Ten Tips from a Massage School Instructor: how to teach massage to the next generation of therapists

Lecturing on lymphedema and oncology massage as part of IPSB college’s Adapting Massage for Special Populations was one of the most rewarding parts of my teaching experience. Adding humor, offering a deep level of knowledge, weaving in personal experiences and repeatedly stressing the basics helped my students grasp potentially difficult material. From my experience teaching at a massage college in San Diego, here are ten things to keep in mind when teaching massage students:

1 — Unlike other students, future massage therapists are really in college to learn three separate skills — knowledge and critical thinking to pass the MBLeX or similar licensure exam, skills and confidence to succeed at an entry level massage job, and the nuts and bolts of owning and operating their own massage business.

2 — Many students do not enter massage school having ever had a professional massage at a spa. How can we best explain the workplace environment, building rapport and trust and other client needs to students who have never experienced paying for a massage from a complete stranger? Don’t leave this lesson until a student’s first nerve-wracking day at the student clinic, please.

3 — Many massage therapy students learn best kinesthetically, by doing rather than sitting still in a classroom and listening to a lecture or reading a textbook. How can we deliver anatomy and physiology in a way students can understand?

4 — Some students are hungry for knowledge and ask specific, detailed questions in class. Others just need the basics. Instructors must know where to direct students for more information while keeping all students engaged in the classroom lesson.

5 — Millennial students have grown up receiving frequent feedback and reinforcement. How can we use this opportunity to meet their needs and keep them engaged?

6 — Students are undergoing an amazing time of growth during massage school and classes are competing with work and social life for their attention. If homework is not assigned and graded, students may not make time to learn outside of class.

7 — Younger students have grown up in an era of digital resources. For instance, don’t be surprised when they do not automatically come into class with a printed research study when reviewing research for a class project.

8- Students can be introverted or extroverted and the massage therapy profession has a place for everyone. A quieter student can excel in a spa whereas a more bright personality may shine as a sole proprietor.

9 — Students’ career dreams can change radically during their time in massage school. For instance, I didn’t know that the two types of massage I specialize in even existed on my first day in massage school. I was convinced I would take up sports massage but ended up taking advanced training in oncology massage and manual lymphatic drainage. Encourage students to leave their options open in the first few quarters of school and take every class that catches their interest.

10 — Most clients a therapist will encounter in an entry level job want a deep tissue massage with a focus on the shoulders and back. Is your college’s massage education preparing them to understand and help these clients in 50 minutes of massage time?

Which of these truths really hits home for you? Teachers and students — please share your feedback and ideas on how best to reach our student population!