If you have experienced a massage you know about the immediate physical benefits – relaxation, pain relief, and the big smiles. But there is a huge difference between an occasional back rub given by a spouse and a 45-minute deep tissue massage by a trained professional.
As the costs and inaccessibility of traditional health care continue to rise, more people are looking for complementary therapies to deal with chronic pain, acute injury and overall wellness. Practical massage therapy training puts people with the right hands on the job.
The Massage Therapy diploma program at Lethbridge College provides training that is really hands-on (pun intended). There is an almost one-on-one classroom experience focusing on the technical aspects of human anatomy, business practices, and ethical behaviour. Students also spend about a third of the two-year program practicing what they learn, in the college’s on-site massage clinic or with one of several local massage clinics.
“The students need to get practical experience assessing a variety of clients, developing treatment plans and working on their techniques,” says Gloria Cormican, co-chair of the School of Health Sciences. “They can’t fully develop if they only work on each other.”
The training students receive at Lethbridge College is not, however, an industry-wide standard. There are numerous agencies offering massage training, but few that employ standards that will soon be legislated by government to acquire the designation of registered massage therapist.
“In the meantime, it is still possible for anyone to hang up a shingle as a massage therapist,” says instructor Jim Manzara, former trainer for the Lethbridge College Kodiaks. “So consumers should really check into credentials of any massage therapist they are thinking of visiting. The college program is designed to meet the guidelines being proposed by the province, and we are working towards what is being proposed at a national level. The other provinces will then have to work up to and meet those standards.”
A study in 2007 found that 85 per cent of clients visiting the college’s massage clinic cited relaxation as the main reason they sought treatment.
“Most of the clients the students see in the massage clinic are healthy,” says Manzara. “In the real world, clients will come with a variety of issues. Massage is an important treatment for people with acute muscle and joint injuries and chronic conditions.”
This need to work with different populations led the college to develop a unique collaboration with the Kainai Continuing Care Centre (KCCC) in Standoff on the Kainai First Nation. Because of its remote location, KCCC has difficulty accessing some services, including massage therapy. The college’s Massage
Therapy program was invited to pilot a practicum experience for their students at KCCC. In 2008, students started a 20-hour practicum placement, working in teams with instructors discussing individual cases and treatment plans. They worked on a variety of clients, some with very complex needs.
“Some clients had terminal conditions and others were experiencing chronic pain,” says Manzara. “The experience gave our students a chance to work on people who might not come into a massage clinic.
The residents also experienced the positive benefits of massage – relaxation, better sleep and improved mobility.” Jennifer Davis, former Massage Therapy practicum supervisor, wrote an article on the Kainai practicum for Connections, a publication for Natural Health Practitioners of Canada.
“Massage therapy is a more holistic and natural healing practice and has a natural linkage with the Kainai culture and traditional medicine,” says Davis.
The opportunity at KCCC was not available in 2009 because of the risk of H1N1 infection. But the Massage Therapy students have been working more in the community: at Lethbridge’s two seniors’ centres and serving as volunteers at community events and fundraising sporting events such as runs, walks and dragonboat races.
“Our student massage booths tend to be some of the more popular activities at these events,” says Manzara.