Massage Today Get the Latest News FASTER - View Digital Editions Now!
Massage Today dotted line
dotted line

dotted line
Share |
  Forward PDF Version  
Massage Today
May, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 05

The Future of Massage Therapy

By Sandy Fritz

The foundation of the future of massage therapy is the quality of our education today. I wonder how many would agree that the educational structure for future massage therapists is, well, a mess.

One definition of a "mess" is a chaotic and confused situation. Chaotic and confused describes massage education right now. I am confident that this mess is actually an opportunity; and one that we can no longer ignore.

It is estimated that there are approximately 1,500 massage therapy educational programs in the United States, according to an Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals survey.1 While community college programs are increasing, most of this education can be found at private vocational schools that offer many different types of training programs. There are also a couple of corporation-based, multi-campus massage school systems that have acquired various single-program massage schools and are unifying the curriculums. There are very few single-program massage schools left.

Three Components to Learning Success

lady at the desk - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark As a textbook author, I have had the opportunity to communicate with many massage therapy program directors and teachers. I rarely find a teacher or school/program director that wants to deliver inadequate massage education. More commonly, school/program directors are confused about what to teach and/or have a difficult time finding qualified teachers. There are differing opinions about what a curriculum should cover, which contributes to the confusion about what to teach; and finding experienced teachers, who are also experienced massage therapists is challenging. A school can have the curriculum and the teachers but without committed students there is no education being transferred. (We will go more in-depth about students in a future article: MT November 2011 issue.)

This is the basis for the educational mess. Bottom line for learning success is all three components (a solid curriculum, skilled teachers and committed students) must be in place.

Curriculum Brief

The curriculum is the easy part. Schools do not differentiate themselves by curriculum. All massage therapy instructional programs should be teaching a very similar curriculum. Schools display excellence through effective teaching of the curriculum. What to present in a massage curriculum is clearer now than ever before. The Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTBOK) project has provided a platform for the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) for entry-level massage therapists. The document is not perfect and the massage community will have to sort through their differing opinions. However, the identified KSAs for entry-level massage therapists are accurate enough to build a curriculum.

The various exams used for licensing also reflect a body of knowledge that when compared with the MTBOK show a high level of agreement. There is plenty of information on the Web. Check it out yourself:


We should also discuss an important paradigm shift in the education (curriculum) of massage therapists in the U.S. We have gone from information-based education to competency-based education. An information-based curriculum is limited since it focuses on factual content. Professional competencies are the measurable skills and abilities that identify successful massage practice. Curriculum should be competency based. Unfortunately, the tests that are used for licensing in the U.S. are based on a factual knowledge model, which then forces a school to educate in a fact-based way, since schools are measured both by accrediting bodies and state regulators on the percentage of students who pass licensing exams.

Competencies are the demonstration of application from the information received. Competencies are actually very concrete. Either the students can do what is required or they cannot. The idea of competency is not new and it is time for the U.S. massage community to adopt this method to determine the student's ability to practice massage. Multiple provinces in Canada have adopted the Entry-to-Practice Competency Profile, which defines the minimum expectations of newly registered massage therapists (who are entering practice for the first time). The Practice Competencies were validated by means of a survey of registered massage therapists in British Columbia, Ontario, and Newfoundland & Labrador. The survey confirmed that massage therapy practice is common across these provinces.2.3

Changing the Curriculum

Now, here is the messy part: changing the curriculum. It is not as simple as it seems. If a school is accredited, a curriculum change can be considered a substantive change requiring both a time and financial commitment to the accrediting body. There currently are schools that want to make the updates but are waiting until their next accreditation cycle to avoid the hassle and cost. There are similar requirements for the school's state licensing process.

Changing curriculum requires changing lesson plans, changing exams, retraining of teachers, changing program schedules, and the list goes on. This is hard enough for a single program massage school. I know since I have owned a massage school for 26 years. Can you imagine the mess in a multi-campus educational structure?

Regardless of the mess, we have to make these changes. It is hard but those who manage massage therapy educational programs have to make the hard decisions and deal with the conflict and frustration of change. I have and it is not fun. However, we as educators owe a quality education to those who seek us out to learn.

There are educational materials offered by academic publishers that cover the entry-level KSAs in the MTBOK. An effective competency based curriculum can be built using professionally created textbooks, lesson plans, presentation material and online support.

Skilled Teachers

Once you have the curriculum in place, then you need the teacher. As previously stated, all educational programs for massage therapy should be teaching the same foundational curriculum. The way a school differentiates itself is how well the teachers are able to teach the information and that requires committed quality teachers. The availability of massage teachers - who are aware of the most current information and can effectively deliver that information in the classroom - is limited. Those that commit to teaching massage therapists have little support right now and that adds to the mess. Fortunately, the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education is committed to addressing these issues.

What makes a skilled massage therapy teacher? They have to know the material. They need to be able to pass the same tests the student will have to pass. Anatomy teachers need to understand massage and massage teachers need to understand anatomy and physiology. Teachers need to remain current. It is inexcusable for educator to present dated and inaccurate information. Teachers have to teach the school's curriculum – not what they think is correct. Schools and program directors must not allow inaccurate information in the classroom and they also need to provide ongoing educational opportunities for their instructors. Finally, school management must provide support for the teachers in the form of supplies, equipment, textbooks and reference material, and now electronic-based learning systems.

So here is the mess. Competency is based on experience. Experienced massage therapists should be the foundation of the instructor pool. However, these same experienced individuals must not allow their personal opinions to bias their teaching. One of the biggest problems school directors face is a teacher who will not support the curriculum. Yes, part of massage practice is an art but that art is based on the science. I listen over and over to program directors as they describe how a teacher creates confused and frustrated students because they will not present the curriculum as developed, or they disagree in the classroom with information presented by other teachers.

Just like business is business--teaching is teaching. There are skills needed to be a teacher. If we are going to rely on experienced massage therapists to be the foundation of the instructor pool, then we also need to teach them how to teach and how to use the resources available to them. Schools owners, program directors and the corporate executives must be committed to teacher training.

Teacher turnover at many schools is a huge problem. Schools invest in training teachers and then they quit. There are excuses for quitting. The most common I hear are low pay and lack of support. Committed and quality teachers will always be underpaid because they go beyond the "job description". Poor teachers are always overpaid. Teaching is a path of service. However, teachers need to be compensated enough so they can continue to teach. The other reason that teachers quit teaching is the inability to manage the student dynamics – a growing problem. The final component of learning success is the student, which we will discuss in part two.


  1. ABMP survey of state-approved massage schools. In Massage Therapy Fast Facts.
  2. Consortium of Massage Therapy Regulators. "Inter-Jurisdictional Entry-to-Practice Competency Profile for Massage Therapists" June 2010.
  3. College of Massage Therapists of Ontario. "Massage Therapy Competency Standards" Revised 2005.


Join the conversation
Comments are encouraged, but you must follow our User Agreement
Keep it civil and stay on topic. No profanity, vulgar, racist or hateful comments or personal attacks. Anyone who chooses to exercise poor judgement will be blocked. By posting your comment, you agree to allow MPA Media the right to republish your name and comment in additional MPA Media publications without any notification or payment.
comments powered by Disqus
dotted line