AUGUST 1995 BACK ISSUE
Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 8/1/95; 10:00:00 AM.
Considerations When Chooosing An Animal Massage Clinic
An increasing number of people in this country and elsewhere are recognizing that the art of massage is applicable to animals. Both pets and performance animals experience soft tissue damage in their daily lives. It is the authors' experience that therapeutic massage provides significant relief and stimulates healing, as well as, promotes stress reduction and relaxation. Animal massage clinics provide an excellent forum for study and practice to apply massage skills to animals.
In this article, we would like to present our thoughts and experiences on how you might develop your own criteria for choosing an animal massage clinic or program. To get the most for your investment, the following areas should be considered:
* The Facilities
* The Qualifications of the Instructor(s)
* The Program
An effective program combines lecture, individual instruction and an abundance of hands-on experience. A quality facility is necessary to accomplish these modes of learning.
Does the facility have a dedicated classroom area in proximity to the animals? Is it temperature controlled? In the summer, it makes for a long week if it is not. For your own comfort, is there good lighting and seating, or are you taking notes sitting in sawdust, straw or on a cement floor?
If you will be studying equine massage - is a clean, well kept barn on site, or do you have to travel to find animals? Is the area a safe environment for therapists and animal? What about traffic, such as farming equipment, or other vehicles moving about the premises?
If you are traveling from far away, are there convenient accommodations nearby? And if by chance you are traveling with a friend, is there anything for them to do in the area while you are attending your workshop? Golf, antiquing, shopping, or museums close to your clinic can make your working week more pleasant for your friend or family member.
One more consideration is food. This varies from clinic to clinic. For example, lunch is often included, but you may want to ask, "What's for lunch?" In our experience, people care whether they get hot dogs or healthy choices such as salads, soups, whole grain breads and fruits.
The Qualifications of the Instructors
Effective therapists proceed from two talents - knowledge and manual skills. In addition, two instructors are better than one by offering different points of view and having more experiences to share.
There are several important questions you might ask your potential instructor(s). Is your instructor a graduate of an approved school of massage? Who approved the program? How long was the training program? The authors feel a minimum massage training program is a six month intensive program (5 days a week) or preferably a 12-24 month program (800-1000 hours) of schooling in massage theory, techniques and anatomy and physiology. Did the instructor have to pass a State Board exam, or some other exam such as the National Certification Exam for Massage and Bodyworkers? There are a number of certification exams, and although they do not assure the therapist is terrific as an animal massage instructor, it does give you some assurance of their level of knowledge competency. We believe that a fundamental grounding in the principles and practice of massage is essential to teach others its application to animals. Your instructor must be well versed in different techniques and be skillful in applying them.
We recognize that the physiological effects of massage techniques are common to most soft tissue, yet there are important differences between people and animals and in some cases between animals. Can your instructor address these differences? Has your instructor worked with cadavers to learn first hand the spatial relationships between muscle layers, muscle attachments and joint configurations?
While we do not claim to have all the questions you might want to ask, we do hope these questions will help you to gain some assurance that you will receive qualified instruction at the program you choose to attend.
The content of the program you are seeking is just as important as the other two areas of concern in this article. You alone know how much you know about animals or massage techniques and application. Is the program you are investigating presenting material beyond your grasp or is it tailored to your needs? Generally the smaller the student to instructor ratio, the more individual attention you will be able to attain to get what you need from the course.
The specific content will vary from course to course. There are courses in one type of massage, such as accupressure or shiatsu. You will learn that one kind of massage or technique. There are courses that teach a variety of techniques for specific problem situations. How many types of massage technique are being taught? You will have to be the judge as to your focus, narrow or more broad in scope.
Individual animals react differently to pain, to different massage techniques, and heat at different rates, just as humans do. Will you learn the indications and contra-indications for massage at the clinic? Will you be learning soft tissue structure? Is the circulatory system, the nervous system or the skeletal system taught? Will you receive in-depth explanations both in the classroom and on the animals, or do you only see a few pictures and charts?
You might ask if the course covers anatomy of the species of animal you are learning to massage, including breed differences. Does the course material cover conformation as it pertains to the use of the animal and its relationship to massage?
While only a Veterinarian can diagnose an animal's illness or injury, we, as massage therapists, had better know about some of the animal diseases such as founder and colic, or feline leukemia or perhaps hip displaysia. You would not instill much confidence in the owner who is paying the bill if you did not know what these diagnoses from the veterinarian meant. How would you be able to determine the most effective massage techniques to use or, even more importantly, if you should be massaging the area? Are diseases and the indications and contra-indications of massage part of the program?
The laws governing massage with regard to animals varies from State to State. Is there any discussion of this topic within the program? What kind of record keeping is required? Perhaps you are interested in fee scales or advertising. Are these discussed?
Does the program you are investigating use outside references? Many sources in the field of animal anatomy, massage techniques, and animal behavior are applicable. While all cannot be learned from reading books when discussing the art of massage, there are a number of wonderful references out there. Are they used in teaching? Can you use this library while attending the course?
Ask if you receive a manual with your class. What is in this manual? Is it yours to keep and use for reference later when you get home and have a question about what you learned?
We caution you interested individuals about getting impressed with numbers of participants and words like "certification". Ask who is certifying you - a university, or a national organization whom you recognize as having been around awhile and involved with massage or veterinary medical care? At the time of this writing, we know of NO national or recognized state organization certifying animal massage therapists. Some out there are saying they "certify" you. But remember, not being accredited, these diplomas have dubious value. We feel a certificate of completion is a more honest approach. Note: There are a number of people and organizations who are noted for their work in massage and animal care working on the issue of certification and qualifications for certification now.
The costs for a massage clinic vary. Generally, if you take into account course content, the instructor-student ratio, the materials you receive to take home as well as the hours of instruction and facility and meals, you will be able to determine cost benefits. While the cheapest may not be the worst, the most expensive may not be the best either.
Good luck in your search for an animal massage training program. We hope that this has helped you form a better checklist for evaluation.
Authors: Patricia Whalen-Shaw, M.A., LMT and Len Montavon, M.A. LMT., Optissage, Inc., 7041 Zane Trail Road, Circleville, Ohio 43113, or 1-800-251-0007.