What is Massage School Like, Really?

Students in massage class

Sure, there’s lots of advice out there for prospective massage students: how to choose a school, how to study, how to overcome your personal issues, even how to finance your education. But there’s a frustrating lack of information when it comes to explaining what the actual experience of being in massage therapy school is like. This is probably due to the fact that every school, and often every class, can be very different. Even so, there are enough commonalities among most programs to be able to provide a basic idea of a day in the life of a massage therapy student.

Lectures

While massage therapy is by nature a hands-on field, many subjects are still taught primarily through lectures. These include anatomy (the study of where things are in the body), physiology (what things do in the body), pathology (things that go wrong in the body), and some massage theory and business practices. There will generally be visual aids in the form of photos and diagrams, and sometimes three-dimensional models, which can help you understand what’s being talked about. If you have a hard time keeping up with your instructor during lectures, recording them to review and take more detailed notes later can be a big help. Also, don’t forget to ask questions!

Hands-on Learning

Naturally, all the lectures in the world won’t give you the experience of actually giving a massage. Generally, an instructor will demonstrate a technique, using either a student or teaching assistant to work on. Then students will have the chance to practice on each other while the instructor provides assistance and corrections. Depending on the style of massage and the particular technique being used, the students who are acting as the clients may be fully clothed, partly clothed, or unclothed. If the latter, a sheet will be used to cover up any parts of the body not being worked on. This process is called draping; don’t worry, draping will also be covered in the curriculum before this situation arises!

In most massage schools, you’ll be expected to provide your own sheets, pillows, massage oils, and other products. You might also be required to purchase a uniform or a student ID. In most cases, the school will provide the large equipment, like massage tables and massage chairs, so that you don’t have to lug it to school. In any case, the school should give you a supply list before starting hands-on practice, so that you’ll know exactly what you need in order to be prepared.

Assessments and Exams

As in any kind of education, assessment can take a wide variety of forms. Multiple-choice tests that mimic the exams you’ll take in order to earn your license are common. Technique assessments may be graded with a rubric that includes correctly demonstrating the techniques, body mechanics, hygiene, professionalism, or other areas. Your school might include written essays, oral exams, or other forms of assessment. Whatever methods used, though, make sure you do whatever you can to prepare, including keeping up on your coursework before exam time rolls around.

Student Clinic

After gaining a certain amount of skill, it’s common for schools to include giving massage to members of the public in their curriculum. This is meant to mimic the work of a professional massage therapist, and can include greeting clients, completing an intake and medical history, developing a treatment, and communicating effectively with clients before, during, and after their massage. If you’re curious as to what a particular massage school’s clinic is like, the best thing to do is to visit as a client and get a massage! Any role you see students taking there is one that you’ll eventually take yourself.

Other Experiences

Some schools offer experiences that go beyond these basics. Classes in massage research and marketing may involve project work. A cadaver study might be included as part of an anatomy course. Internships and volunteer opportunities are not uncommon. If any of these is particularly important to you, then you can ask a school administrator whether these subjects are taught, and how.

Your Experience is Unique

Whether this description sounds right up your alley or like a huge drag, your success in massage school will likely depend on your flexibility and determination. The better you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to turn your everyday school experience, whatever it is, into something that will get you to the career of your dreams. Good luck!

  • Rodney Trepess

    I barely remember massage school, but I’m guessing my experience was quite different and shorter than most. I attended a summer intensive program for N.D. students while attending Bastyr University. We pretty much focused on hands on since we’d had more than our share of anatomy classes and all the ologies.