Studying Traditional Thai Massage

Thai Healing Alliance teacher guidelines: Thai Healing Alliance proposes a minimum of 500 hours of study with three or more teachers or schools over a period of not less than 3 years. THAI considers all long-term programs of study and “teacher training programs” as valid only for 50% of total required hours. In addition, there are other requirements. A list of Instructors who have agreed to adhere to THAI’s guidelines is available at this link:   THAI Teacher list


General guidelines for study

Since the 1980s, when basic courses were first offered to tourists in Thailand, Thai massage has become one of the most popular and loved Asian healing arts in the West.  For students looking to study Thai massage today, there is some confusion about what is truly Thai and what is not, and about the best ways to study and to choose qualified teachers.


In recent years, mixing Thai massage with other modalities such as western table massage, yoga, anatomy, osteopathy, Chinese medicine and Ayurveda has become common. These hybrid forms may include elements of Thai massage, but they shouldn’t be confused with, or marketed as traditional Thai massage. For those who wish to learn Thai massage, THAI suggests to stay traditional. A good way to do this is to learn classic sequences from several different lineages, and then to practice them for a long period of time before expanding the scope of study. A strong foundation in classical Thai techniques, movement, breath and stillness is essential for effective practice.


Registered Thai Therapists (RTT) must meet basic study and practice requirements such as 250 hours of qualifying study with two or more teachers over a minimum period of 18 months, plus 100 hours of practice sessions. Teachers affiliated with Thai Healing Alliance must study a minimum of 500 hours of traditional Thai massage with at least 3 different teachers or schools over a minimum period of 3 years. Other requirements must also be met for RTT and Teacher recognition. More suggestions about choosing qualified teachers may be found at the bottom of this page.


The Words “Certified” and “Certification”

For the most part, these words mean very little in the realm of Thai massage. There is no regulation or licensure for the practice of Thai healing arts in most countries around the world, so teachers, schools and training programs that advertise “certifications” generally have no authority to award a document that allows someone to legally practice Thai massage. The irony is that some serious and dedicated Thai massage students study for many years and still cannot practice legally, while some regional and national massage boards allow Western table workers to legally practice and teach Thai massage, even if they studied for only a few days at a continuing education class. Don’t choose a teacher or school only because you think you will be “certified.”


The Concept of “Levels”

Westerners are generally conditioned to pursue education in levels or modules of study, with the eventual goals of completion and validation. This is not the case in the teacher/student model upon which much of the world’s traditional, non-academic education is based, including in Thailand. In order to become a sensitive, accomplished Thai therapist, you need to abandon the concept of levels, and realize that you will be studying for life.


Legal practice in your area

Before you begin to study Thai massage, make sure to investigate the legal parameters in your city, region, and country of residence. If your goal is to study so that you can eventually begin to practice Thai massage professionally, it is extremely important to understand the legal guidelines for doing so in your area. If there are laws for licensing in your region, research can often be done on the internet, since regulatory and governing agencies usually post regulations, laws and ordinances on their web sites.


Some States, Provinces and countries that require licenses in order to practice Western (table) massage also allow those therapists to legally practice or teach Thai massage without reviewing their credentials or study experience. Some new practitioners may study only for a few weeks before beginning to charge money for their services. Some countries have no regulations about massage, but some U.S. States, Canadian provinces and European countries have their own laws and requirements for non-Western healing arts.


Because of all of this, it is extremely important to understand the laws in your region, and to base your model of study and choose your teachers according to legal and practical guidelines.


Therapist Training Programs and “Teacher Training” Programs

Teachers and schools, including some in Thailand, try to convince students to enroll programs ranging in length from 120 to 500 hours. These programs cost large sums of money, and they give an impression that a graduate will be qualified to begin a professional practice as a Thai therapist, or to begin teaching Thai massage, as soon as the program is over. These programs, without subsequent affiliation of a licensing body, are not legally binding in Thailand or in other countries. To compound the situation, programs are often filled with non-traditional elements of training, and accessory modalities such as Thai table and chair massage, oil massage, Chinese-influenced therapies (including stomach massage and stick-style foot reflexology), aromatherapy, hot stones, “Thai oil massage” and other modern or hybrid therapies. Some programs give the impression to unknowing students that they will be legally certified for practice. In some cases, schools in Thailand and elsewhere place logos and seals on their advertising and websites which can give the impression that the certificates legally authorize students, and that they are endorsed by the Thai government for professional practice. But none of these things are true.


Very often, students who go through “fast-track” programs demonstrate a dearth of knowledge, preparation, and experience on the mat. Many have poor body mechanics, minimal breath awareness, and an unrefined sensitivity to touch. In Thailand today, “Practitioner” courses are offered in as little as 3 or 4 weeks of study. There are no requirements for subsequent long-term practice, little ongoing support, and no encouragement for the student to study with other teachers in the future. In fact, many schools who offer “programs” entice these same students to come back to their schools for more advanced programs, or to pay large sums of money to stay on for a few additional weeks, in order to receive “certification” as a teacher. Some schools collaborate with Western certifying organizations from different countries, claiming that their programs meet certain licensing requirements. In many cases, students may be left unprepared, with inflated egos, and lacking strong ethics and standards for safe and effective practice of traditional Thai massage.


Lack of education and outreach on the part of Thai government agencies

Thai massage education aimed at foreigners results in many millions of tourist dollars each year. The Thai government, however, whether through its Ministries of Education, Health, or Tourism & Sports, has made no tangible effort to reach out to the international community of Thai massage students, therapists and teachers. There have been no attempts to standardize programs of study for foreigners, or to educate them about safe, effective and legal practice of Thai massage in their native countries. The schools that choose to be accredited by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education must first have their courses approved by the government. Many schools and teachers, however, teach whatever they wish, including hybrid modalities and other types of therapies that do not have their origins in Thai tradition.


Choose your teachers wisely

For all these reasons, it’s important for students of Thai massage to pursue study only with highly qualified teachers. When searching for a teacher, check their study and training history. If this information is not listed on their web site or in their promotional information, ask them. How long have they studied Thai massage, and with whom? Have they studied in Thailand? If so, when was the last time they were there? Have they studied a minimum of 500 hours over a 3 year period, the minimum requirements proposed by Thai Healing Alliance?


It is important to thoroughly investigate a prospective teacher before registering in a course or a workshop. When considering a teacher, check the person’s study and training history. Where did they study Thai massage, and for how long? Have they studied in Thailand? If so, when was the last time they were there? How many hours of Thai massage study have they completed, and how many years have they been in practice? Do the descriptions of their services use western anatomical language or Eastern healing terminology? Do they blend Thai massage with other modalities or are they teaching traditional Thai massage?


Before you make an appointment or register for a course, check into each person’s background just as you would for a prospective employee or a babysitter for your child. Use good judgment when you select teachers, and you will probably be rewarded.