Massage State Licensing Laws have specific requirements for the courses that are to be taught in massage schools curriculums. Each state has different requirements by number of hours and topics to be taught. An effective curriculum provides teachers, students, school leaders and community stakeholders with a measurable plan and structure for delivering a quality education. The curriculum identifies the learning outcomes, standards and core competencies that students must demonstrate before advancing to the next level.
Each school creates their own curiculum to fulfill the state licensing requirements AND to create the best massage therapists possible.
History of Massage School Curriculums
Historically, the number of hours of education has been arbitrarily set by state boards. They literally pull the number out of a hat! This has caused many challenges in being accepted by the medical profession and by the public as a legitamate form of hands-on therapies. Employers find it difficult to hire people based on their education and are uncertain of graduates skills. Clients are confused by the many types of massage offered and what to expect in their massage sessions because of the variety of skills and knowledge in massage school grads.
Massage schools often base their curriculums on traditional theories and practice that have been handed down through the ages, but lack the support of research making it difficult to choose the best massage school. Entry level education has been inconsistent in quality, depth and focus of education. Scope of Practice varies so much state to state along with the required number of hours of education. Again, the number of hours of education does not matter as much as the quality of those classes. Some schools focus on the spa/beauty aspect of massage while others are more clinical in nature focusing on treatment of various health conditions. Eastern approaches, energy system based and refelxology based programs have little to no research to back them up.
Massage instructors have historically been massage school graduates wishing to futher their careers in teaching, but have no degree in teaching or any teaching experience. There has been no national standards for teachers or requirements to be teachers. Some states do have some basic guidelines for being a CE teacher. Teaching quality varies greatly.
What to look for in Curriculums
We now have the Entry Level Analysis Project that provides the competencies required to become an entry level massage therapist. This was created in 2012 by the informal Coalition of Massage Associations. (Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, Massage Therapy Foundation, National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork). This project identified what should be the core elements of an entry level massage therapy instructional program – the knowledge and skills an entry level massage therapis should have to be ready to work safely and competently with clients. The project recommended 625 classroom hours of education in the Core Blueprint (PDF). This is NOT a complete curriculm but should be used as the basis for the schools curriculm. Many schools may have more (or less) than 625 hours, but what is most important are the subject matter and skills. Massage licensing laws do not yet reflect the Core Blueprint, but is something to aspire to. It would require changing massage licensing laws.
Massage schools who use this information as the basis for their curriculums will provide the best educational opportunities for beginning massage therapists. Schools will probably not advertise that they use this curriculum so ask!