This past week, my daughter was looking through old boxes and came across the stack of faded photos from my first time in massage school: California, 1980. What a time warp! Nearly everyone in each photo was nude, for a start. As I recall, clothing was highly optional. We spent 110 hours together learning lots of massage, a bit of anatomy and a good dose of personal awareness. We did Tai Chi naked in the river, laughed frequently, and ate great food at the resort setting that was our “school”. I left the experience irrevocably changed: both humbled and expanded by the power of touch and human connection. It was a fitting introduction to a brand new field. Massage was a bud on the branch of the human potential movement and California was the place to be. I practiced and thrived for years on that training.
Others who began in the same decade tell similar stories. One of the most respected bodyworkers I know took the 35-hour course that was available in Ohio as his initial training and did great work for several years before seeking more training elsewhere.
Flash forward 33 years to 2013. These days, massage therapy has grown to a closer alliance with both mainstream and alternative medicine than it probably ever imagined possible, and massage schools have grown as well. In order to become a licensed (and legal!) massage therapist in the state of Oregon, 500 hours of training is required in specified areas of science, massage, ethics and communication, hygiene, business development and supervised clinic. Then, one must pass rigorous state and national exams. Here at the Ashland Institute of Massage, we offer a 650-hour training program where students study Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, and Kinesiology at a college level. They learn about utilizing medical charting techniques, adhering to HIPPA regulations, navigating ethical dilemmas, setting boundaries, and writing business plans. The hands-on training is, of course, the most extensive piece and covers far more therapeutic modalities than were even named a few decades ago, but the essence is still the same. Bodies have not changed and neither has the need for touch. The core of massage education still revolves around the powerful and sensitive ways we use and communicate with our hands.
Just in case you are wondering, massage school students these days attend classes fully clothed and massage recipients are carefully draped with a sheet to maintain appropriate and modest boundaries. We still laugh though, quite a lot, as we share the delight of participating in this line of work more fully supported than ever.