It was a casual conversation at the doctor’s office where she worked that changed Diane Sheridan’s life.

One day a colleague’s sister dropped by for a visit and mentioned that she had just finished school. Diane asked her what she had studied. When the woman said massage therapy, Diane says it was like something went “bing” in her head.

The woman was a Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate.

“By the end of the week, I was pretty much signed up to start,” says Diane. “I really didn’t have time to think about whether that was a good idea or not.” (Spoiler alert: it was!)

It wasn’t a completely impulsive choice, though. Diane did some research on various massage schools in Alberta before applying.

“I chose Vicars because no one else was offering the four-days-a-month program,” she says. “Really my whole reason for applying to Vicars was based on that.”

Diane applied in November hoping to be admitted at Vicars Calgary campus in January of 2019. But the schedule option she wanted to take didn’t start until the following September. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait that long to get started with her training: she was able to begin Vicars online courses in Anatomy and Physiology and Pathology right away. As a result, by the time she started school she had a head start on the curriculum.

It was only once she was in the program did Diane realize what a great choice she had made.

“I thought that because I had a nursing degree already it would be really easy,” Diane says. “The fact that the program was challenging, and it really did exercise my brain, made me aware that Vicars took this very seriously and that it was it was a really good education.”

The four days a month at Vicars also gave her back her sense of self. Diane had moved to Sundre from England with her husband and four children nearly two decades ago and had put her nursing career on hold to raise her kids.

“When you go through life as a mum, you lose your identity a bit,” she says. “People in Sundre know me as the English gal or the twins’ mum, but for those four days a month when I attended class at Vicars, I was just Diane.”

Any qualms Diane had about her age were quickly dispelled. “We had students in our class ranging from 21 years old to me at 53,” she says. “On the first day I sat down next to one young woman, and we became fast friends straight away and have been super good friends ever since.”

Diane’s time at Vicars wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, though. Her first year of blended on-campus and online classes began in September 2019 and was supposed to continue with the same schedule until June 2020. The pandemic changed that—like everywhere else, Vicars had to temporarily shut down on-site instruction. Having a blended curriculum gave the school a leg up in adapting to the new circumstances, however, and zoom lectures started immediately.

“Vicars was right on top of the situation right away,” she says. “There wasn’t any worry that we were missing out on curriculum because we weren’t physically in class.”

The full realization of the quality of Vicars’ education for Diane happened after graduation in June 2021 when she was working in the field.

“Clients would say ‘I’ve never had this done before’ and I was thinking ‘Hang on. What are other schools teaching?’ because the particular therapy was a huge part of the Vicars approach to treatment.”

Diane had gone into massage therapy thinking that she wasn’t seeking a new career, but rather something extra she could do after her workday—massages for family and friends—given that her kids were soon graduating. “The whole premise of taking massage therapy was to exercise my brain,” says Diane. “But as I was going through school, it became very apparent that I was doing a lot of work and making a lot of sacrifices. I realized it would be stupid not to actually see this as a proper business opportunity.”

While Diane changed her mind about her approach to massage as a profession, her vision had always been to have a home-based practice.

“I had always worked for someone else, and I just didn’t want to do that anymore,” she says. “I had my massage therapy room set up even before I started school!”

Diane soft-launched her business, Beckett Park Therapeutic Massage, in August of 2021. In her planning, she had assumed that the business would take a while to build up, allowing her to keep her job at the doctor’s office. But once her doors opened, she was immediately busy.

“I had put a couple of ads in the community pages of the paper and had people calling at 11 at night and six in the morning,” says Diane. “Between my office job and my business, I was working 70 hours a week.”

It took Diane three months to hand in her notice at the doctor’s office. “It was really difficult because it was my financial safety net and I had to believe that my business would carry on and pay the bills,” she says, but: “It was the best thing I ever did.”

Two years later, Diane is earning twice what she earned in the doctor’s office, and she works half the hours.

“The whole vibe of my working life has changed and it’s amazing,” she says. “If I want to (book a) morning off to play pickleball or get a pedicure, I just do it.”

But it’s not just about the financial security.

“I have just the most amazing clients who say the most wonderful things,” says Diane. “It’s such a lift when somebody comes and says this is the best hour of their day or the best hour of their month. I just think how lucky I am that I get to do this every day.”

Diane’s clients aren’t keeping it a secret. Her business was voted number one in Sundre in The Albertan newspaper’s Peoples’ Choice Awards for massage therapy this year.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” says Diane. “I’ve only been in business for two years and I’m just so grateful to be recognized like this.”

That recognition is the icing on the cake for Diane, given how much she loves her profession. “It’s not that you’re helping people and taking away from yourself,” she says. “You’re helping people and it’s filling your cup as well.”

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! So far, Vicars is the only private massage therapy school in Alberta to have full accreditation. We earned full accreditation status in 2022 and the further distinction of the CMTCA’s highest ranking—five-year accreditation—in 2023.

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.

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.

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 the Wild West in comparison, so it is up to people who want to become massage therapists to 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 a massage therapist 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, though. 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 will have the knowledge and skills that you need.

When Louise Drinnan started at Vicars School of Massage Therapy, she was a single mother with two young children, and she knew she would have to stay focused to make it work.

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. Newly single, she knew the best way forward for her and her young family was to pursue the massage therapy career she had always wanted.

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. Dan Hvingelby, one of their instructors, gave them some advice that really stuck with her.

“He said ‘How do you eat an elephant? 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, however—after 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.”

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 hadn’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.”

What does a musical theatre actor and registered massage therapist do when she receives a major massage therapy award? When that person is April Cook, she makes sure all of the supporting cast shares the stage.

For April, the 2022 Massage Therapy Association of Alberta’s (MTAA) Peter Martin Award winner, the supporting cast includes her family and friends, classmates, mentors and “the kind, patient, inspirational and knowledgeable instructors” that she had as a student at Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

Originally from Prince Edward Island, April has been singing and dancing since she was three years old. As a young adult, she trained at New York City’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy and worked professionally all across the country. Although performing has been her chosen path since she was young, she grew increasingly interested in helping others. After her father passed away in 2011, that desire to provide comfort and help to people who need it most became a motivation.

In 2020, April, now married and living in Calgary, decided to follow her heart, and enrolled at Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

While she loved learning massage therapy, April found the impacts of Covid and the necessity of working full time while going to school challenging. She took a break after first year to perform in a musical and decided to take monthly classes when she returned for her second year. “I really enjoyed the four days of focused learning and then having three weeks between to work at my own pace,” she says. “It allowed me more space to absorb all the information.”

April is the third Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate to receive the annual Peter Martin Award, which is given for accomplishments in the recipient’s first year as a practicing RMT, and their dedication to advancing the profession in Alberta. April plans to use the $750 prize to cover the cost of student loans and continuing education courses.

Corliss Robertson, one of April’s instructors and a reference for her Peter Martin Award application, says that April’s professionalism, her thirst for learning, and her contagious positive energy make her most deserving of this honour. Corliss singles out April’s excellence in the school’s Special Populations Clinic. “April really demonstrated her ability to make each one of her clients feel ‘heard’ and ultimately feel better.”

Vicars’ Special Populations Clinic welcomes people of all ages—from infants to seniors—and people living with mobility issues, cognitive disabilities, and complex conditions such as cerebral palsy and spinal muscular atrophy.

April’s “aha” moment happened when she started in the clinic. “I realized that I was passionate about massage therapy,” she says. “When I’m working with special populations, it requires more education, more confidence, and more listening, and gives me the opportunity to create an even greater connection with the client.” That for April, is what sparks real joy. And it continues to be the focus of her practice.

After graduating last October, April worked for a company in Calgary that specializes in treating people with special conditions, with a focus on pediatric care. While she loved the work and the people, she’d always known that she wanted to start her own business. At the beginning of March this year, April opened the doors to Kind Heart Wellness, located within Evolve Strength in Royal Oak in Northwest

Calgary. “I offer treatments at my clinic and also mobile treatments for those who either prefer it or require it, because I want massage therapy to be accessible for everyone,” she says.

April credits the flexibility and financial stability of her massage therapy practice for enabling her to continue performing in musical theatre. She also sees how her theatre background benefits her massage therapy practice. “You can’t be either an actor or a good massage therapist without being a good listener, being empathetic, and staying calm and confident,” she says. “Because of my dancing, I know my body really well and can relate to people when they have aches and pains.”

“I really love that as a performer, I feel that I have this gift that I can share with others,” says April. “And now I have this whole wealth of massage therapy knowledge and skills that can benefit everyone. To me this is just so rewarding.”

Vicars School instructor Janine Borger gets up close and personal with “Stan” the skeleton

When Janine Borger was hired as an instructor at Vicars back in 2002, she insisted on completing our second-year classes first.

She says the extra work was “just to solidify what I knew and to understand the Vicars approach to curriculum delivery.” At the time, she had four children at home, owned and operated a large massage clinic in Lacombe, and was very involved in local minor hockey.

That level of energy and commitment, it turns out, is a Janine trademark and it hasn’t changed. Twenty-five years later, she continues to welcome the changes in the industry that have opened doors for well-prepared graduates.

“We’ve seen the viewpoint of massage therapy change from that of a pampering treatment to a complementary health therapy,” she says. “We’ve seen it become more common for physicians and other professionals in the medical field to refer their patients for massage therapy, and we’ve seen insurance companies allowing more access to coverage under extended benefits.”

These industry changes are reflected in rising standards in the quality of massage education nationally and in Alberta. Janine is very much part of the change, both in her role at Vicars in ensuring the delivery of the highest level of education for our students, and in her work with the Massage Therapy Association of Alberta in the area of massage education.

“It’s really worthwhile to stay connected to our professional body and to keep up with the latest information and initiatives,” she says.

Janine brings her own educational experiences to her teaching: “I think a little of my forte is that I can relate to the pressures of going back to school when you’re no longer 18 and have been out of the educational system,” says Janine. “I feel I can encourage students to learn material that is within their grasp and show them how to leap forward.”

“I love my profession and so I love it when I connect with students and can help them through the hard parts,” Janine says. “For some, the two years at Vicars can be life-changing and I can shine a light along the way.”

While the mix of several different generations, often in one class, keeps her thinking young, there are challenges as well. Staying current with the changing needs of students in a challenging global environment means that there are more mental and emotional aspects of student support than ever before.

“It’s become a much more complex world, and people are affected by that,” she says. “Students don’t just sit in a classroom and absorb; they internalize their world, and it becomes part of their learning.”

For Janine, guiding students along the path to becoming professional massage therapists is grounded in connections with people. From ethics to marketing and business, she says every aspect of the curriculum is about that.

“Helping people and showing them how you can help them benefit from massage therapy comes up again and again,” she says. “And when students first start in the public clinic, when they meet their first clients, we ensure that they are in a safe place and have the tools and support to work through the challenges of interacting in an intimate way with strangers.”

For more than 20 of the almost 30 years that she’s been an RMT, Janine has been a valued instructor at Vicars in the classroom and, in recent years, the dedicated Edmonton instructor of Anatomy & Physiology and Pathology, courses Vicars students take online. More recently, Janine has taken on an administrative role as faculty liaison between campuses, working closely with Curriculum Director Linda McGeachy and Executive Director Sarah Ward. To ensure that Vicars upholds the standards that are required of accredited massage schools, everything from curriculum, policies and procedures, and responses to student issues and concerns must be consistent across the two campuses.

Janine works with instructors to keep them up to current accreditation standards, which includes new approaches to curriculum delivery, new material for the curriculum, and keeping up with research.

“One of the best things about Janine is that she holds my feet to the fire and never has an issue asking a direct question to gain clarity about the reason or direction that we’re going,” says Sarah. “She’s exceptional in her role and a huge support to me.”

Janine comes from a family of academics and medical professionals but didn’t discover her love of anatomy and physiology until she worked in a hospital brain injury unit years ago. That interest led her to pursue massage therapy training, which she completed in 1995. She joined Vicars School of Massage Therapy as an instructor in 2002, shortly after it was founded by Maryhelen Vicars. By then Janine had several years’ experience running her own clinic.

Janine continued her work at her clinic for several more years while teaching at Vicars. When her children were grown, she sold the clinic. Like all Vicars instructors, she continues to practice massage, and brings that day-to-day experience to the classroom: “Being on the front line with all kinds of clients really is important in describing experiences and potential situations to students,” she says. “It also helps prepare them for when they do their training in our school’s public clinics.”

Her years of practice are core to Janine’s teaching, but so are her relationships with other health professionals, made easier in a small town than in a larger city. She feels strongly that Vicars students who come from small towns and rural areas have an advantage over students from urban areas.

“There are many opportunities to meet with other health professionals in a smaller community whether it’s at a sports arena or a community meeting,” she says. “And those can turn into opportunities to discuss the commonalities in how you can help their patients.”

Because she knew so many other health professionals and was invited to different events and sessions that they held, she was able to bring that collaboration to her work at Vicars. “Those cross-disciplinary collaborations create advocates for the massage therapy profession,” Janine says.

Looking back over her career as a therapist and an instructor, Janine sees her time at Vicars has really been beneficial to her personal life, her career and to the people she’s met along the way.

“There is so much joy in showing people what you love about your profession,” she says. “I attribute my teaching to being able to be a massage therapist for as long as I want. It’s something I’m very grateful to Vicars for.”

Vicars School students have been going to see physical therapists, social workers, chiropractors, and psychologists a lot lately.

But don’t worry—they’re fine!

What’s going on is that this is the time of year that our second-year students start an assignment that brings them into contact with their colleagues in health care. It’s a practical way for them to learn about other health care professionals, to learn more about what they do, how they do it, and how their profession works with ours. It is part of our community collaboration initiative.

Vicars School graduate Maggie Bruce, who secured her first RMT job through the Community Collaboration Initiative.

No single health profession has all the answers. It’s important for our students to learn the value of professional collaboration with their peers in other health care occupations, so they know where to refer their clients, and how to encourage others to refer patients to reputable massage therapists when that is appropriate.

Each health-care profession is a discipline with an approved scope of practice: the treatments and procedures that individuals in that discipline are trained for and expected to provide effectively. If a treatment falls outside their scope, they make referrals. Dentists don’t remove tonsils. Massage therapists don’t treat broken bones.

Referrals between professionals have always happened. In massage, we learn to keep detailed and clear records of each client’s health history, treatment plans, and results. Within our practices, we use that information to refer to as we prepare for their next appointment. When we get a referral, these records are used to make a report to the referring professional.

At Vicars, our community collaboration initiative brings our students together with other professionals in several ways.

The first is the simplest: throughout the year, qualified individuals are invited to be a guest for a massage at one of our supervised public clinics. The colleague meets their student therapist and the clinic supervisor, asks questions, and shares insights about how massage therapy complements their practice or profession, and then gives feedback about the treatment they received. Everyone learns something, and the encounter helps to break down barriers between different, but related, fields.

The second part of the initiative is the community collaboration assignment that students begin early in second year. Over the course of eight weeks, students connect with a health care colleague and begin to foster a professional relationship.

Each student reaches out to a professional who may refer clients or patients for massage therapy and who may hire massage therapists to work in their clinics—such as chiropractors, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. The student sets up a meeting, during which they tour the facility and have a conversation. If time and space permits, the student will give the practitioner a massage on site.

The assignment concludes with the student later sharing what they have learned in an essay and with their fellow students in class. Instructors ensure that different students meet and report on as wide a range of health professionals as possible to contribute to the class’s shared knowledge.

As the third part of our community collaboration work, Vicars School is building a roster of multidisciplinary employers with which we have a more formal relationship. At time of writing, these include Massage Addict, with more than 100 owner-operated clinics across the country, including Edmonton and Calgary; ProActive Health Group, which works with elite and competitive athletes in their two clinics and one mobile unit in Calgary; and Serenity Now Wellness, a Calgary-based counselling service that also employs massage therapists.

These businesses are encouraged to invite Vicars students on site to shadow and learn about the organization, and to host talks on campus. At these coffee chats, students hear from community collaborators about their real-life multidisciplinary experiences, especially as it relates to massage therapy. These talks also contribute to the students’ training about the challenges and rewards of massage as a business.

Some multidisciplinary clinics, explains chiropractor Greg Uchacz, founder of ProActive Health Group, take the interprofessional arrangement further than just sharing space and facilitating connections. He says his group is an example of an integrative centre where experts work together as a team to solve problems.

“The barriers between professional designations fall away and each person plays to their strengths,” when you get professionals all around the same table to address an issue, he says. “In the sports world, this is very well established.”

Massage therapists, chiropractors, athletic therapists, and sport physicians work together to bring out the best performance from elite athletes and teams.

At Vicars, we appreciate the time and energy put in by the partner businesses who are part of this initiative. And we’re happy to say that so far, our partners are getting as much benefit from the program as our students are.

With their involvement, they get an inside track on meeting and hiring Vicars grads. We don’t mean to be immodest, but we know that Vicars grads are in great demand all around the province. They’re a bit like cookies at the holidays: when you have hired one or two, you go looking for one more.

Calgary grad Maggie Bruce is a perfect example of how this relationship works as a win-win for students and community partners. Maggie went in October for a day at ProActive and shadowed a physiotherapist, the front office staff about the business side of the practice, and Dr. Uchacz, a chiropractor.

“It was cool to glimpse the world of a few different professions, and to see how other therapists operate.

“I have never been to a chiropractor before, so I was interested. I saw how he incorporated some of the stuff I do. He warmed up with some massage and then did some myofascial work,” similar to what she had learned at Vicars.

Linda McGeachy knows what it takes to be a successful massage therapist. After all, she’s been an RMT for 30 years, a massage therapy educator for more than 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, studying massage therapy as a second career 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 focused on your goals—sometimes even more focused 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 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 nationally accredited and an MTAA Approved Program.

The program has plenty of successful young students but it is popular with students in their 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.

“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!

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, 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 explains sports massage to her clients as “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. Fun fact: Tonia helped prepare Bea Mikkola and her husband for a cross-Canada bike trip in 2017. Bea, a kinesiologist, attended Vicars soon after, and has now joined Tonia as an instructor in Calgary.

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 the 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.”