Admissions staff at Vicars School of Massage Therapy are used to fielding inquiries about tuition, class sizes, or financial aid. But lately, admissions advisor Rhonda Watson has also been answering a lot of questions about another topic: CTMCA accreditation.

“More people have been asking whether we are an accredited school, and we love it,” Rhonda says. “It tells us that they have done their homework and understand that a diploma from an accredited school like Vicars is the way to make sure that they will find the job they want and be prepared for success as soon as they start work.”

Since it’s such a popular topic, we decided to put together a blog post answering some of the biggest questions that we get on the subject.

Is Vicars School of Massage Therapy accredited by the CMTCA?

Yes! Vicars earned full accreditation status in 2022. So far, we are the only private massage therapy school in Alberta to have been granted this distinction.

What Is CMTCA accreditation?

Program accreditation through the Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation (CMTCA) is a way for massage therapy programs to demonstrate that they meet Canada’s national program standards.

The CMTCA is a completely independent organization whose job it is to review massage therapy programs in Canada. This assessment is based on a long list of criteria, including the quality of the curriculum, student experience, facilities, and overall organization of the school. Their process includes both an in-depth review of the school’s documentation, and a multi-day site visit at each campus.

By granting full accreditation, the CMTCA is announcing that the school:

  • Meets the curriculum standards of the regulated provinces (more about that below);
  • Awards diplomas only to massage therapists who have proven themselves skilled, knowledgeable, and effective; and
  • Delivers what it promises: qualified instructors, relevant content, and a culture of continuous improvement.

Why does accreditation matter?

Accreditation matters because the quality of your massage therapy career will depend on the quality of your education. And the best way to judge the quality of a school is by making sure that it meets Canada’s national standards.

Not all massage therapy programs are created equal. This is especially true in a province like Alberta, where the massage therapy profession isn’t regulated by the government, and neither is the content or quality of massage therapy education. In provinces where massage therapy is a regulated health profession, schools have to follow the national curriculum and delivery standards, accreditation is mandatory, and the professional regulatory groups (called “professional colleges”) only recognize programs that meet these standards.

Alberta is a little bit like the “Wild West” in comparison. So it’s incredibly important that people who want to become massage therapists do their research and make sure that they’re choosing a quality school.

At Vicars, we believe that massage therapy students deserve to know what kind of education they’re signing up for, and that clients deserve to know that their RMT has the knowledge and skills to give them a safe and effective treatment.

“This kind of objective assessment from an expert organization like the CMTCA is an important stamp of approval for any Canadian massage program,” explains Maryhelen Vicars, the school’s founder and president. “But it’s even more important here in Alberta where massage therapy and massage education are not regulated by the government. Accreditation is also an essential step toward any future provincial regulation.”

Vicars is the only independent massage therapy program to be accredited in Alberta (the two others are run by publicly funded institutions).

“It’s unfortunate for the profession, and for Alberta massage students, that this kind of consistent, evidence-based education isn’t already mandatory for Alberta massage schools,” says Maryhelen. “The more schools that choose to get accredited, the higher the quality of massage education in Alberta will be overall.”

Accreditation is important for people who are dreaming of beginning a career in massage therapy and are trying to decide which of Alberta’s massage therapy programs is the right choice for them.

What it comes down to is that if a massage therapy school hasn’t passed independent approval processes like CMTCA accreditation or the MTAA school approval program list, you have no way of knowing if the education they offer is really going to prepare you for a successful career.

“People shouldn’t only have to rely on what the admissions reps from each school tell them when they’re researching a new career,” says Rhonda. “Being able to rely on unbiased sources like the CMTCA nationally and the MTAA locally means they can be confident about their choice of school.”

Will graduating from an accredited school benefit my career?


Your success as an RMT will depend on your hands-on assessment and treatment skills, your knowledge of the human body, your understanding of massage theory, your business know-how, and your ability to practice massage in a safe and sustainable way. These are the skills and knowledge that you will use to build your client base and keep them coming back for more.

That’s what you’ll learn at an accredited school.

That said, clinic owners and other employers know what accreditation means, and they know what schools they prefer to hire therapists from. Vicars therapists have always been in high demand from employers and clients. Accreditation has just made our grads stand out even more.

When RMTs are able to say that they have graduated from an accredited school, it is further proof that they are worth every penny! We’ve even heard from RMTs who graduated before our accreditation was official, who have told us that CMTCA recognition has benefited their professional reputation.

The general public is also increasingly aware of that not all massage therapists are created equal. More and more clients now know that choosing therapists from accredited schools makes it easier for them to find qualified, effective therapists.

Does accreditation mean that my Vicars education will be recognized across Canada?

Accreditation is a huge step forward for Vicars graduates who want to practice in regulated provinces.

It’s not a silver bullet, however. In order to become registered in a regulated province, you will still have to go through their professional college’s application and acceptance process. That process will vary province to province.

The important thing to remember is that going to an accredited school means that your education will match what students in regulated provinces learn. So no matter what their process looks like, you need to go through, you will have the knowledge and skills that you need.

When Louise Drinnan started at Vicars School of Massage Therapy, she had no illusions about how challenging and time-consuming the two-year training would be.

She remembers telling her family that she was going to be married to the course for two years.

“I told them that if I drift, I’ll catch up with you after graduation,” she says. At the time, the single mother of two young children knew that the best way forward in her life was to pursue the career she had always wanted: massage therapy.

Louise attended class every week, which enabled her to work at her own pace and still get a good education. She and her classmates formed a study group that met weekly, something she says made all the difference in keeping up with the curriculum.

“Our instructors were incredibly supportive,” Louise says. “There was always someone to hold your hand if you needed that,” but they also encouraged the students to “go do it,” she says.

During the last part of the second year, Louise and some of her classmates found themselves intimidated by the heavy workload. But Dan Hvingelby, one of their instructors, gave them some advice that really stuck with her.

“He said ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” says Louise. “’One bite at a time.’”

During her training, Louise fell “completely in love with the human body.” And it changed how she felt about herself. “It gave me confidence and purpose,” she says. “My son was too young to notice but my daughter was a teenager and old enough to see the difference in me.”

Part of that change was a renewed ability to cope and persevere for the sake of the new and satisfying career that she hoped the training would bring.

Louise’s yearning for a career in massage therapy had started when she was a teenager. After high school, she worked a number of jobs in the healthcare and wellness industries before joining an insurance brokerage as a receptionist to support her two young children. The stable hours and benefits of her job were valuable, but massage therapy was always in the back of her mind.

She had looked at courses at different schools around Calgary. The monthly class offered at Vicars School of Massage Therapy appealed to her. She thought she could make that work if she were allowed to take her vacation one day at a time. This would have allowed her the days off she would need to make it work (at that time, the monthly class schedule was offered over a three-day weekend on campus in addition to the at-home schoolwork).

“I made the mistake of telling my then-boss what I was thinking,” Louise says. And that was the end of that. Her employer was not going to make an accommodation that would result in Louise leaving to start a new career.

Louise stuck it out at her old job for another two years. It took a family tragedy to propel her into action. Louise had a female cousin with whom she was very close when they were children. They grew apart as adults and her cousin moved to rural Ontario. Then one day in February 2011, Louise’s cousin was found frozen to death by the side of a road.

The shock and grief of losing her cousin hit home for Louise. “That was my reset,” said Louise. “You don’t know what’s around the next corner and if you have a dream, you should chase it.”

Six months after her cousin’s death, Louise started in a weekly class at the Calgary campus.

“It was a big leap of faith,” Louise says. “I left the insurance brokerage, didn’t have a part-time job, and didn’t learn I had funding for massage school until the Friday before the course started.”

Louise graduated from Vicars in 2013, and after a short stint at another clinic joined The Wellness Studio as an independent contractor in 2014. She’s been there ever since.

“It’s a multidisciplinary chiropractic clinic with a really great team.”

Louise’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing her work have a direct, positive effect on her clients. “I have this one client with dystonia, which is uncontrolled muscle spasms, whom I was treating biweekly for five years” says Louise. “At first, she was in a pretty constant state of spasm, but now between acupuncture, meditation, and massage, she can go weeks without a spasm.”

Another major source of satisfaction is when clients come back after a hiatus. “They tell me they were seeing someone else for a while, but they came back to me because the other therapist didn’t do the work that I do,” she says. “That’s pretty cool.”

“Just knowing that I’m having a direct, positive effect on somebody’s life, when I help them move better and feel better,” says Louise. “That’s what I consider to be a good day.”

For Lucie Bozdech, becoming a Registered Massage Therapist wasn’t just about starting a new career. It was about starting a new life. And she couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Lucie came to Canada as a little girl after fleeing Czechoslovakia, now Czechia, with her family during the Cold War.  

As an adult, she wanted to discover her roots and get to know her aging grandmother better, so she went back, thinking she would be there for a short stint teaching English. She ended up staying nine years. Eventually, howeverafter her grandmother’s passing, a marriage, and a divorce—it was time to come home. She returned to Canada with her toddler son, looking to reinvent herself. 


Lucie researched colleges and universities, trying to find a program or course of study that would resonate with her. At the urging of a good friend who was already a successful massage therapist, Lucie began looking into massage therapy, booking appointments with several schools.  

The first place Lucie walked into was Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Calgary. 

“As soon as I entered, I thought ‘Oh, this feels right,’” Lucie says. “Sarah [Ward-Bakken] was the presenter and she answered all my questions and I was convinced right then that this was the school for me.”  

Lucie took Vicars’ full-time, two-year course, choosing the weekly class schedule.  She found she was able to work part-time, care for her son, and keep up with the required practice and at-home academic assignments.   

“What made Vicars stand out for me was that they are so flexible in meeting your lifestyle needs,” she says.  

Any illusions she had about massage therapy training being easy were quickly dispelled, though.  

“It was extremely intense, as intense as getting a university degree,” Lucie says. But she loved every moment of it. “I’m from a medical family. Anatomy, physiology, circulation—I loved the science-based curriculum and practical knowledge.”  

When she graduated in 2015 and was looking for a job, she found the Vicars School name opened doors. 

“In every interview, people said with a Vicars grad they knew they would be getting a highly trained massage therapist who performed very well, hands down,” Lucie says.  

Lucie found her dream job at Salt Water Wellness Centre in Cochrane, owned by a registered massage therapist, which employs eight massage therapists.  

“It’s such a positive environment,” says Lucie.  

Massage therapy’s stress-free, positive, nurturing aspects are huge reasons why Lucie chose it as a career. She gives an example of one of her clients, an older woman who had lost her husband after nearly 50 years of marriage, whose doctor told her to try getting a massage.  

“When she came in, I felt the heaviness of the grief in the room,” says Lucie. “I slowly started talking to her during the massage and she cried and then opened up and poured her heart out to me.”  

After each of her subsequent monthly massages the client left feeling a little bit better.  

“The other day she gave me a hug and thanked me for helping her through the most difficult time in her life,” says Lucie. “We’re not psychologists by any means, but it’s such an intimate situation to be in and for those of us who are empathetic it can be a wonderful addition to somebody’s care.”  

Another reason Lucie loves working at Salt Water is the 18-minute drive to Cochrane from her home in Calgary each day.  

“On that drive I see the foothills, the mountains, and the water and I think about how lucky I am,” she says.  

The other major reason she appreciates the career is the freedom that it gives her to travel. 

“I consider myself international and massage therapy is a skill that is international. When my son is done high school, I have zero qualms about moving anywhere in the world. That’s the beauty of this career: you can take it anywhere.” 

Canadian massage therapy standards are among the most rigorous in the world. Vicars’ students receive 2200 hours of training, a prerequisite for provincial and national accreditation. Standards in other countries vary. Czechia, for example, requires only 150 hours of training to obtain licensing. When Lucie, who is fluent in Czech, travels with her son to Czechia each summer, she works on a casual basis for a company that offers therapeutic massage to its employees. 

The other aspect of massage therapy that Lucie values is the financial reward. “You get back what you put in,” she says. “I work hard and that’s reflected immediately in my pay cheques, whereas at a nine-to-five job you can work hard but you won’t see the results until you get a promotion or raise.”  

Although Lucie works hard, she is always mindful of preserving her own health and strength. She’s met younger massage therapists who have issues from giving massages because they have neglected self-care. Again, it was her Vicars instructors who drilled the importance of correct body mechanics into her during training.  

“I remember that more than anything else from school,” she says. “That grounding in proper body dynamics and form is always in my head.” 

Looking back on her training Lucie says that the most important aspect about Vicars is how the students were treated. “All sorts of people come to Vicars from all sorts of situations, whether they had’t been to school for a long time, or they had full-time jobs, or spouses and families,” she says. “What I loved about Vicars is that they are there for you and will do everything to help you be successful.” 

This 3-part blog series is all about the advantages and challenges of starting a massage therapy career later in life. We’ll find out why it’s such an attractive career for people in their forties, fifties, and beyond, and the special skills that mature students bring to the classroom. Today, we’re sharing more stories from Vicars graduates who came to massage therapy as a second career. 

Hazel Bell

Twenty years ago, Hazel Bell made a phone call that changed her life.

Working at the time as a clinical assistant in a medical office, she had seen an ad in the paper for Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Edmonton. “The ad said: ‘How would you like to be a massage therapist?’ so I called,” she says.

Hazel enrolled at Vicars at the age of 45—a member of one of the school’s very first classes. Two other people in the class, including her sister, were around her age. She attended school one day a week while continuing to work full time.

“My children were older so I could take the time for myself,” she says. “It was challenging, but I was very focused on succeeding and eventually having my own massage therapy business.”

Hazel went on to become sole proprietor of Body Craft in Sherwood Park. She’s seen massage therapy change over the years, particularly the greater awareness therapists have of treatment for specific conditions. She also sees a more robust psychosocial environment for students, something that Vicars puts a lot of emphasis on.

While listening to clients is paramount in any successful registered massage therapist’s practice, Hazel adds a twist.

“Learning to listen with your hands is key,” she says. “My clients say I communicate with my hands.”

Now in her mid-60s, Hazel has no plans to retire any time soon. She’s prepared to reduce her hours eventually, but she loves being an RMT too much to consider stopping entirely.

“Massage therapy changed my life. It gave me a career, a business, and an income,” she says. “It’s been a fabulous experience.”

Rhonda Watson

Hazel was a mentor to Rhonda Watson when Rhonda was a Vicars student in 2016-2017. Rhonda owns Radiate Wellness in Edmonton and returned to Vicars last year as an admissions advisor.

Before she was an RMT, Rhonda was a successful business analyst. The stable 9-to-5 schedule worked well for her while her children were in school, but once they were grown, she was ready for a new start. She was interested in health and wellness, and wanted to help others. Massage therapy was the perfect fit.

“I was really anxious, wondering if my study skills were still going to be there and if I could retain information,” Rhonda says. “It’s amazing but you really don’t lose those skills.”

Rhonda treated school like a job: she set herself a study schedule and went into “the office” every day. She was motivated to succeed despite the challenging workload, and she revelled in the culture at Vicars.

“It was a very supportive environment, from the staff to my fellow classmates,” Rhonda says. “If you’re running into difficulty, there are people there to help you. They really do set you up for success.”

Now that she’s an admissions advisor at the school, Rhonda fields a lot of questions from prospective students that feel familiar to her.

“The most frequent questions I get from callers are ‘Is it too late for me?’ and ‘Am I too old?’,” she says. “I tell them my story and how concerned I was before school started that I would be the oldest person in the room. In the end, there were lots of people in their thirties and forties—and up—in the class and that was fantastic.”

When she’s talking to people considering a career in massage, Rhonda has three key points she always makes. The first is about lingering perceptions about massage therapy.

“You don’t have to be strong and muscle-bound to go into massage therapy,” she says. “Instead, it’s all about the science of body mechanics and the right way and wrong way to perform massage.”

A related message is about self-care, something Rhonda is passionate about. “Although massage is about correct techniques and practicing safely and effectively, it is a physical occupation,” she says. “You need to understand your capacity, and what your limits are so you can pace yourself and not be exhausted at the end of the day.”

“Massage therapy is something you can do well into your older years, like Hazel [Bell] is doing,” she says as a final message. “You may not know what your career is going to look like going into school and you don’t have to have all the answers right away because if you keep your skills current, the training is something you will have for the rest of your life.”

Karen Jukes

The physical aspect of massage therapy, along with encouragement from two mentors, is what compelled Smithers, B.C. resident Karen Jukes to enrol in Vicars’ blended learning program on the Calgary campus. Even as a child, Karen had been interested in massage therapy, but her love of the outdoors led her into a degree in forestry. When she had children, she needed to find work with more regular hours that was closer to home. She started at a physiotherapy clinic, first at the front desk and then progressing to becoming a physiotherapist aide, where she was taught a few simple massage techniques. She loved her job but wasn’t willing to go back and do a four-year physiotherapy degree at her stage of life. One of her bosses suggested becoming a registered massage therapist instead.

Karen enrolled at Vicars in 2017, graduating in 2019. Her previous experience with distance education—she did her forestry degree by correspondence—meant that she had the self-motivation and discipline necessary to succeed while working part-time. “When you’re working and you have a family, time management is the priority,” she says. “My kids are into a lot of activities so when things got really hectic, my husband could step in to manage their schedules.”

Karen also found support from a woman she met on a hike who owns Invermere Massage Therapy Clinic. She mentored Karen, eventually offering her a position at the clinic after Karen graduated and where she works now.

Karen’s motivation for her second career was that she wanted to help people and she wanted to be physical because she didn’t like sitting in offices. “Massage therapy gives me the opportunity to be in movement throughout the day as I’m helping people,” she says. “I’ve been working at the clinic for three years now and just love my job. I couldn’t be more thankful.”

This 3-part blog series is all about the advantages and challenges of starting a massage therapy career later in life. We’ll find out why it’s such an attractive career for people in their forties, fifties, and beyond and the special skills that mature students bring to the classroom. Today, we’re sharing the stories of some special Vicars graduates and current students who came to massage therapy as a second career. 

Elliot Lloyd

Elliott Lloyd treats a client at an outreach event during his second year as a Vicars student.

The link between a healthy body and a healthy mind is what drew Elliot Lloyd to pursue a career in massage therapy. He’d always been into sports, even signing up for an Ironman triathlon in his late forties. It was while training for that grueling race that he began getting massages, finding them an essential part of his regime.

After retiring from 30 years in policing, followed by a couple of related security and investigations jobs, Elliot realized he didn’t want to investigate anything anymore—he wanted to help people the way that his RMTs had helped him when he was training.

He graduated from Vicars in October—one of four people in their 50s in his class.

“I joined the police young, at 19, and while we had learning and courses in the police force, going back to school at 51 was hard work,” says Elliot. “But I’ve really enjoyed it.”

For him, the key to successful learning is staying organized to deal with the course load and to keep the stress levels down. And his life and career have given him plenty of practice in that department.

“After the stress of policing, I find working one on one with somebody to help them relax or resolve a therapeutic issue—in a nice quiet room with music in the background—is almost as therapeutic for me as it is for them,” Elliot says.

Elliot has found that his life experience in policing, particularly in communicating with people, translates directly into massage therapy.

“I feel that when I’m dealing with someone in a student clinic, I’m probably more comfortable than someone who is maybe 19 or 20,” he says. “Having a lot of experience in listening and figuring out how people tick is really is the key to massage therapy.”

Sheryl Moroziuk

The idea of being a mature student gave Sheryl Moroziuk a lot to think about.

Sheryl had left her engineering job to care for her children when they were young. Once they’d reached school age, she didn’t want to go back to her old job. She was 37 years old, restless, and wanted a career where she could make more of an immediate difference in people’s lives. An earlier interest in physical training and body building led her to consider massage therapy, and to attend an open house at Vicars’ Calgary campus in 2017. She was intrigued—but the doubts lingered.

“I had a lot of concerns ranging from potentially being the oldest in the class to the transition in my own identity where I might be working on former colleagues or neighbours,” Sheryl says.

Nonetheless, she enrolled and was relieved to discover that many of her classmates were around her age. And once she got back into the rhythm of school, Sheryl found her age was not a hindrance but a strength.

“As a mature student, I had my priorities in order,” she says. “With kids and a family, you don’t have a lot of time to waste.”

A few months after she graduated in 2019, Sheryl was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Rather than letting it be a setback, she decided to view it as another opportunity to turn her own life experiences into professional strengths.

“When you’ve experienced the limited range of motion and lack of mobility that older clients go through, it makes you more empathetic,” she says. “You do more thorough assessments of clients and you have a lot of wisdom to incorporate into your practice.”

Sheryl has a mobile service with a full client base, and fills in for other therapists in a few clinics in her area. She loves the flexibility and freedom to choose her own schedule.

“I’d worked at a lot of different jobs, hoping to contribute and have a purpose,” says Sheryl. “Massage therapy has been the longest running interest of mine and it’s still going strong.”

This 3-part blog series is all about the advantages and challenges of starting a massage therapy career later in life. We’ll find out why it’s such an attractive career for people in their forties, fifties, and beyond and the special skills that mature students bring to the classroom. We’ll also feature the stories of some special Vicars graduates and current students who came to massage therapy as a second career. 

Linda McGeachy knows what it takes to be a successful massage therapist. After all, she’s been an RMT for almost 30 years, a massage therapy educator for 25, and is currently the curriculum director at Vicars School.

“You have to like people a lot, and be able to listen well in order to decide what’s going to work best for that person,” she says. “You need to be empathetic, but also maintain the proper boundaries that are going to keep you effective. It’s about being open, well-rounded, and curious.”

It may come as a surprise to some people that her list didn’t include “young and well-muscled.” One of the most common misconceptions about massage therapy is that it’s a young person’s career.

But nothing could be further from the truth: it’s possible to be an effective and successful RMT no matter how old you are or when you start your career. We have more than 20 years’ worth of graduates to prove it!

In fact, starting a massage therapy career a little bit later in life can actually be an advantage.

“When you go back to school later in life, you know what you want and you’re not afraid to work for it. You are often more focused on your goals than you were when you were younger,” says the school’s founder Maryhelen Vicars. “You know yourself better, and that makes you a better student and a better massage therapist.”

Maryhelen speaks from experience: she went back to school at age 48 to train for a new career as an RMT. She had spent 25 years as a journalist, writer, and editor. She had extensive experience developing educational materials for adults, but she hadn’t been a student herself since her early 20s.

When she had the opportunity to create a new type of massage school a couple of years later, she had the needs of mature learners solidly in mind. Students would be treated like adults, and always with respect, she declared. The first consideration in any decision made by the school about curriculum or policy would be how it would affect the students.

Those promises still stand and are at the core of how the school operates today, she says. The result is a combination of a comprehensive, treatment-focused massage curriculum and a blended-learning schedule that allows students to balance school with their other responsibilities. Because mature students always have other responsibilities.

The guiding principles may have stayed the same for more than 20 years, but the curriculum and how it is delivered has definitely evolved. Linda works hard to make sure that Vicars is at the cutting edge of massage therapy education, from incorporating the latest research to using the best online learning tools. Don’t just take our word for it: Vicars is accredited by the CMTCA and an MTAA Approved Program).

The program attracts students at all stages of life but is especially popular with students in their mid-30s and beyond: people who are ready to leave their old career and make a new start, parents who can finally go back to school now that their children are old enough, and even retirees who want a flexible part-time vocation after decades of working 9-5.

Because they’re a part of a program that’s set up for their success, mature students at Vicars can let their strengths shine through.

“Mature students have experience managing family and career responsibilities,” Linda explains. “That’s very important for good time management.”

Mature students can also bring their broad life experience to bear when it comes to short- and long-term treatment planning.

“Each client has a different story and so many things can affect their wellbeing,” Linda says. “When the therapist can understand a person’s life situation because of their own experience, that puts the therapist in a better place.

She uses the example of chronic pain management, an area of growing interest in an aging population. In pain management, the emphasis is on techniques to stimulate the nervous system’s pathways, rather than those used to manipulate muscles. Different approaches are also required to understand chronic pain clients.

“The term ‘biopsychosocial’ is used to describe hearing and treating the whole person, rather than just focusing on specific injuries or complaints in isolation,” she says. “Older therapists with their life experience and, in some cases even their own chronic pain, can understand a person’s life situation better than a younger person who might be just starting to understand that.”

Take the next step on your career journey by signing up for an online or in-person open house event!

Did you know that over the past four years, one in every four students enrolled at Vicars School commuted each month from their homes and jobs in BC to Calgary or Edmonton for their massage therapy training?

Vicars offers an exceptional education that prepares graduates for all aspects of a successful massage therapy career, from anatomy to treatment planning to business skills. And regular readers will know that Vicars School is accredited by the same body that accredits massage schools provinces that regulate massage and massage education.

But BC has several excellent accredited massage programs, too. So what’s so special about Vicars that inspires so many students to choose us, despite the time, inconvenience, and cost of travelling to Alberta each month?

We chatted with recent Vicars grads Ainslie Conway and Andrew Wautier to uncover why they chose Vicars.

Ainslie Conway knew that she wanted to be a registered massage therapist (RMT). She also knew that she wanted to keep living in beautiful Whistler, BC while she went back to school.

The one thing that she wasn’t sure about was whether she’d be able to find a school that would give her both the high-quality education and the flexible student experience she was looking for.

In addition to raising two young children, Ainslie and her husband own Back In Action Physiotherapy clinic in Whistler. She wanted to find a massage therapy program that would give her the most thorough training possible, given the sacrifices in time, livelihood, and family attention that going back to school would require. She also wanted to make sure her training would match the quality of the other services delivered at the clinic.

“We have high-level athletes among our clientele, and we have the Canadian Snowboard physiotherapy team and the Canadian ski cross physiotherapist lead working with us,” Ainslie says. “Expectations are high.”

And then—as if her standards weren’t high enough already—life threw another challenge her way. The COVID pandemic erupted just as Ainslie was researching massage therapy programs.

“I found that none of the colleges I talked to in British Columbia had a solid plan about how to train or offer clinical hours during COVID, while Vicars School had been offering blended-learning programs for decades and had a plan in place,” she says.

She had already hired several Vicars graduates at the physiotherapy clinic, and had been impressed by their performance, work ethic, and ability. Vicars School’s much lower tuition cost was also a factor in her decision.

The Vicars program is a full-time blended-learning experience, consisting of four in-person classroom days per month and on-campus student clinics. Between classes, students work from home, using high-quality online learning and study-at-home materials. About 30 hours per week is required in independent study.

The unique combination of a blended learning schedule and an education that meets the national curriculum standards means that Vicars attracts students from all over western Canada, the Territories, and beyond. The vast majority of them—25% of the all Vicars students in the last four years alone—are from BC.

Because she lives in Whistler, Ainslie found the time restraint of flying into and staying in Calgary every month about the same as if she had attended a Monday-Friday program in Vancouver.

“I would have been driving five hours a day, every day to go to school in Vancouver,” she says. “And I would also have had to go into the student clinic on weekends.”

To get the most out of her visits to Alberta, Ainslie tacked on a couple of extra days to her stay in Calgary each month to earn her clinical hours at the Vicars student clinic. She was able to keep her travel costs down by teaming up with her fellow out-of-towners—including three other students from Whistler, who became her car-pool buddies to and from the airport.

Including Ainslie, there were nine students in that monthly class who travelled from outside Alberta for school: seven from BC, and two from Saskatchewan. Once pandemic restrictions were eased, the nine of them shared a house when they were in Calgary. Beyond just saving them money on accommodation, having the house (complete with kitchen and laundry room) meant they could travel with only carry-on luggage, eat better and more cheaply, and have a support system while away from home.

Back at home, Ainslie’s husband took on more of the household responsibilities, and her mother pitched in with childcare when needed. While the blended learning pathway was not easy for her and her family, Ainslie says the positives very much outweighed the negatives.

“It was great for the family because the kids saw what it was like to learn as an adult,” she says. “They were even involved in my studying, with colouring and drawing diagrams.”

Ainslie also found it led to better communication with her husband, both personally and professionally.

“He has three physiotherapy degrees and has worked for three Olympics, so he’s very experienced and was a great resource,” Ainslie says. “But massage is a different perspective, and I was able to identify when I needed his knowledge and when I didn’t.”

Ainslie was able to work part-time in her first year of study by allocating 40 hours a week to her schoolwork and filling in at Back In Action around her studies.

“In my second year, I definitely had to reduce my work hours. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of practice time required, and I wanted to ensure I could dedicate the time to be the best that I could be.”

Reality check: she remembers that to balance the full-time commitment of blended learning, she had to take some me-time when she returned from Calgary each month.

“It’s a very heavy content load and by Sunday my brain would be exhausted from trying to absorb everything. I found it important to take the Monday off when I got home, just to process it all and regroup.”

Ainslie graduated from Vicars in June 2022. Before she could practice professionally in BC, however, she needed to pass the board exams in a regulated province. Like many Vicars graduates, she chose to write her exams with the College of Massage Therapists of Newfoundland and Labrador. She was successful, and is in the process of transferring her registration to BC so she can get to work as RMT at the Back in Action Clinic.

Like Ainslie, Andrew Wautier travelled from BC to Alberta each month to train at Vicars. Andrew flew from Prince George and graduated from the Edmonton campus in 2022.

As a certified athletic therapist who works in disability management for the Prince George health authority, Andrew wanted to offer more one-on-one treatment to his clients to improve their outcomes. The problem was that his services were is not currently covered by benefits programs.

“As an RMT in a clinic setting, my clients would have their massage therapy covered through benefits and insurance programs,” Andrew explains.

Andrew looked into options for massage therapy training in BC, but with a full-time job and a young family, the requirement to attend daily classes for two years was just not possible. A friend told him about Vicars School of Massage Therapy’s blended learning program, and he enrolled in early 2020.

He flew into Edmonton once a month, staying with his sister and tacking an extra day onto each stay to fulfill his clinic requirements. In the two-year period, he only had one flight delay that set him back a day and one month where he missed an entire trip because COVID. Once he completes his BC registration, he’ll begin seeing clients at his home studio.

“The blended learning program is great for adult learners who have to keep full-time jobs and have families, and who know what their time is worth,” Andrew says. “Vicars did a fantastic job of that in terms of balancing people’s time.”

No matter where you live in Canada, a diploma from Vicars School will set you up for success. Our graduates are trained to the same level as therapists in regulated provinces, and are in high demand from employers and clients everywhere they go. Take the next step on your career journey by signing up for an online or in-person open house event!

What is sports massage and how is it different from the type of massage therapy that most people are familiar with? Can someone who isn’t a professional athlete benefit from a sports massage? How does a massage therapist become a sports massage specialist?

To answer those questions, we spoke with three registered massage therapists (RMTs), all of whom teach at Vicars School of Massage Therapy, and who have made sports massage an important part of their practice.

Tonia Vipler teaches at our Calgary campus. She has always been interested in body mechanics and athletic recovery—she’s a life-long athlete and trained as a kinesiologist before becoming an RMT—so incorporating sports massage into her practice was a natural fit. She has noticed that the general public (and even some athletes) are often uncertain of just what sports massage. So she explains it to her clients as a massage treatment that is specifically focused on the muscles and muscle areas that are most commonly used by athletes in their sport.

Earlier in her massage career, Tonia worked both as a massage therapist and personal trainer, with clients overlapping between the two disciplines. That’s when her work in sports massage started. Nowadays, her practice is with ‘everyday athletes,’ such as people who are training for a marathon, Iron Man, or cycling trip.

A big part of Tonia’s practice is educating clients about their bodies, and why it’s important to incorporate massage into their training schedule. Rather than coming to her for the first time when they are injured, Tonia wants to make people aware that massage is a tool that can be incorporated into their athletic schedule from the start, in the same way they would optimize their diet and sleep to maximize performance and prevent injury.

“I like to remind people who aren’t professional athletes that sports massage could be part of their journey to prevent any injuries,” she says. She also offers mobile massage and finds her clientele is shifting to include more families with younger athletes. “Right now, I work with younger kids, teaching them that massage is a really good tool for their athletic journey throughout their lives.”

Tonia describes the techniques used in sports massage as the same techniques that students learn at Vicars School of Massage Therapy. The key is how, and when, techniques are used. Sports massage often requires more dynamic movement in the massage than a relaxation massage, using more vigorous muscle stripping, stretching, and myofascial techniques.

Edmonton instructor Kerri Wagensveld agrees.

“The techniques I use are not specific to sports massage,” she says. “For example, compressions, which I use as an opening technique to help relax my client and prepare their muscles for deeper work, is a very foundational technique that we teach our first-year students.”

Kerri has always been interested in sports massage. After she graduated from Vicars, she was mentored by sports massage specialist Kip Petch at St. Albert’s Active Life Centre. She still works there, as well as at Active Physioworks Magrath in South Edmonton, where her clientele includes many types of athletes, among them ultramarathoners like herself. She is a member of the Canadian Sports Massage Therapist Association (CSMTA), a nationally recognized organization that offers courses and conferences for ongoing learning in the specialty. Joining the CSMTA requires RMT certification, a Standard First Aid certificate with CPR, completion of the CSMTA Advanced Sport Massage Course, among other requirements. Members of CSMTA are often selected to be part of the core medical team serving athletes at major sporting events such as the Olympics.

For Kerri, a huge part of practicing sports massage is understanding that it’s not only about the needs of the physical body.

“It’s knowing how to respond to an athlete to help them prepare mentally and being part of their team in preparation for their performance,” she says.

While most Kerri’s practice is in the clinic, she loves being out in the sports field whenever she can. But that’s not for everyone: “At a sporting event, you’re constantly dealing with dirt and sweat, depending on the sport you’re working with,” she says. “It can be a messy, stinky situation so you have to be OK working with that and being prepared to do a lot of cleaning of both you, your environment, and your equipment.”

At Vicars, we try to introduce our students to as many different facets of the massage therapy profession. That includes organizing outreach opportunities at sporting events.

Instructor Marci Terpsma has been the main organizer of our Edmonton outreach program for many years.

“We take the students off campus to 10K and 5K runs and ultramarathons to expose them to different aspects of our job,” she says. “When they’re on the field they have to think critically and quickly and take what they learned in class and put that knowledge into practice in the moment.”

That quick decision-making is more important, in Marci’s experience, than the potential physical mismatch between an RMT and an athlete. “You can be the tiniest of therapists dealing with the strongest of men and it’s all about the RMT assessing what needs to be done and just doing it,” she says. Sports massage often concentrates on a target muscle group. “If it’s a softball player, I’m more focused on shoulders and arms and if it’s a hockey player, then the legs,” she says. “And if it’s a pre-event massage it’s very focused on a specific area for 10 to 15 minutes.”

Marci runs REVIVE Health & Wellness Studio in Beaumont, where 15 of the 16 RMTs are Vicars graduates. Outside of the clinic, she works with higher level athletes on sports teams, including a competitive girls’ softball team who travel to competitions around Canada. Most of her work is maintaining the athletes’ bodies, preparing them pre-event to increase flexibility and range of motion, and working with injuries and recovery. Echoing Tonia and Kerri, Marci says the same principles of massage are involved whether she’s giving a relaxation or deep tissue massage.

As the age of competitive athletes is getting younger, Marci is finding that the parents of these athletes are much more educated about the benefits of massage to their children’s athletic goals and overall health, than parents were a decade ago. As sports massage therapy carves out a place for itself alongside other components of an athlete’s program, Marci finds herself in a fortunate position.

“I am always right up there with my knowledge thanks to our curriculum at Vicars,” she says. “What I learn is exactly what I am teaching students.” She’s the go-to person at her clinic for questions about particular approaches or treatment modality for clients because of her up-to-date knowledge.

While research on sports massage and its physiological benefits lags far behind the field’s burgeoning popularity, all three RMTs passionately endorse its benefits to athletic wellbeing that they have observed and experienced. And their passion directly benefits Vicars students.

“The quality of education at Vicars is second to none, largely because the instructors are passionate about what they do,” says Marci. “That’s easy to convey to students and that leads to a level of education where we expect the best from students.”

Does helping marathon runners, volleyball teams, or rock climbers achieve their goals sound like your dream career? Contact our friendly admissions team by calling us toll-free at 1-866-491-0574, or sign up for a virtual open house! And if you’re an athlete looking to stay healthy and improve your recovery, you can book an appointment at our student clinic.

This is the third post in our series about pediatric massage. So far in the series, we’ve looked at research in the field of infant massage and talked to an RMT who teaches infant and child massage to her clients. Today, we’re reviewing the research into the effects of massage therapy on older children.

When Edmonton-based teacher Carla C. began going to a registered massage therapist (RMT) in 2021, she took her four-year-old son, Lincoln, with her. For the first few visits, Lincoln played quietly in a corner of the room or nestled himself between his mother’s legs while she was being massaged. On one visit, Lincoln announced that he too wanted a massage.

Carla supported his decision. Lincoln had been born with serious health conditions, necessitating open heart surgery when he was only a few weeks old. While Carla had given Lincoln massages since his birth, stroking his arms and legs and back, she had avoided the scar on his chest. She thought touching it would be too much of a reminder for both of them of those fraught early years.

The RMT guided Lincoln through all aspects of the massage treatment that day, which given his age and size was only about 15 minutes long. She asked him if it was OK for her to touch his legs and arms and talked to him about the sensations he was feeling. When she came to his chest, she explained how important it was to massage his scar. “Treat it like a twisty little snake,” she said, “and roll it between your fingers to smooth it out and make it softer and less sticky.”

Carla realized that by encouraging Lincoln to massage his scar, the RMT was also giving him an important message: that the scar was his, part of his body, an important part of his story, and not something to be ignored or feared.

Carla and Lincoln both started regularly massaging his scar.  Several months later, Carla says that it is noticeably more pliable and has less profile on his chest.

The benefits of pediatric massage are backed by research

Stories like Carla and Lincoln’s show the wholistic effects of massage in young people, encompassing mind and body. This is something that pioneering touch therapy researcher and psychologist Dr. Tiffany Field has spent her career investigating. Dr. Field is internationally renowned for her the quality of her research on the effects of massage on infants. (Her research has shown that massage therapy led to faster weight gain and discharge from hospital for infants born prematurely, and that for full-term babies the benefits include relieving jaundice, better sleep, reduced stress in parents, and strengthening infant-parent bonding. Read all about it in the first post in our series).

Dr. Field conducted a comprehensive review of research that has been done on the effects of massage therapy in older children (between a year of age and adolescence), and in children with psychological and mental health conditions. The results make a very strong case for pediatric massage therapy.

Children with autism spectrum or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders were reported to have greater attentiveness, fewer sleep problems, and decreased hyperactivity after a month of regular short massages.

Preschoolers to adolescents with psychological difficulties including aggression, anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed improvements in their symptoms and a decrease in the levels of stress hormones in their bodies. As an example, child survivors of Hurricane Andrew who were experiencing severe PTSD showed much lower PTSD symptoms after a month of daily massage treatments. Studies on children with anorexia and bulimia experienced increases in dopamine and improved management of their eating disorders.

In children with symptoms resulting from a number of physical conditions, massage therapy—often delivered by parents—resulted in reductions of gastrointestinal problems from diarrhea or constipation; spasticity from cerebral palsy and hypotonicity (flaccidity) from Down’s Syndrome; and increased motor development in children with motor development delays. Children with painful diseases, with conditions such as burns, or who had undergone painful procedures, experienced pain relief, better sleep, and reduced anxiety after massage therapy.

Why is massage therapy so good for children and teens?

The common thread running through the majority of the assessed studies is the calming effect resulting from reduction of stress hormones and increased production of “happy” hormones such as dopamine, purported to be results of massage therapy. Dr. Field and other researchers have identified the possible bodily mechanisms that are “translating” massage into these physiological and other effects. Earlier in this series, we outlined some of the potential mechanisms activated by massage in preterm infants: the vagus nerve, responsible for controlling stress hormone release, activates the gastric system, which enables digestion.

Additional mechanisms were seen in the studies on older children. Dr. Field has proposed that the reason massage therapy has such an effective role in pain management is that it engages the body’s touch receptors. These nerves are longer and more insulated than pain receptors—but once activated, their signals reach the brain faster and can “drown out” the messages being sent by the pain receptors.

In the broader context of the nervous system, Dr. Field posits that massage potentially has an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “rest and digest” functions in the body including heartbeat, vagus nerve activity, and digestion. When activated by moderate-pressure massage, the parasympathetic nervous system “overrides” the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, decreasing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and increasing the release of immune fighter cells and anti-pain chemicals such as serotonin.

When parents are involved in massaging their children, they also benefit. Several studies by Dr. Field and others investigated the effects of parent-given infant and child massage on child-parent attachment and attunement, the receptiveness between caregiver and child. Parents reported less stress, improved wellbeing, a greater sense of competency with their parenting skills, and for those with moderate mental health issues, reduced symptoms of depression.

This effect doesn’t seem to be restricted to direct parent-child relationships : grandparents and other trusted caregivers can benefit as well. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, older adults were given massages for a month and then gave massages to infants over a month. Measurement of cortisol from saliva samples showed they were calmer and more relaxed after massaging the infants.

All of the studies were conducted over short term periods, and Dr. Field and other researchers stress the need for further high-quality, longer-term research in order to produce evidence that can be used by decision-makers on funding and policy changes. While research is vital to ensure pediatric massage is accepted as a valid clinical tool, its popularity continues to grow.

And as Carla says, “It’s important that as my son grows, he sees massage therapy as another important therapy with a trusted professional alongside the other therapies he receives.”

This is the second instalment in a series about pediatric massage: massage therapy for children ranging from infants to adolescents. Check out the first post to learn about massage therapy for infants, including its potential benefits for both parents and child and the science that assesses those benefits. Today’s post is a conversation with an experienced Vicars graduate who has incorporated infant massage into her practice.

Shannon Collum, RMT, is a Vicars graduate who lives and works in Duncan, BC. She owns Maple Bay Massage Therapy there. As part of her general therapeutic practice, Shannon also has training in infant massage education, and offers one-on-one and group sessions with parents and their babies.

Shannon Collum, RMT

I recently talked to Shannon about this part of her practice.

Robin: Can you give me a brief overview of your experience with infant massage?


Early in my career, I found I was working with a lot of pregnant clients. It just happened by word of mouth—I think it helped that a lot of my friends were at the right age to start having babies!

As I went on, I realized I wanted to offer even more services in this area. We had learned the fundamentals of infant massage in school, but I knew there was more to learn.

I found a continuing education course for RMTs on infant massage and at the same time I trained as a doula, learning how to give support to mothers during and after childbirth. I was fascinated by it and knew there were at least some of my clients who would be interested.

I’ve been a massage therapist for more than 18 years now. Teaching infant massage has been a bigger part of my practice at some points than others. But it’s something I enjoy and that I’m glad I can offer to my clients.

There are so many different continuing education options out there for massage therapists—so many different directions and areas of practice for people to choose from. Would you recommend taking infant massage, and pregnancy massage?

When new grads ask me for continuing ed recommendations, I always say that it depends on what resonates with you. What are you interested in? Because if you’re not really engaged with whatever it is, you’re not going to make a success of it.

For me, I’ve always had a connection with babies and children—it’s always been a part of my life. If an RMT feels the same way, furthering your education by taking ongoing training in pregnancy massage and training new parents may be a good choice for you.

And you have to be practical too, of course. Think about the focus of your practice, where you work, and your current and potential clientele. If you’re based in more a retirement community this will obviously be less of a focus in your practice!

How do you introduce the idea of infant massage to pregnant clients?

I have it listed on my website as something I have experience in, and so some of my clients bring it up to me themselves or even find me that way. But usually it will organically come up in a conversation with them about what they’re experiencing, their hopes or even what they’re nervous about.

The last time it came up was I was working on a woman who was quite far along in her pregnancy. I was performing abdominal massage, and I was explaining to her how we do the strokes in a specific direction around the abdomen to promote digestion. I explained that this is also what we do with babies, and she says, “Wait, we can do massage on babies?!?!”

Do you find that do you usually get that surprised reaction? In your experience, do parents know that this is an option?

Some do, some don’t. And some are confused—some think that I do the massage; that they bring the baby into the clinic. But I explain that it involves teaching the parents what to do and how to do it in a way that is comfortable, safe, and joyful. And for most people, I find, that’s a lot more appealing.

So how do these sessions work?

I like to set up a class, either one-on-one or in a group setting, outside the clinic. It’s usually a set of four short sessions. That way, baby isn’t overwhelmed by a new environment and the parents are able to practice with the child between sessions. My goal with these sessions is for the babies and the parents to feel relaxed and have fun together, and for the parents to leave feeling confident and excited about having learned a new way to connect with their baby.

I normally don’t teach the classes for babies younger than two months. Before that, massage can be overwhelming and too stimulating. Babies still don’t understand the world, and they are getting bombarded with new information every second, so we wait until they’re a little more settled.

Earlier, you were telling me about a recent client you had for infant massage that was a bit of an exception to this rule. Can you share that story?

Of course. That experience was exceptional in a few ways: it was only one session, it was at my clinic, her baby was a newborn, and we fit it in after I had just given the mother a full massage!

This woman was living and working in a very small community up north on Vancouver Island. Because of the remoteness and lack of medical care, her employer transferred her down here to Duncan for a month or so before her due date, and for a couple of weeks to recover postpartum. She booked a few prenatal massages for herself while she was in town. Because I saw her regularly for a few weeks, we developed a rapport and had lots of conversations about her pregnancy and upcoming baby, and we ended up talking about infant massage in a general sort of way.

Not long after she gave birth, she came in for a last massage before heading home. She then revealed that the doctor had told them their baby had significant torticollis and she wondered if I could help. They weren’t going to be in town long enough for that, and baby needed some specific help as soon as possible, so we arranged for baby and dad to arrive at the end of her next appointment. I ended up working with them for about 15 minutes in the treatment room, laying baby on the warm massage table in front of us. I demonstrated a few techniques specifically for that issue and had them try them out and walked them through a few other things. I was able to start the process of improving his positioning and they felt more confident taking him back up north without an RMT nearby. Everybody was happy.

What sticks out to me about this story is that this was a therapeutic massage, essentially. I usually think of infant massage as being about helping the baby sleep better, helping with bonding, helping with digestion…

But when you think about it, babies have just gone through a quite physically demanding experience! Especially in that case, as he was very newly born. But even after that, they’re constantly building muscles that have never been used before.

But you’re right, a lot of times people don’t realize that something like torticollis can happen to babies. Extreme versions don’t happen a lot. Usually, it’s mild and corrects itself over time. But in this case, it was extreme, and he wasn’t able to keep his head straight.

The infant massage outcome that is probably most well known is how it strengthens bonding between parents and baby, helps babies sleep, and can help with things like colic and digestive issues. What people don’t always think about is that it can help alleviate postnatal depression for both parents. It seems most effective when massage is built into their daily routine. For infants, massage sessions should be short but frequent; a little quiet time after baby’s bath is great.

But there can be more direct physical benefits, too. I remind parents that birth is hard for babies too. As newborns, they’re not moving much and they’re often end up facing in one direction for long periods in car seats, carriers, and strollers. It’s a tough life!

And, of course, as babies get bigger they turn into active children, and children’s bodies are going through a lot, too. Starting massage at a young age can really help as they age and start getting growing pains and other bumps and bruises. Because they’re starting life with more body awareness, they’re more likely to be able to communicate about what is happening in their bodies when they need help.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with infant massage! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I almost forgot to mention, although it is really important to me, is that learning how to give a massage to your baby or child can actually help them start to understand bodily autonomy, consent, and the concept of healthy touch. Those are big concepts, but understanding them starts with day-to-day routines like this.

One of the things that we teach parents is to make sure that they’re only massaging when baby consents. This is more nebulous when they’re very young and you’re just starting out, but you start to learn your baby’s body language. You can tell when they’re up for it and when they’re not. And when they’re not, you just hang out with them so they’re still getting one-on-one time and see that their refusal doesn’t equal rejection from their loved one.

It’s showing kids, from a young age, that they have a say in what happens to their body. And that’s a really huge thing, in my opinion.

Still to come in our blog series: Research on the effects of massage on conditions in older children and the benefits of massage in strengthening the parent-child relationship beyond infancy.