How to Survive Massage School Studies

How to Survive Massage School Studies

How to Survive Massage School Studies

I attended the last one-year program at the Swedish Institute in New York from 1998 to 1999. Beginning in 2000, the requirements to become a licensed massage therapist in the state were becoming much more involved. I already had a college degree (a Bachelor of Arts) under my belt and didn't need an associate's degree. I already had 20 years of being in the career world, and all I wanted was a license to practice massage therapy, so I could get started. However, this desire to take the short-cut route put a lot of pressure on me, as there was no room for failing any exam.

On that note, I learned a lot of great studying techniques that have helped me to this day. I would like to pass them on to all students everywhere.

Rule No. 1: Many students make the mistake of studying for long hours in a row; instead, only work in spurts, a few hours at a time. Take breaks in between studying, take a walk, go have lunch, take a nap, watch a movie, have some fun--don't put so much pressure on yourself, because you can only absorb so much at once.

Rule No. 2: Copy or type your notes at least once. When you do this, you start to remember what you've learned. I typed up all my notes the day I got home from class and printed them off. Everyone liked my formatting and started to copy them. I only did it because it was much easier to read than handwritten class notes. During a celebration on the final day of school, a woman I didn't even know from the afternoon classes came up to me to thank me and said she would not have graduated if it weren't for my typed notes! In other words, you'll be helping yourself---and perhaps others---when you type up your notes.

Rule No. 3: Study alone, but also study in groups. Spending time studying with others and speaking about (and even arguing over) the curriculum can help you learn quickly. Explaining concepts to each other helps that person, but also reinforces the information within yourself. Just be careful not to do what we did and bring too many donuts or bakery items to your study groups. You'll gain weight fast!

Rule No. 4: Transfer notes to index cards to keep them in your pocket to pull out and glance at any time. This works particularly well for learning anatomy, especially muscles, nerves and systems in the body. I made my own muscle cards and still have them to this day. I would pull out my batch of "Flexors of the Hip," for example, and glance at these as I waited for the subway. Over and over, I would cycle through the cards until I knew the information. This is much easier than pulling out a big, heavy anatomy book or even 8.5 inch by 11 inch notes.

Rule No. 5: We all get nervous before exams, but taking a few moments to close your eyes and relax can help you feel less stressed. Envision yourself doing well, feeling confident, knowing all the answers, moving through the exam comfortably. If you feel less stressed, you'll make less silly mistakes. You've heard it before, when it comes to multiple choice, you can use process of elimination. If you don't know an answer, keep moving through the exam and recycle back to it afterward, because you never know if another question might reveal that answer to you. Same goes for fill-in-the-blank questions.

Rule No. 6: When you cheat, you just cheat yourself and, ultimately, your clients. I don't mean to be strong here, but I saw a lot of cheating when I went to school, which I resented because I was a very committed student. The general attitude was "nobody will look at my grades once I'm licensed. All they will care about is my touch." This might be true, but when you take the short-cut route and cheat and don't learn anatomy, physiology and pathology correctly, you are setting yourself up to hurt a client down the road. Be careful and be conscious; you will feel so much better about yourself if you do well at school at your own accord.

Rule No. 7: I live in New York, and we have our own separate licensing exam. But I knew there was a specific national exam offered by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), which many states around the country honor. If you are in this situation, you might consider doing what I did: sitting the national exam a week or two after the state exam, since your studying materials are fresh in your mind. I didn't know where I would be living in the future, and now we have a weekend home in New Jersey, which honors the national exam. I now have a legal practice there.

Rule No. 8: Massage school is challenging and stressful, but also a glorious achievement. Smile, be happy and congratulate yourself on taking this huge step in pursuing this wonderful new career!

Michele F. Bielski, How to Survive Massage School Studies, futureLMT.comMichele F. Bielski has been a licensed massage therapist since 1999. She specializes in medical massage, deep-tissue work and the treatment of chronic pain and sports-related injuries. In 2007, she became a Certified Feng Shui Practitioner. Bielski combines these tools to create a Peaceful NYC, where she helps people identify and heal the blocks that cause pain, increase the energy flow in their body and space, and help to create a natural home setting for peace and serenity (

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