Opening your own massage school is a daunting task. It takes time, money, planning, and a thorough understanding of the subject at hand. But anything worthwhile is worth the sacrifice. When I asked Valerie Smothers, LMT, why she decided to open a massage school, there was a heaviness about her answer – she wanted to give back to the profession that had given her so much and teach others to see massage therapy as a respectful profession.
Val knew she wanted to open a massage school – but had no idea of where or how to start. She came across Bodymechanics Institute and had a conversation on the phone with owner Shari Aldrich. That followed with an in person meeting at the 2019 AMTA National Convention. Val decided that having a team help her launch her school so she didn’t have to do it alone just made sense.
Bodymechanics Institute walked her through the process – from curriculum to licensure. Her onboarding included a visit to the Tumwater campus of Bodymechanics School of Myotherapy & Massage and seeing the school in action helped her visualize how she wanted her school to operate.
“I made sacrifices to make this dream happen. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that you put into starting a school. I was fortunate to start out with a great foundation and have since blossomed and made it my own.”
When Valerie decided to take that leap of faith and open a massage school, there was only one other school in the area, and it did not live up to the standards that the massage therapy profession deserved.
Valerie had been practicing as a massage therapist for 20 years before she decided to open her massage school at the age of 47.
“I had been told my entire massage career that I should open a massage school. I really did have a love for teaching, so it just made sense.”
Before Valerie took that leap, she started volunteering at the American Massage Therapy Association, so that she could gain more education about the massage profession. Valerie knew that if she was ever going to make it as a teacher and a massage school owner, she needed to surround herself with people who have a lot of experience and expertise in that area.
Being a part of the AMTA also helped Val understand how massage therapy is taught in other parts of the country, especially in the bigger cities. The more time Valerie spent with others in the massage profession, the more she was called to open a school in her hometown in rural Kentucky.
“There are still problems with massage therapy having a bad reputation and not being looked at as a respectful profession. The downfall has always started with the schools because they are the foundation of the industry. If I wanted to ensure that the industry continues to produce excellent massage therapists, I had to do something about it.”
Val’s lightbulb moment to open a massage school
Valerie had been ruminating over opening a massage school for a while now, but her lightbulb moment really happened when she was working on a client. While she was in her massage session, she asked herself “what if someone who was not properly educated wants to open up a massage school, because they see it as a profit-making machine rather than a respectful profession?” Valerie also noticed some red flags going on in the profession in her area.
“When people in the industry would say that they give a great back rub, I knew something needed to change. How are we going to be respected as a health care professional if we do not use the same terminology as other health care professionals? When we speak the same language as doctors, physical therapist, nurses, and other healthcare professionals and stay current with the profession, we will be seen and given the respect we deserve as a profession worthy of the title. Saying that we give a great back rub is looking down on the profession.”
Valerie also noticed that the schools in the area were not living up to the standards that should be set by the industry. That is why Valerie decided that she did not want to buy a school from someone but wanted to create her own from scratch.
“I am a one-man band; I teach all the classes and do all the marketing myself. I was 47 when I started the school in August 2019. I felt excitement, stress, anxiety, relief.”
Her school launched with two students in the day class and one student in the evening class, but Val brought ingenuity to the classroom and involved the community by creating her “Palpation Peeps” program. In March 2020 the pandemic started and she had to make some major pivots. Palpation Prep closed to in person education but she was able to continue with classes online.
16 weeks of zoom school ensued until they were able to resume normal classes. Curing the shut-down, Val and her students would meet in person on occasion to review the stuff missed while online. “It was a process, but we made it work.”
Val says: “I was proud of my accomplishments but stressed about all the time and money I had put into it. However, I did not want to give up. It is my goal to have excellent, well-educated massage therapists in every community. They need to be accessible to people when they need them. I want my school to become the hub of the community; a place where people in the industry can come to take CE classes and learn and grow as a profession.”
Three years later, Valerie has expanded her class size and has students interested in becoming teachers.
Shari Aldrich says this “Val is incredibly determined and resourceful as a massage school owner. During the pandemic, Val and her students joined with Bodymechanics School on a couple of occasions on Zoom for ethics classes to take part in a larger discussion. I’ve seen her attend several national conventions – she’s always interested in growing and learning, which makes her the ideal leader.”
We are beyond proud of Val and what she is building in Kentucky!
If you are interested in learning more about how you can open a massage school, just reach out and we can discuss our full program. Call 360-350-0015 for more information, or click here to read more.
By Melissa Robbins, LMT