Town Hall Meeting Brings Industry Players Together To Discuss The Future Of Massage Therapy Care and Community
The massage therapy industry in the region and across the country is experiencing growing pains. Thirty years ago, there was no organized licensed massage therapy profession, so it is not surprising that the industry would experience some "coming of age" evolutionary issues. Currently, there is a very troubling shortage of massage therapists in the St. Louis region and nearly every franchise and independent spa is reporting that they are turning clients away. Needless to say, this is very bad for business - bad for everyone's business. It hurts the public image of massage therapy in general.
Despite a high demand for therapists, massage schools are closing and the number of students seeking massage therapy education is shrinking. In 2005, over 1650 massage schools across the nation graduated over 70,000 licensure candidates. As of 2015, the last time data was collected, there are less than 1250 massage therapy programs in the nation and they graduated approximately 35,000 licensure candidates. This represents a 50% reduction in massage therapy school graduates in just ten years. In other words, according to ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals), massage therapy training programs are seeing an incredible drought of students seeking to enter the profession - despite an unprecedented demand for them in the work force. This problem is projected to get worse in that the demand for massage therapy services has been steadily increasing in recent years.
The last ten (10) years has been particularly rough on massage therapy training programs. Many massage programs were operated inside for-profit vocational education across the country and as those schools have been going out of business and taking massage therapy training opportunities with them. Currently, in thee St. Louis area, there are only approximately 120 students in training. As a consequence, the massage therapy industry is seeing its education resources stripped to the bone.
Currently, in the St. Louis region, there are only two remaining accredited massage therapy programs - Midwest Institute and The Healing Arts Center. There are several smaller unaccredited programs, but the latter train very few students largely because they do not have access to federal student financial aid funding. Nationally, the average massage therapy program has 28.5 students with over 600 programs having less than 20 students. Missouri College, when it closed last fall had thirty-three students - just over the national average. While some of those students requested admission at Midwest Institute and The Healing Arts Center, a large number are believed to have dropped their pursuit for massage education.
The Healing Arts Center currently has a standing enrollment of 88 students making it one of the largest massage therapy programs in the nation. Our enrollment has remained more or less stable over the past ten years. We are, however, quite concerned by the closing of most of the other massage therapy training programs over the past five (5) years. Six (6) or seven (7) of them have closed in the region in the past decade. With massage therapy businesses reporting that they are understaffed by hundreds, there is no way that The Healing Arts Center, Midwest Institute and a few tiny unaccredited schools can come anywhere near meeting the current regional employment demand.
This is bad news, not just for massage clinic and spa owners. This is bad news for massage as a profession. When a service becomes complicated and difficult to procure, clients either do without or find some other service to meet their needs. At a time when the medical community is just now discovering the usefulness of massage therapy to treat a wide variety of conditions from substance addiction to cancer, the massage profession is coming into its own rightful place as a true healing modality. And yet, this new medical demand for qualified massage therapists is adding additional pressure on an already slim labor supply.
In a free market, this data makes no sense. If there is such a demand for massage therapists, surely wage rates are increasing as clinic and spa owners compete for talent - but this is not actually happening. Wage rates have dropped over the past ten (10) years despite qualified massage therapists becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. What is going?
In addition to addressing current market conditions and discussing possible solutions, the Summit will take on the future of massage therapy as a wellness service. As massage therapy becomes increasingly integrated into traditional medical services, how do massage therapy clinics and spas expand the reach of massage therapy services to meet the expanding applications in the sports, medical and general wellness market places? What we know for sure, is that the current state of the industry has only explored the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unlocking the potential of massage therapy as a health and wellness practice.
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