in a medical environment? Do you want to work with specialized populations such as elderly care or pre- and postnatal massage? Setting your goal will assist you in evaluating the cost and value that each school offers. Some programs focus exclusively on relaxation massage, others focus on orthopedic modalities.
Expand your search to other states. Remember that your education is an investment. You may find that the perfect massage school for you isn’t right next door.
Review the curriculum. Make sure that the school teaches the styles of massage you want to learn, and provides plenty of on-the job training opportunities. Does the school offer internship opportunities? Is there a student clinic? Look for a comprehensive curriculum that balances the in-depth study in the sciences with a thorough education in bodywork, business and interpersonal skills. Take a look at the advanced massage practice degrees offered, such as an Associates of Occupational Studies (AOS) degree.
Be aware of time requirements for a particular program. How long is the program? Are you planning to attend full-time or part-time? Is the program 6 months? 12 months? When are the classes offered? Only during the day or are evening classes offered? Make sure your work and family obligations allow enough time to study and practice outside of class.
Collect information about several programs. Attend an orientation or an open house if the school is local. If possible, connect with former students and interview them about their massage school experience. Many schools offer a student clinic with discounted massages from students and faculty. Receive massage therapy sessions from the faculty, graduates and students.
Utilize the power of social media. Look up the massage therapy school name on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. If the school has set up an internet presence on a social networking site, you may be able to directly email members of the school faculty or join in or start a discussion. Another option is to search for the words “massage therapy” in Facebook and LinkedIn and join a group to learn more about the profession. On Twitter you can also go to #massage or #massagetherapy to follow and join in with tweets about massage in general.
Examine the credentials and experience of the faculty. Read faculty bios on the massage school website and look for the teachers with many years of experience full service massage in the modalities you want to learn. When reading the credentials, use this guide to learn what each acronym means:
- CMT – Certified Massage Therapist
- LCMT – Licensed Certified Massage Therapist
- LMP – Licensed massage practitioner
- LMT – Licensed massage therapist
- NCTMB – Certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork
Request information about student services. Find out if the school offers postgraduate job placement, tutoring, testing accommodations, continuing education, international student counseling, scholarship assistance, and financial aid. Does the school have the resources you need to succeed?
Be sure the school is accredited by at least one of the major accrediting commissions or councils. One such council is the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) which is recognized by the United States Department of Education. ACCSC’s mission is “to serve as a reliable authority on educational quality and to promote enhanced opportunities for students by establishing, sustaining, and enforcing valid standards and practices which contribute to the development of a highly trained and competitive workforce through quality career oriented education.” All of the accrediting institutions have similar missions that all involve the establishment of standards and policies to ensure quality education and training practices. In addition to ACCSC, look for the following:
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET)
- Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
- National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
The research involved in choosing a massage school isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort. Good luck in your search and I hope you find a school in which you will thrive, graduate and land the career of your dreams.