You've decided to go to massage-therapy school, and in your research you find there are more than 300 accredited massage schools and programs in the U.S., and almost 2,000 total massage schools. With so many options, you need a game plan for choosing the right massage school for you.
Get Some Background
Begin by learning about the massage-therapy profession and different massage techniques. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) 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. Other good sources for obtaining information about the massage-therapy industry include the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Explore Massage Methods
Next, you will want to learn more about the different methods of massage therapy. According to the NCCAM, there are more than 80 different recognized massage modalities. Some of the most common modalities include Swedish massage, sports massage, shiatsu, deep-tissue massage and reflexology.
Find Out What's Required
Research the requirements to practice massage therapy in your state or where you plan to practice. Currently, most states, the District of Columbia and several Canadian provinces regulate the practice of massage therapy. According to the 2015 Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet, released by the AMTA, massage therapists have an average of 671 hours of initial training.
Review Your Career Plans
You will need to 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 the elderly or pregnant women? Setting your goal will assist you in evaluating the cost and value each school provides. Some programs focus exclusively on relaxation massage, while others focus on orthopedic modalities, for example.
Consider Location, Curriculum and Degrees Offered
Remember, your education is an investment. You may find the perfect massage school for you isn't right next door, so it may be best to expand your search to other cities and states.
Review the curriculum of each school that interests you. Make sure the school teaches the styles of massage you want to learn, as well as 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 an 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.
Also, 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 six months or 12 months? Are classes offered during the day or in the evening? Make sure your work and family obligations allow enough time to study and practice outside of class.
Seek Firsthand Information About Each Massage School
Collect information about several programs, and attend an orientation or open house if the school is local. If possible, connect with former students and ask 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.
You can also learn more about a school by utilizing the power of social media. Search for the massage-therapy school name on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. If the school has a 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" and join a social networking group to learn more about the profession.
Meet the Faculty
Before making your selection, examine the credentials and experience of a school's faculty. Read faculty bios on the massage school's website and look for teachers with many years of experience in the modalities you want to learn. When reading the credentials, use this guide to learn what each acronym means:
L.M.T. - Licensed massage therapist
C.M.T. - Certified massage therapist
L.C.M.T. -Licensed certified massage therapist
L.M.P. - Licensed massage practitioner
Ask About Details
You may also want to request information about student services to determine if the school has the resources you need to succeed. Find out if the school offers postgraduate job placement, tutoring, testing accommodations, continuing education, international student counseling, scholarship assistance and financial aid.
Not every massage school is accredited by at least one of the major accrediting commissions or councils. All of the accrediting institutions have missions that involve the establishment of standards and policies to ensure quality education and training practices. Such councils include:
• Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (accsc.org)
• Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (abhes.org)
• Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (accet.org)
• Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (comta.org)
• National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (naccas.org)
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 thrive, graduate and land the career of your dreams.